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Duke Ellington: Memories Of Duke

producer and director: Gary Keys

90 minutes (E) 1980
MVD / Wienerworld DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Broome
Musical icons just don't come any more iconic than Duke Ellington, one of the leading forces in contemporary jazz music from the 1920s through to his death in 1974. He has inspired thousands of musicians, and helped to shape the face of popular music, as we know it.
   This 1980 documentary features extensive concert footage of the Duke and his band filmed in 1968 in Mexico. It showcases his skills as a pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger, and showman. The music is a full-on wall of cacophonous beauty, harmonies appear from nowhere, interweaving with discordant chord progressions - incredibly advanced stuff when you consider that some of the compositions were almost 50 years old when this concert was filmed.
   All the classics are here: Black & Tan Fantasy, It Don't Mean A Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing), I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good), Things Ain't What They Used To Be, and Mood Indigo. Plus there's an incredible version of the sprawling, and multi-faceted, Mexican Suite.
   Interspersed with the archive concert footage are short interviews with two of Duke's longest-serving band members, Cootie Williams and Russell Procope - and their reminiscences are constantly enlightening.
   Both the sound and picture quality leave a lot to be desired (I don't think a lot of re-mastering went on here), with the picture being very grainy, and at times the whites bleeding into every other colour. But it's almost 30 years since Ellington passed away, so this opportunity to own an incredible performance on DVD should not be passed up - once the music begins the picture quality is irrelevant. As Procope says at one point: "Any musician you talk to, whether they be white, black, grizzled or grey, wanted to play with Duke Ellington's band."
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