(Ellington & Parish)
Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
Analysed By Robert Walton
When I first noticed the names of Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington, Sidney Torch, Charles Williams and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra all together on a record, I thought I must have been seeing things! Here was one of the most influential figures in jazz in the same genre as two top English light orchestral composer/conductors as well as one of the greatest orchestras in light music. The unusual assemblage of such a list was unbelievable. You couldn’t get a more unlikely group. And to think that Ellington led the most famous jazz band of all time.
When Sidney Torch became involved with light orchestras he seemed to have given up arranging popular songs. Maybe he’d got tired of them in his organ playing days or was commissioned to concentrate on his own music. So it was an unexpected pleasure to discover him arranging an Ellington tune for the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Charles Williams. (BBC London Transcription Service). So let’s have a listen to Torch getting into the mind of a jazz musician.
If ever a melody was given the full treatment it was Sidney Torch’s 1945 arrangement of Duke Ellington’s 1933 standard Sophisticated Lady. Written in the key of A Flat, the release goes to G, but the clever bit is the way it returns to A Flat. All the orchestral ingredients of Torch’s DNA are featured, both dramatic and light. The introductory attacking strings give the piece a huge build-up merging into those familiar downward chromatic notes of the song, followed by a long simmering chord helped by the harp before reaching the main theme. The “David Rose” sliding effect in the bridge proved most effective. Sophisticated Lady is hard enough to sing, let alone play, so it’s just as well the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was on hand. Actually it sounds better played instrumentally. In fact it began life as an instrumental but I believe possesses the seeds of a piano concerto.
And again the orchestra repeats another exciting run-up, this time sounding almost like an organ. I wonder if that was deliberate or co-incidental? Then the sound of background music from an imaginary blockbuster biblical movie, complete with solo violin. And that haunting Ellington tune returns. Did I hear a touch of Torch’s Radio Romantic?
A single bell tolls Torch’s moment of freedom when the song gets everything the arranger can throw at it. Pure Torch. And then into waltz time. But how is this masterpiece going to end? Quietly. I wonder what the Duke would have said? Guild Light Music GLCD 5223
This arrangement was never released in the USA. In fact, David and I in conversation often bemoaned the fact that there were so many recordings in this genre that never traveled in either direction across the pond. Of course, it is always possible that radio and television stations had this and similar recordings available for broadcast, but these were prohibited from commercial release.
Accordingly, my first exposure to this number was through an arrangement by Andre Kostelanetz, which I got to know pretty well at the time I was acquainting myself with this genre of music in my late teens and early twenties. In fact, one program I regularly listened to for thus purpose, entitled "The Charley Stark Music Shop." used as its signature piece before and after the program this very Andre Kostelanetz recording. Kostelanetz himself apparently recorded this a second time, with results virtually identical to his first recording, with no change in quality of the presentation as has occurred with so many other figures in this field when they did any rercording of this nature.
If this recording by Sidney Torch that Bob Walton refers to is available on YouTube, I will sample it, but without referring to Bob's notes, as my method of absorption of a piece of music is quite different from his and I listen for different things. If I hear anything in it that makes a particular impression worthy of further comment, I will furnish such comment.
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