Sathima Bea Benjamin: A Morning In Paris (1963)

CD: Enja ENJ-93092

A Morning In Paris is listed as an Ellington album because Duke produced it and plays piano on two tracks. It surprises me that not many people know about this fantastic album.

So, what's so fantastic about it? A Morning In Paris is one of those perfect late-night vocal albums. The playing is sparse and understated. The singing is both mellow and intensely moving. From the opening of "Darn That Dream," which almost sounds like Chopin or Debussy, to the finale, "A Nightinale Sang In Berkeley Square," there is not an unlovely moment.

Yes, I like it that much.

The story behind this album is as romantic as the music itself.

In 1963, singer Sathima Bea Benjamin and pianist Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim) were performing in Zurich. When Ellington came to town, Benjamin invited Ellington to come hear their group. Ellington did! In turn, Ellington invited Benjamin and Brand to his hotel the next morning and announced that he wanted to record them in Paris three days later.

In Paris, Ellington recorded two albums worth of material. First recorded were twelve vocals with Sathima Bea Benjamin, the Dollar Brand Trio, and guest Svend Asmussen on violin. Next Ellington recorded some instrumentals with just the trio. The instrumentals became the album "Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio," but the vocals were never released. No commercial potential! Benjamin herself never even heard the tapes, which the record company (Reprise) eventually lost.

Thirty years later, David Hajdu interviewed the recording engineer for this session, Gerhard Lehner. At the time Hajdu was doing research for his Billy Strayhorn biography. Lehner had a copy of the tape and was unaware that the masters had been lost. This is how this legendary session became available.

1. Darn That Dream
2. I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good
3. I Could Write A Book
4. I Should Care
5. Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year
6. Solitude
7. The Man I Love
8. Your Love Has Faded
9. I'm Glad There Is You
10. Soon
11. Lover Man
12. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square

Personnel: Duke Ellington (tracks 2 & 6), Billy Strayhorn (tracks 8 & 12), Abdullah Ibrahim (all other tracks), p; Svend Asmussen, pizzicato vn; Johnny Gertze, b; Makaya Ntshoko, d. Produced by Duke Ellington.

Note: The album's liner notes give the recording date as February 23, but Timner gives the date as February 24-25, 1963.

Pretty and the Wolf

The Dollar Brand Trio with Duke Ellington