In a word: sublime. This is what many believe heaven sounds like, well, at least one part of heaven (if there’s no room from Coltrane, then it’s not really heaven). This is from a 1958 pairing of these two most esteemed members of our musical family. Mahalia Jackson.jpg Mahalia Jackson is often (and rightfully) hailed as the world’s greatest gospel singer. That designation usually leads one to imagine whooping and hollering, but this number, majestic in its serene yet passionatge spirituality, is the exact opposite, and hence underscores just how great Mahalia was. Indeed, she was far more than just the greatest "gospel" singer, she was arguably one of the greatest vocalist of her time regardless of musical genre. Moreover, many people don’t realize Mahalia had serious jazz roots. She hailed from New Orleans, the cradle of American popular music. Along with her peer, Louis Armstrong, the two of them virtually not only defined American vocal music of their time, directly or indirectly they also indelibly influenced every major American vocalist who followed them. Mahalia sprang up out of Jim Crow New Orleans in the late Twenties, journeyed up to Chicago to hook up with Tom Dorsey, a  piano player of world-renowned ill-repute who quit the blues to take up religious music. Needless to say, that duo got kicked out of many a church, literally banished for "playing the devil’s music." Mahalia’s defense was simple: that’s the way we did it back home. Mahalia is the ‘Black’ of the title in Ellington's ‘Black, Brown and Beige’ suite, i.e. the ultra-poor who were the bedrock of the then burgeoning African American cultural/musical expressions; or to put it another way that may sound sacrilegious, but if you think about it deeply enough, you’ll understand: if Mahalia had been in New Orleans during Katrina, more likely than not, she would have been either at the Superdome or the Convention Center, or stuck in some attic, or dead. And that’s the truth. duke003.jpg Model citizen of the professional persuasion, Edward Kennedy Ellington represents the Brown—elegant of taste and urbane of manners but unalterably committed to his people. Thus, he wrote this multi-part musical masterpiece, and not only wrote it, but also staged it. Annually, Duke would rent Carnegie Hall and present a concert of his music in the format he wanted. These post-World War II concerts are legendary. Four of them are available as 2-CD sets for 1946, 47, 48 and 49. "Come Sunday" is critically acclaimed as the diamond in the brilliant composition. Eventually, in the late fifties, Duke and Mahalia recorded together. Not just once but a number of times—Columbia has recently issued an Ellington performance at the Newport Jazz Festival that included Mahalia offering a live version of "Come Sunday." But I think this initial studio performance is the master version. It is taken  from a French pressing (although Columbia has now released an expanded version that includes alternate tracks). RayNance.jpg As lagniappe, we include the Ray Nance solo violin version of “Come Sunday.” Nance’s tone on strings, much like Mahalia’s moan, is utterly beautiful; full, magnificent, passionate. If you listen closely to the Mahalia version you can hear Nance providing a sensitive obbligato in the background. Undoubtedly he was so inspired by Mahalia that he rose high above his normal magnificence to render to us one of the most serious recordings of jazz violin ever. I will not gush over how beautiful the melody is, nor go ga-ga over the harmonic sophistication, or opine profusely about the deft voicings of the orchestra, I will simply say: listen, listen and be filled with holy wonder. —Kalamu ya Salaam          I definitely hear it now          Another great recording. Mahalia’s control and phrasing remind of, on the one hand, a classical musician. I kept expecting her to catch the spirit and really let loose, but she never did. (Which works very well—I dig it.) On the other hand, the obvious vocal power Mahalia possesses (but in this case, decides to keep reigned in) reminds me of one of her musical daughters, Aretha Franklin, and specifically of Aretha’s bombastic, astounding version of Marvin Gaye’s "Wholly Holy." I could respond here in length. Instead, I’ll save it for a full write up of "Wholly Holy." I’m not a Mahalia fan, so I never understood the comparisons, but I definitely hear it now. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 11th, 2005 at 1:18 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “DUKE ELLINGTON & MAHALIA JACKSON / “Come Sunday””

Ms. Berry Says:
December 11th, 2005 at 2:31 am

Her voice and conviction is AMAZING. This song is beautiful. Someone actually bought this CD for me but it feels like the first time I’ve heard this song. My mom LOVED Mahalia…I used to practice singing to her songs in the garage as kid. There is no other like her.

Stephanie Renee Says:
December 11th, 2005 at 9:43 am

Born and raised in DC, my parents’ rather limited musical collection left me cheated from a full experience of Duke’s brilliance until years later when I performed in a cabaret show celebrating his birth centennial. For the finale in this show, we sang a medley of pieces from “Come Sunday.” What wondrous music! And hearing the original now gives me a completely renewed appreciation for Mahalia’s gift as well. THANKS SO MUCH for sharing this!

Kevin M. Says:
December 12th, 2005 at 11:40 am

Another great choice–thanks so much.

Anyone care to suggest other good versions of “Come Sunday”? Personally I havea spent many months of Sundays listening to Eric Dolphy’s recording… alto sax duet with Richard Davis on bass.

AumRa Says:
December 12th, 2005 at 6:50 pm

Depending on what type and the quality of the spirit possessed, sometimes spirit comes as a blazing fire and other times smolders like heat contained in bricks of charcoal. The essential quality remains unchanged. It’s about how that energy is manifested based on what is needed at a given point in space and time. Mahalia possesses both the outer fire and brimstone and the profound inner peace yet at the core is oneness with essential awareness which permeates and vibrates with the thread of existence. Mahalia’s interpretation of Come Sunday is true comprehension of the emotional character of the piece. I love the way Mahalia is able to instill a sense of peace in the midst of an urgent state of affairs. It is a bright sound of confidence that can lead men and women into battle with pale forces that tend to reduce the spectrum of life to that of mere black and white reality. Through Black, Brown and Beige Duke and Mahalia delivers the sound resonating dichotomy underscoring a great number of Black peoples plight in the world. Mahalia’s is an imperative sound that is immediately identifiable.

Like Satchmo, Billie, Bird and Trane there are musicians who seem to devour life ravenously, digest existence and distill a pure musical expression that nurtures the vast majority. It goes beyond the mere act of being Black in America; it’s more like prevailing over a given situation and knowing when to guard the crown with the hard hat, the head wrap or the thinking cap. It takes intelligent and experienced awareness, strong of character to able to interpret accurately the Black experience. Let us understand the social and political times through which this music came into play.

It takes more than a minute to develop an individual style. Most times one has to die to certain way of reacting in order to grow into a proactive way of life. Not many are willing to go through this metamorphosis because it is not easy or glamorous and takes time and effort (effort being the more dynamic of the latter two). It is like sand being fired-up, becoming glass and then allowing life to be observed and reflected from a clearer, more refined perspective.

The music of Come Sunday is raised to a state of ecstasy that most musicians strive to reach. This volatile and fleeting state is channeled by Duke and Mahalia and as they pull strings, the spirit descends on us like how light summer rain falls on pavement and leaves a cool mist as it evaporates. It is the rarified air of consciousness being in the moment. It is Duke smiling to himself and Mahalia closing her eyes. It is a blurring of the line between sensual and spiritual pleasure. Mahalia and Duke have knowledge of self and this is evident in their ability to allow the essential spirit of the voice and piano to come through without any reference to ego. And though Mahalia caresses some notes, for the most part, the song is rendered straight tone; the melody sings on its own accord. It is not only a matter of recognizing great song writing but also one of being cosmically attuned. The lyrics and melody of Come Sunday are compelling and when you add to that the lightning rod awareness of both Duke and Mahalia, what will always follow is controlled combustion that strikes a sense of awe within those with ears to hear. I remember Mahalia’s send off being one as glorious as any I’ve witnessed. It was right there in the Treme on St. Claude between Ursulines and Gov. Nicholls at Blandin’s Funeral Home. Illuminated in the twilight was a vast and sparkling sea of mourners that helped Mahalia cross the water. And right down the street From Blandins, at the Municipal Auditorium, I saw Duke Ellington perform a Sacred Concert. That was concert was June of 1965 and the ticket was .99 cents.

Shout out to Vernon ‘Dr. Daddy-o’ Winslow.

Qawi Says:
January 13th, 2006 at 3:50 pm

I know this is a late submission, but Come Sunday is an awesome track. To answer Kevin M’s question about another good rendition, have him check out Dee Dee Bridgewater’s version (Prelude to A Kiss) and Cassandra Wilson’s version (on an album to raise funds for the hurricane victims).

Morris Sanford Says:
January 21st, 2006 at 5:24 pm

My father had a pressing of Black Brown and Beige on the Phillips label, bought while on an overseas tour of duty. I was about 9 or 10 years old when I dug this out of his extensive record collection and put it on his turntable. Even at that age I knew I was hearing something special. The quality of the recording immediately stood out. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but now I know what it was that startled me… the arrangements… wow!

My father came home later that day and seemed really surprised that I was listening to this record. We talked a lot about music in the following years; this was the record that started a conversation that would not end until his passing.

I had not heard it in 20 years. My father passed away last year, and somewhere this memory of he and I listening to this recording together resurfaced, and I ordered the reissue, having worn out the LP long before I learned to drive.

I’ve been disappointed before, let down by my own nostalgia falsely enhancing a memory of a moment that can’t be recaptured…

Not this time. As I sat and listened to this remarkable music I was amazed to find that my memory had not done it justice.

It’s the work of great musicians, writers and artists that makes life such a rich experience. Where would the human race be without works of such beauty?.

Wayne Says:
February 2nd, 2006 at 8:07 am

This is an extremely late response but in response to Kevin M, I find that the Real Group does a nice acappella rendition of Come Sunday. Definately worth checking out.

Carolyn Says:
March 8th, 2006 at 8:33 am

Mrs. Jackson
was and is one of the greatest voices that God could have loaned us. her expression of soul spirit
and grace often left you, helplessly,longingly, inspired. I was born in New Orleans and had the pleasure of enjoying that wonderful music in my home often. and if i may add a special note as a survior of katrina I feel if mahelia would have been there i think the calming spirit of her voice would have been a welcome ray of hope to ease the pain we endured. I”ve listened to her often since i’ve recloated to my new home and although she’s gone physially , she’s still giving hope.

Cory Says:
July 27th, 2007 at 11:25 am

A friend kept telling me about this song but I didn’t get around to it until weeks later. I finally played this song late one night sitting alone in the dark with my headphones on and It was spiritually mesmorizing and emotional. If you ever wondered where God is, know that he speaks through this song. Heavenly.

Mary Says:
February 16th, 2008 at 5:00 pm

I’ve only heard this wonderful song by Joe Williams (via Pandora.com), singing with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Gotta tell you, Joe does as good a job on Come Sunday as he does on most everything else.

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