Tunes On Tuesday: Caravan

Why this tune?

As our COVID crisis continues, I’m thinking back to the regular gigs we enjoyed before the virus, like the monthly dates at Mr. Henry’s in Washington, DC with Aaron Myers and his band: with Percy White on bass and Will Stephens on drums. One instrumental we used to call regularly was Caravan, written by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, and recorded first in 1936 by a small group of Ellington band players, It’s a fun tune to play, and a challenge at the fast tempos we would usually call on the bandstand.

I’m still learning how to play interesting, musical solos on this tune. Caravan lends itself to a “Middle Eastern” sound on the A section, using what the theory heads call a Phrygian dominant scale, which is also known both a “Jewish” scale and the Hijaz maqam in Arabic music. Flamenco and Gypsy musicians also have a claim on this sound.

Dig this detail!

Irving Mills wrote lyrics for this tune, but the vocal version isn’t nearly as popular as the instrumental. That may be because the lyrics themselves aren’t particularly inspired. There are some fine performances worth checking out, like Ella Fitzgerald singing it with Duke, and a more recent version from Cyrille Aimée.

Check it out!

Duke Ellington and his orchestra

Duke, Charlie Mingus & Max Roach

Ella Fitzgerald with the Ellington band

Cyrille Aimée

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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