At the start of Duke Ellington’s album, The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse: A Suite in Eight Parts, Ellington himself speaks for a couple of minutes about the whole world “going Oriental.” Apparently, Marshall McLuhan said something to that effect (read full incomprehensible statement here) and while McLuhan had some good points buried in his “going Oriental” statement (mainly because he threw every idea he had about Indochina at the wall and by happenstance, some of it stuck) none of it really matters to the music that follows. Still, Ellington delivers his monologue sincerely and intones that he and his band mates have, in their travels, “noticed this to be true” (that everyone is going Oriental, that is – were The Vapors inspired by this too? Do we have McLuhan to blame for Turning Japanese?). Ellington’s enunciation is so precise and eloquent I don’t even care what he’s says, I just like listening to how he says it. He speaks as if he’s teaching someone how to pronounce the words properly in English and the result is, in it’s own way, a kind of Ellington a capella lead-in.
Oscar Peterson’s career as a jazz pianist was always a bit tricky. Unlike a Bill Evans or Herbie Hancock or Victor Feldman, who could control a set through steady use of block chords and minimal melodic adornment, Peterson was all about flourishes. His style was such that the left hand was of only nominal use while the right hand created intricate melodic magic. Which is all to say, Peterson worked best as a front man, not an accompanist. And when accompanying him, best to keep it simple. Too much counter melody, too intricate a bass line and the whole thing could quickly become an incoherent mess. Perhaps that’s why Peterson’s foray into orchestral jazz turned out so well.