It’s a quality of great music, I suppose, that it can conjure a nostalgia for times lost quite outside the music itself. If I listen to something by Glenn Miller, I can remember quite distinctly what it was like to be seventeen – but that’s because I was listening to Glenn Miller’s music when I was that age. The music, in a sense, cannot transcend the times in which I first encountered it, its principal interest to me now, purely nostalgic.
Ellington’s music, in contrast, takes me back to all sorts of corners of my memory despite the fact I wasn’t listening to Ellington’s music – wasn’t even aware of him, perhaps – in that time. This is truly great music which exists in, of, for, outside and beyond itself.
That’s one thought prompted by this luminous recording from 1935.
Secondly, the claims made for the music by Simon Carmiggelt, lost -I don’t doubt to an extent – in translation are, nevertheless, particularly germane. Carmiggelt says
“It’s a remarkable epic kind of music. It’s telling and afterwards – when the music is over – you can actually tell anything about it, it fits everything. Indeed, it seems that Ellington was and still is a great man, since the music has remained as strong as steel all these years.”
And the third point is this: that Ellington’s response to the times in which he lived, the injustice and indignity frequently visited upon black Americans, was gracious, beautiful works such as this is remarkable. And one wonders the extent to which in those lost times, as he listened to this piece, one of the things that ‘fits’ is Simon Carmiggelt’s memory of his brother...