I could have filled this whole playlist with Duke Ellington songs, or Billie Holiday recordings. Recordings of Billie Holiday singing Duke Ellington songs are almost too much musical pleasure to bear. This one falls into that large category of songs that are maybe too depressing for lullabies if you think about the lyrics too hard, but the melody is so perfect, so why ruin a good thing? Billie Holiday is more of a grownup taste, but her recordings are a rich resource for singable tunes, even if few of us are able to sing them remotely like she does.
Late in his life, Ellington made a few small-group albums with younger and more modernist musicians. By far the weirdest of these is Money Jungle, a trio record with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. The whole thing is pretty chaotic—on the album cover, Mingus looks ready to murder someone. He had been the bassist in the Ellington Orchestra briefly before being fired for (supposedly) getting into a knife fight with another band member during a performance. On the other hand, Mingus revered Ellington. It’s hard to know what the vibe in the studio was for the Money Jungle session, but it must have been charged.
Anyway, I say all this because Money Jungle contains two lush Ellington ballads: “Solitude” and “Warm Valley.” This pairing gave me the idea to combine them into a single tune when I did it with my jazz group, and it’s still how I sing it to my kids. It’s pretty simple: you sing the intro to “Warm Valley,” the words to “Solitude,” sing the whole main melody of “Warm Valley” where the “Solitude” solos would normally go, and then sing “Solitude” again. It’s quite satisfying and if you sing it while your kid is already sleepy, they’re just about guaranteed to be sleeping peacefully by the end of it.
You can learn more about Billie Holiday here:
About the Curator - Ethan Hein
Ethan Hein is a Doctoral Fellow in Music Education at New York University. He teaches music technology, production and education at NYU and Montclair State University. With the NYU Music Experience Design Lab , Ethan has taken a leadership role in the creation of new technologies for learning and expression, most notably the Groove Pizza . In collaboration with Soundfly, he has developed a series of online music theory courses . He maintains a widely-followed and influential blog , and has written for various publications, including Slate, Quartz, and NewMusicBox.