For nearly half a century, Boston-born musician Harry Carney played baritone sax alongside Duke Ellington. Carney and Ellington were close, and Ellington composed many of his tunes during long rides from gig to gig with Carney in the driver's seat.
Listen to the songs featured in our appreciation of Harry Carney's music and artistry.
A wonderful, warm Carney contribution on this Duke Ellington piece — also with longtime Ellington composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn. NPR has labeled Strayhorn "Emotional Architect of Song."
First recorded in 1928 when Carney was still in his teens and relatively new to the band, "Jubilee Stomp" shows that while Carney became famous for playing the baritone sax, he was proficient in other instruments as well. On "Jubilee Stomp" Carney plays three instruments: clarinet, alto sax and baritone sax.
'East St. Louis Tootle-Oo'
This is thought to be the first Duke Ellington recording of this song from 1926. Steely Dan fans love this tune as Steely Dan covered it 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 terrific example of Carney's use of "circular breathing" — watch Carney blow a long continuous note at the end. It's more than a minute long, and you can see him working his cheeks! Carney is on-camera a lot in this version.
'Take the A Train'
One of Duke Ellington’s theme songs. This is a great road song. In my own cross-country road trip as a college student in 1975 — this song was on my playlist!
This version is from 1964 — and has a nice talk-up by Duke Ellington in which he introduces composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn.
'Drop Me Off in Harlem'
This song comes from Mercer Ellington’s Album “Continuum,” which was Carney’s last recorded album. Carney recorded this tune not long after Duke Ellington died, in 1974, and just before he died. You can hear the sorrow in Carney’s solos. If you listen to only one song on this playlist, make it this one!
A fitting song to play at the end of our story because Ellington would frequently use this piece as a sign-off to a concert or gig. This is a nice version with Ellington first playing solo piano, then toward the middle of the song Carney comes in to accompany him.
Other great tracks with Harry Carney:
- "Sweet Lorraine" - Frank Sinatra sings here as several jazz legends back him up. You'll hear Harry Carney and Sinatra play off each other starting at about 30 seconds into the song.
- "Far East Suite" - Two minutes and three seconds of sugar from Carney — Suite and Sugar, get it!
- "For Harry Carney" - Just two months after Harry Carney passed in 1974, jazz legend Charles Mingus recorded this elegy written by the also legendary jazz composer and pianist Sy Johnson. This song is "For Harry Carney."