Concerto for Cootie

May 25, 2021 • 2:15 pm

Why not continue with a little more Duke Ellington, perhaps the greatest jazz artist in history? My favorite songs come from 1940-1941, when the band featured the incomparable combination of Jimmie Blanton on bass (he died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis) and Ben Webster on tenor sax. Ellington was never as good as he was in those two years. This song, “Concerto for Cootie”, was recorded on March 15, 1940, and features the growling trumpet of Cootie Williams. (The song title was later changed to “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me”.)

Jazz doesn’t get any smoother than this, though this isn’t “easy-listening” jazz. Make sure you listen for Blanton’s superb backup. And here, from Ehsan Khoshbhakt’s “Notes on Jazz” is his analysis of “Why Concerto for Cootie is a Masterpiece“. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the critic says, but I do agree about the near-perfect blending of solos and the orchestra.

Concerto for Cootie is a masterpiece because every thing in it is pure; because it doesn’t have that slight touch of softness which is enough to make so many other deserving records insipid. Concerto for Cootie is a masterpiece because the arranger and the soloist have refused in it any temptation to achieve an easy effect, and because the musical substance of it is so rich that not for one instant does the listener have an impression of monotony. Concerto for Cootie is a masterpiece because it shows the game being played for all it is worth, without anything’s being held back, and because the game is won. We have here a real concerto in which the orchestra is not a simple background, in which the soloist doesn’t waste his time in technical acrobatics or in gratuitous effects. Both have something to say, they say it well, and what they say is beautiful. Finally, Concerto for Cootie is a masterpiece because what the orchestra says is the indispensable complement to what the soloist says; because nothing is out of place or superfluous in it; and because the composition thus attains unity.
Concerto for Cootie should not be considered as an ordinary arrangement. Its unusual structure, the polish of its composition, the liberties with certain well-established rules that are taken in it, the refusal to improvise these characteristics are enough to place it rather on the level of original composition as this term is understood by artists of classical training.


7 thoughts on “Concerto for Cootie

  1. Beautiful. The brass section uses its mutes almost as separate musical instruments unto themselves.

  2. I never knew that tube was also called Concerto for Cootie

    Oh the performance and arrangement is glorious – I can hear pretty much the rhythm section and horns – they blend perfectly into a sum greater than the parts. Still can barely hear guitar, if it is there. The other bands clearly got their ideas from Ellington.

    This recording is much higher quality than the last posting in this series. There is typical microphone limits, distortion, and reverb that combine to mark the period of the recording. Major time travel feel – I’m imagining an old tweed grille on a wooden radio, glowing and playing on a NYC window ledge in the hot summer…

  3. My favorite parts of CforC:

    1. The introduction has the inner harmony parts moving around in just fascinating and complex ways. Try to listen for the horns that are not the highest or lowest pitches and hear how they move up for down in pitch compared to all the others. Really great voice-leading.

    2. When Cootie takes the mute off at 1:58, it’s like a brand new tone-color, and Duke was always interested in tone-color.

    3. One oddity is that the first two A sections are not the normal 8 bars, but 10 bars. I would never dare question Duke on the wisdom of this, and it’s true that you might never notice, it’s so smooth and musical.

  4. “There’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo,
    and the king of all Sir Duke
    And with a voice like Ella’s ringin’ out
    There’s no way the band can lose”

    -Stevie Wonder, in Sir Duke

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