Duke Ellington’s America

book cover

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra “Isfahan” (1965)

“Isfahan” was the last jazz standard that Ellington and Strayhorn wrote. It originally appeared on The Far East Suite in 1966, an album inspired by the Ellington orchestra’s first U.S. State Department-sponsored tour in 1963, which took them through the Middle East and South Asia. “Isfahan” was named after a city in Iran that awarded the band a particularly tumultuous reception. The song was specially crafted to suit the talents of the band’s most famous soloist Johnny Hodges, and one can detect a little of the tension that existed through the decades between Ellington and Hodges in the way they regard each other during this eloquent performance. And at the end of the clip, look how quickly Ellington tells the band what the next song will be (“The Opener”) and cues them to play it; one needed to stay awake on the bandstand and know how to react quickly.