I recently heard Ingrid Monson at Harvard do a talk on the interaction of jazz and recording. It caused me to think again about Ellington’s Reminiscing In Tempo. For anybody who doesn’t know, most jazz recordings until post World War II are about 3 -3 1/2 minutes long, since that was the limit of 78rpm recordings. Reminiscing In Tempo is unusual in that it was released as a single piece that went over four sides. The fact that the recording I own, which is a Classics CD, maintains a break between the four sides, rather than putting them together as might have been done for, say, a movement of a Beethoven Symphony originally recorded and released on 78s struck me. Gunther Schuller’s analysis in his Swing Era book treats it as a continuous piece, taking no account of the side breaks. I wonder if the side breaks weren’t, as it were, composed into the piece and are, somehow, integral parts of it, functioning a little like the breaks in the Carter First Quartet. I tried to ask Gunther about it once, without a lot of success. I asked him how Ellington performed it; according to Gunther, since it was controversial and got him a lot of criticism, Ellington was rather discouraged about it and didn’t ever actually perform it much–bacisally he didn’t know, I guess. Gunther did say though, that when he performed it he had to add a little music because going directly from one side to the next doesn’t actually work.

Is considering the piece with the breaks as some sort of Stravinskyish or Carterish continuity a sort of anacronistic hearing which distorts the piece or does it have some validity (or both)?

Any thoughts?

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