Duke Ellington’s America

book cover

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra featuring Billy Strayhorn “Take the A Train” (mid 1960s)

This was a hit song, of course, so apologies for breaking my own rules, but it’s a rare opportunity to hear and see Billy Strayhorn interpret his own classic composition, he did not guest with the band often. Check how his piano style varies from Ellington’s on this track—it’s more florid, more active, with a different approach to the rhythm. Also, look how happy Ellington is to have his writing partner and close friend onstage, how he lists a few of Strayhorn’s famous compositions to pay tribute to him; this marked a common habit of Ellington’s on the bandstand, whether Strayhorn was with him onstage, or thousands of miles away in Paris or New York working on new songs and arrangements for the band.