For nearly half a century, Bostonian musician Harry Carney played baritone sax alongside Duke Ellington. Carney and Ellington were close, and Ellington composed many of his tracks on long gig gig trips with Carney in charge.
Listen to the songs featured in our Appreciation of the Music and Art of Harry Carney.
A wonderful, warm contribution from Carney on this Duke Ellington piece – also with longtime Ellington composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn. NPR named Strayhorn “the song’s emotional architect”.
First recorded in 1928 when Carney was still a teenager and relatively new to the band, “Jubilee Stomp” shows that while Carney became famous for playing the baritone saxophone, he also mastered other instruments. On “Jubilee Stomp”, Carney plays three instruments: clarinet, alto sax and baritone sax.
‘East St. Louis Tootle-Oo’
This is believed to be Duke Ellington’s first recording of this 1926 song. Steely Dan fans love this song because Steely Dan took it over almost 50 years later in 1974.
A beautiful version with Carney’s soulful baritone sax singing throughout.
This is one of Duke Ellington’s signature songs. It’s also a great example of Carney’s use of “circular breathing” – watch Carney blow out a long, continuous note at the end. It lasts over a minute, and you can see him working his cheeks! Carney is often filmed in this version.
“Take Train A”
One of Duke Ellington’s theme songs. It’s a great road song. On my own trip across the country as a college student in 1975, this song was on my playlist!
This version is from 1964 – and has a nice conversation by Duke Ellington in which he introduces composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn.
“Drop Me in Harlem”
This song is from Mercer Ellington’s “Continuum” album, which was Carney’s last recorded album. Carney recorded this track shortly after Duke Ellington’s death in 1974 and just before his death. You can hear the heartbreak in Carney’s solos. If you only listen to one song on this playlist, make it this one!
A fitting song to play at the end of our story as Ellington frequently used this piece as a gig or concert signature. It’s a nice version with Ellington first playing solo piano, then halfway through the song, Carney comes along.
Other great tracks with Harry Carney:
- “Sweet Lorraine“ – Frank Sinatra sings here and several jazz legends support him. You’ll hear Harry Carney and Sinatra playing against each other starting about 30 seconds into the song.
- “Far East Suite“ – Two minutes and three seconds of sugar from Carney – Suite and sugar, go ahead!
- “For Harry Carney“ – Just two months after the death of Harry Carney in 1974, jazz legend Charles Mingus recorded this elegy written by the equally legendary jazz composer and pianist Sy Johnson. This song is “For Harry Carney”.