The cover of "Copenhagen 1958" by Duke Ellington, displaying the left side of Duke's profile in white and blue.

Duke Ellington – El Gato

Storyville Records’ recently released Copenhagen 1958 resurrects segments of Ellington’s historic performances at Copenhagen’s KB Hallen during his 1958 European tour, offering a unique glimpse into the brilliance of a jazz legend. “El Gato,” a feisty little number plucked from the album’s center, is a glimpse of that brilliance – and that of his accompanying Orchestra – in microcosm.

It goes without saying that Ellington was a masterful composer, renowned for his ability to blend elements of jazz, blues, classical, and popular music into a distinctive style often referred to as “Ellingtonia.” His works, such as “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Take the A Train,” are timeless classics that changed the landscape of jazz, buoyed by skillful orchestration and innovative arrangements. “El Gato” might not number among the most well known of his catalog, but it’s definitely raw Ellington, from it’s compositional flair right down to its characteristically levitous title. More than anything else, though, “El Gato,” provides a pristine little set piece in which the Duke and his players could let loose.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra are storied in their own right, serving as a both a laboratory for Ellington’s experimentation and as a showcase for some of the greatest musicians of the era. Their intricate harmonies, unique voicings, and rip-roaring solos made their live performances the stuff of legend, and this 1958 roster featured seasoned veterans the likes Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, alongside relative newcomers such as Jimmy Hamilton and Paul Gonsalves. Their incomparable style is on full display here on “El Gato,” teeming with dynamic energy, improvisational prowess, and theatrical flair as the tune bounces from solo to solo from all-time greats Harry Carney, Shorty Baker, and Ray Nance.

“El Gato”, and Copenhagen 1958 as a whole, not only serve as a time capsule for Ellington’s unparalleled artistry and his orchestra’s matchless stagecraft, but also as a reminder of the Duke’s enduring legacy. Even now, all these years later, pieces like “El Gato” excite and thrill just as readily as they did when these icons still walked the earth.

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