It's not hard to find Duke Ellington cover songs. Nearly every jazz musician alive (and many long dead) has covered an Ellington tune or two. Some have done entire albums. Ella Fitzgerald did a three-CD set.
Many covers are so well-known and so ordinary, they're hardly worth finding. "Sophisticated Lady" has been done to death. Ditto "Satin Doll." I'm not sure the world needs another cover version of either.
I choose the path less traveled.
Lately, I've been listening to a dandy collection called "Impulsively Ellington"a 2-CD set of Ellington covers recorded by various artists on (what else?) Impulse Records. The range is impressive: Earl Hines, Ben Webster, Yusef Lateef, Freddie Hubbard, Gabor Szabo, McCoy Tyner... 28 tracks in all. There are a lot of predictable tracks here"Mood Indigo" (two versions), "Caravan," Cotton Tail" (two versions), "In a Sentimental Mood" and, yes, "Satin Doll"but also a handful of surprises.
Among my favorites is a McCoy Tyner cover of "Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool." It's a poppy little tune with a catchy hook, and one that doesn't pop to mind when you think of Duke Ellington. It's a little out of the ordinary.
On the far side of unexpected is Gabor Szabo's take on "Caravan." The song has been done almost too much, but I remain fascinated by how many different ways it can be played. Some are ridiculously fast, some annoyingly slow. Some with horns, some with pianos, at least one funky extended drum solo (by the amazing Bernard "Pretty" Purdy). Here, the Hungarian guitarist gives the old chestnut an Eastern European feel, almost Middle Eastern.
Better than another drab cover of "Prelude to a Kiss."
Track Listing: Cotton Tail; Paris Blues; caravan; Chocolate Shake; Satin Doll; Action
in Alexandria; Duke's Place; Mood Indigo; Main Stem; I Let a Song Go
Out of My Heart/Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Rockin' in Rhythm;
Caravan; Cotton Tail; Paris Blues; Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me; In
a Mellow Tone; Ring Dem Bells; Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool; Warm Fire;
Fantazm; Mood Indigo; Prelude to a Kiss; Single Petal of a Rose;
Cotton Tail; Black and Tan Fantasy; Island Virgin; In a Sentimental
Personnel: Benny Carter; Milt Jackson; Freddie Hubbard; McCoy Tyner; Paul
Gonsalves; Shirley Scott; Charles Mingus; Johnny Hodges; Clark Terry;
Gabor Szabo; Earl Hines; Manny Albam; Ben Webster; Lionel Hampton;
Lateef; Elvin Jones; Lawrence Brown; Pee Wee Russell; Louie Bellson;
Oliver Nelson; Archie Schepp