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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/13/02

On the Road with Duke Ellington
1967 (2002) - Docudrama

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

On the Road with Duke Ellington Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/D

Specs and Features

60 mins, NR, full frame (1:33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, biographies for Duke Ellington and filmmaker Robert Drew, stills gallery (12 photos), cast & crew credits, Docurama video catalog trailers, program-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Hey kids… remember those 60s documentary films that we all watched at one time or another while in school? You know... the one with shaky video and matter-of-fact narration by the man of a million school reels? For those of you that remember, which is probably most of you given the subject matter of this DVD, On the Road with Duke Ellington will take you right back to that time in your life. The difference is that you'll actually want to watch this film.

Duke Ellington, one of jazz's most prolific composers and certainly one of the most recognizable of the genre, has given to the world untold enjoyment in his music. Schooled in piano at age 7 and nicknamed Duke at 8 (by a school chum because of his regal quality), Ellington eventually found himself in New York at age 24. He performed at the famous Cotton Club during his first years in New York and found style merging to be his ace in the hole. Developing his skills as a front man and honing the abilities that eventually won Duke his worldwide fame, he went on to perform in films, create unique styles and mentor budding stars, as well as influencing thousands of other musicians. Duke Ellington remains the world standard in jazz, forever remembered for his tireless contributions.

This DVD details, in recognizable documentary style, the pursuits of Duke. Filmed by Robert Drew in 1967, this piece captures the Jazz legend wonderfully, from his beginnings to his end. Whether he's composing religious pieces and teaching a choir to perform them to perfection, or working on new compositions between concerts, Duke is shown to be a star constantly in motion.

While the disc highlights the accomplishments of Ellington, it also shows a very human side as well. A man of faith, Duke prayed before every meal, no matter the level of sustenance. He also did not drink tea or coffee, choosing to drink hot water with his meals.

Duke Ellington was in touch with his fans. Choosing to meet with them while he was on the road, he never achieved a state of alienation. In fact, Duke always gave in to audiences and their requests for the many hits that he was responsible for, slipping in the new songs between the old.

The disc does not show much in the way of full renditions of his songs, relying on the film's display of intermittent pieces such as Satin Doll and Solitude. That's just the way that this film was created - a look into the legend of Duke Ellington rather than a montage of his hits. There is, however, a short rendition of his beloved Take the A-Train which ends the film.

The quality of the video itself is grainy, as is expected considering the time in which it was recorded and the type of film used. It's presented in full-frame and lasts approximately 60 minutes. The sound is surprisingly clean, creating a pleasurable listening experience. Extras include a detailed written biography of Ellington, along with a photo gallery of 12 black and white stills. There's also a written biography of the filmmaker, Robert Drew, and a selection of trailers from other catalog titles from DVD distributor Docudrama.

If you're a Duke Ellington fan, this disc will please you immensely as it becomes a perfect complement to a musical DVD library.

Matt Rowe
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