Variations on a Theme Song (Podcast #20-003)

Billy Strayhorn wrote “Take the “A” Train,” which became the band’s theme song in 1941. We survey a number of diverse treatments from a thirty year period. Continue reading

“”Our theme is [Billy Strayhorn’s] “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and I can still hear his voice clearly clearing up any point of indecision with his watchword: “Ever onward and upward!” Many people are indebted to Billy Strayhorn, and I more than anybody.”

-Duke Ellington, Music Is My Mistress

Nance A Train solo 1Nance A Train solo 2

Ray Nance’s classic trumpet solo on the original version of Take the “A” Train. Transcribed by Bryan Wendell Bennett for his Master’s Thesis, “Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, and Ray Nance: Duke Ellington’s trumpet soloists 1940-1942”  

The recordings heard on this podcast episode:


Take the “A” Train (CD: “Highlights of the Great 1940-1942 Band” Avid, AMSC1143)

Recorded 15 February 1941, Los Angeles

Wallace Jones, Ray Nance –trumpets; Rex Stewart – cornet; Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton – trombones; Otto Hardwicke, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Barney Bigard, Harry Carney – reeds; Duke Ellington – piano; Fred Guy – guitar; Jimmie Blanton – bass; Sonny Greer – drums.

carnegie 48

Manhattan Murals (CD: “Carnegie Hall, November 13, 1948” Vintage Jazz Classics 1024)

Recorded 13 November 1948 at Carnegie Hall, New York City

Shelton Hemphill, Al Killian, Francis Williams, Harold Baker, Ray Nance – trumpet; Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson, Tyree Glenn – trombone; Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Al Sears, Ben Webster, Harry Carney – reeds; Duke Ellington – piano; Fred Guy – guy; Wendell Marshall – bass; Sonny Greer – drums.

Greatest Concert

Take the “A” Train (LP: “The Greatest Jazz Concert In the World” Pablo  2625-070)

Recorded 26 March 1967, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson – piano; Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington – trumpet; Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors – trombone; Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney – reeds; John Lamb – bass; Rufus Jones – drums.