Saturday, January 15, 2011

take the a train

First recorded for radio broadcast, Sir Duke's signature tune showed everyone the way to Sugar Hill.

When the licensing fees charged by the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) made it cost-prohibitive for Duke Ellington to play his own compositions during his live radio broadcasts, he appealed to Billy Strayhorn (who wrote for BMI) to come up with some new songs that he could play. The title came from the directions that Ellington gave Strayhorn to get to his apartment in Harlem. Ellington's son Mercer (who was also brought in to help compose new material) rescued a draft of the song from the trash after Strayhorn had dismissed it as too derivative of his hero Fletcher Henderson.

Twenty years later Ella Fitzgerald reinvented and revitalized the song with her scintillating scat.

Hurry Hurry Hurry
Take the a train
To get to sugar hill way up in Harlem
If you should take the a train
You'll get to where you're going in a hurry
Hurry, get on, now it's coming
Listen to those rails a-humming
If you miss the A train
You'll miss the quickest way to get to Harlem

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