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Image Entertainment presents

Duke Ellington: Tivoli 1969 (1969)

"You're very beautiful, very gracious, very sweet, and we do love you madly."- Duke Ellington

Stars: Duke Ellington
Other Stars: Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Norris Turney
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:22m:55s
Release Date: 2005-12-26
Genre: jazz

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DVD Review

Duke Ellington is like a force of nature, a composer of extraordinary range and skill, a bandleader and performer of unmatched durability. This DVD captures the lion in winter, a concert late in his career when the musical mainstream parted ways in many respects from the world of jazz, from Ellington's world of the smooth big band sound. But still, even at this point in his musical life, Ellington's band swings, and he leads his modestly winnowed-down big band in a winning set of his greatest hits for a most appreciative Danish audience.

In his prime Ellington was surely something of a dandy, but he does seem like a bit of a fashion victim here, in his scarlet coat and blue plaid pants—he's 70, and on appearances alone might seem more ready to play 18 holes than to put some of the greatest American music through its paces. But then he starts playing, and all bets are off—Ellington seems to have a particularly good time when he's at the keyboard, kicking off his signature song, Take the "A" Train, with a terrific rendition of the first verse and chorus, before the rest of the band kicks in. (They're all clad in white suits, which had to have been a dry-cleaning nightmare, but they do look sharp.) Satin Doll also sounds especially good here, even if Ellington appears to be chewing gum.

Not all of the set is highlights from the Ellington songbook—La Plus Belle Africaine is more progressive than what we think of as the signature Ellington style, though I could do without Rufus Jones' obligatory and tedious drum solo. Vocalist Tony Watkins fills the role formerly played by Billy Eckstine—he's got a big booming voice that verges on the operatic, but he sounds just fine growling like a tiger on It Don't Mean a Thing. Ellington was a generous bandleader, happy to throw focus, never reluctant to share the spotlight with the accomplished musicians in his ensemble; his schtick sometimes seems a little canned, the product of years on the road, over-rehearsed and uninspired, or perhaps that's got to do with the Copenhagen audience, which is respectful and knowledgeable if a bit overly polite. A couple of my favorite Ellington tunes don't make it into the set—Lush Life and Don't Get Around Much Anymore, for instance—but then, the man's output was extraordinary, and the concert runs just over an hour and twenty minutes.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The concert footage is well preserved, and the multi-camera shooting style is only modestly intrusive.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Dynamics at the top end are a little iffy, but generally the soundtrack swings. As it should.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Music/Song Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. liner notes
Extras Review: Only some gushing liner notes from jazz writer Scott Yanow.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

A handsome late-career set from arguably the greatest composer and bandleader in American history, and undoubtedly true musical royalty. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

Jon Danziger 2006-04-27