Saturday, August 6, 2011

Caravan - Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington

SONG Caravan

WRITTEN BY Juan Tizol; arrangement by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington

PERFORMED BY The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Chet Atkins and Les Paul

APPEARS ON "Caravan" single by the Ellington Orchestra (1937); Chester & Lester, Chet Atkins and Les Paul (1976)

There's not much detail to report on this song, other than the fact that it's one of the classics of the Big Band era. Of course, anyone who knows me knows I practically worship the ground Ellington walked on, and consider him on of the quintessential American composers and performers. "Caravan" may have been written by Juan Tizol, but it was Duke Ellington's arrangement for the orchestra that makes the song what it is.

Juan Tizol, a trombonist who had played with Ellington since 1929, was born in Puerto Rico in 1900. Aside from forming Ellington's first signature powerhouse trombone section with Tricky Sam Nanton, Tizol often copied parts for the orchestra and contributed the occasional composition. His most famous contributions were "Caravan" and "Perdido", both classics of the Big Band repertoire. In fact, Tizol's compositions are often credited with creating an interest in Latin stylings in jazz which eventually became Latin Jazz.

Irving Mills wrote lyrics to this song, but almost no one used them. For the bulk of its career this song has always been performed as an instrumental. So we'll break the Just A Song tradition of posting the lyrics this time.

This first video is a promotional film of Duke and the orchestra playing "Caravan" in 1952. That's Tizol playing the trombone.

I decided to include this cover version by Chet Atkins and Les Paul from their 1976 recording Chester & Lester because (a) I'm a huge fan of both guitarists and an even huger fan of their two collaboration albums, Chester & Lester (1976) and Guitar Monsters (1978). I first heard their version of "Caravan" on Eric in the Evening, the signature jazz show on WGBH in Boston, pretty much the paramount public radio station in the US. Once I heard the song I needed to find the album, and I've been in love ever since. These are the two classiest guitarists in guitar history, and their cover of a tune by the elegant and sophisticated Duke was a match made in heaven . Enjoy!