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Edward "Duke" Ellington

Although it is somewhat less well-known today than other Duke Ellington favorites like "Take the A Train," "Caravan," and "Satin Doll," Ellington's classic tune "Solitude" was a staple of the Duke Ellington Orchestra's repertoire, and has enjoyed realizations by a number of other artists since it was originally recorded in 1933. A profoundly simple setting of lyrics by Irving Mills, "Solitude" is at once optimistic in its tone but somber in its pace, conflicted with the emotions of bitter loneliness and fond remembrance: "In my solitude, you haunt me, with reveries of days gone by." This haplessly lovelorn mood is encapsulated in the very first phrase of the melody, with its ascent to the leading tone of the scale falling just short of the tonic, and in the seemingly unremarkable chord progressions that nevertheless manage to transform harmonic resolution into wistful resignation. In the priceless recording of the piece made by Ellington and Louis Armstrong in 1961 (not the first for Armstrong, who had recorded the same song 25 years earlier -- one of only a handful of Ellington tunes he had played), Ellington's relaxed piano undercurrent and Armstrong's characteristically staggered vocal delivery, not to mention the unmistakable grain of the legendary singer/trumpeter's voice, convey the song's bittersweet mood with poignant subtlety.