Friday, September 12, 2008

Night Train

An overview from Wikipedia:
"Night Train" has a long and complicated history. The piece's opening riff was first recorded in 1940 by a small group led by Duke Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges under the title "That's the Blues, Old Man". Ellington used the same riff as the opening and closing theme of a longer-form composition, "Happy-Go-Lucky Local", that was itself one of four parts of his Deep South Suite. Forrest was part of Ellington's band when it performed this composition, which has a long tenor saxophone break in the middle. After leaving Ellington, Forrest recorded "Night Train" on United Records and had a major rhythm & blues hit. While "Night Train" employs the same riff as the earlier recordings, it is used in a much earthier R&B setting. Forrest inserted his own solo over a stop-time rhythm not used in the Ellington composition. He put his own stamp on the tune, but its relation to the earlier composition is obvious.

Like Illinois Jacquet's solo on "Flying Home", Forrest's original saxophone solo on "Night Train" became a veritable part of the composition, and is usually recreated in cover versions by other performers. Buddy Morrow's trombone solo chorus from his recording of the tune is similarly incorporated into many performances.
I first became acquainted with this piece in high school.  A simplified version without any solo breaks was part of our regular stage band repertoire, and it quickly became one of my favorite pieces, even before I really became a jazz fan.  I heard another version of it today.  Unfortunately I can't remember the performer, but it was done with a bari sax and was very slowed down, almost ballad-like, and radically different from the version I heard several days ago performed by World Saxophone Quartet.  The WSQ version was hyper, to say the least, and the four musicians who recorded it were uncannily precise in their performance.

It got me to thinking of an interesting side-hobby in my music collecting.  To collect every version of "Night Train" I can find, regardless of who recorded it or how it sounds.

A quick search at Amazon MP3 shows 675 songs with that string somewhere in the title, although many of them are not the song I'm looking for (and some of them are group names).  Still, that is one heavily covered jazz piece.  Probably not as heavily covered as "Take the A Train," but still...

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