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Come Sunday (1943)

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“...Ellington was a visionary whose music wasn’t fitting into the preconceived notions of what was considered to be jazz.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 151
Written by Duke Ellington

“Come Sunday” was first introduced by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra at their first Carnegie Hall concert on January 23, 1943. Ellington recorded the piece for RCA Victor the following year.


More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

In 1942 Ellington and His Orchestra were engaged for a special performance at Carnegie Hall, and for the event Ellington composed an extended piece entitled “Black, Brown and Beige,” each color denoting a section of the piece corresponding to a period of time in the history of African-Americans in America. Ellington described it as “a tone parallel....” “Come Sunday” is what is now known as the 32-bar, AABA-form song (which Ellington wrote for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges), but originally it was part of a 12-minute portion of the first section, “Black.”

Ellington had composed extended pieces prior to “Black, Brown and Beige.” His first, from 1931, was entitled “Creole Rhapsody.” Then in 1934 his “Symphony in Black” was made into a short film feature. In 1935 the piece “Reminiscing in Tempo” (in four parts) took up two 78 rpm records (a radical concept for a jazz group at the time), and this was followed by the two-part “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” from 1937. It was clear that Ellington envisaged his music to go beyond the standard 32-bar, pop-song convention of the day, an idea that was contrary to the way many, including music critics, viewed the band. In fact, Ellington’s manager of 12 years, Irving Mills, resigned following the issuance of the recordings of “Reminiscing in Tempo.”

Obviously, Ellington was a visionary whose music wasn’t fitting into the preconceived notions of what was considered to be jazz. During the 1930s and ‘40s, Ellington’s compositions were tending to go in radically different directions than the music by other big bands of the time. Also, for years his compositions had been tailored to the individual sounds of his band members, and he was the first of relatively few bandleaders to utilize this approach.

The critics generally panned “Black, Brown and Beige.” The jazz critics felt Ellington was somehow deserting jazz for “serious music” (the term at the time for orchestral or “classical” music), and the “serious music” critics felt it wasn’t up to the great classical compositions. Caught in the cross-fire, Ellington was clearly upset and soon after began to utilize the term “beyond category” for his music rather than using the word jazz. It’s clear in retrospect that neither critical camp understood what Duke was attempting, and he was so disturbed by the turns of events that it would be several years before he would attempt anything similar. Thankfully, however, he continued to compose extended works and eventually gained the critical respect he so deserved.

In 1944 Ellington and the orchestra commercially recorded excerpts from “Black, Brown and Beige” (including “Come Sunday”), but it wasn’t until 1958 that he would revise the piece and record it in its entirety for Columbia Records. In the 1970s, the 1943 live performance was issued for the first time on LP.

More information on this tune...

Gary Giddins
Visions of Jazz: The First Century
Oxford University Press; New Ed edition
Paperback: 704 pages

(Acclaimed jazz writer Gary Giddins discusses the history of the song in his comprehensive book.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Duke Ellington
The Complete RCA-Victor Mid-Forties Recordings (1944-1946)
Original recording 1944

This performance, the first to feature “Come Sunday” outside of the context of the “Black Brown and Beige” suite, features some great violin by Ray Nance (both bowed and plucked) and a wonderful Johnny Hodges melody statement. Of course the writing is fabulous as well.

Carter, Baranco, Mundy, Wilson
Groovin' High in Los Angeles: 1946 Vol 1
Allegro Corporation
Original Recording 1946

This appealing, straightforward big band performance, led, arranged and conducted by a Gerald Wilson, is particularly noteworthy as the first “cover version” of “Come Sunday.”

Eric Dolphy
Iron Man
Jazz World
Original recording 1963

Eric Dolphy is best known for music that is edgy and brash, but this duet with Dolphy on bass clarinet and Richard Davis on bass is stunning for its lyricism and emotional depth.

Ben Webster & Joe Zawinul
Original recording 1963

Saxophonist Webster’s Ellingtonian heyday was before the Duke composed “Come Sunday,” but he nonetheless plays it like he owns it on this breathy, soulful recording alongside pianist Joe Zawinul.

Kenny Burrell
Ellington Is Forever, Vol. 2
Original recording 1975

Though this is guitarist Burrell’s record date, this intimate performance is all about the trumpet. Or trumpets, to be exact, as Snooky Young’s soulful, muted melody statements are punctuated by inventive Thad Jones improvisations on cornet.

World Saxophone Quartet
Plays Duke Ellington
Original recording 1986

For years the World Saxophone Quartet has been known for innovation, and rightfully so, but they have always been steeped in tradition as well. This version of “Come Sunday” is rich and soulful, evolving from a lush ballad into a funky waltz groove.


- Noah Baerman

Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Is Blue

In one of singer Lincoln’s finest efforts, her sidemen reverentially occupy the fringes as the uninhibited vocalist lets loose, giving the song a boost of genuine spirituality.
Tommy Flanagan Trio
The Tommy Flanagan Trio
1992 Original Jazz Classics 183
Original recording 1960
Pianist Flanagan tackles this one alone, delivering a warm, soulful, and thoroughly beautiful interpretation of the Ellington number.
Yusef Lateef
Hush ‘n' Thunder
2002 Collectable 6353
Original recording 1973
The combination of Lateef’s flute and the cello of Kermit Moore gives the song more of a chamber music reading than that of a jazz ensemble. Atmospheric and mesmerizing.
Stanley Cowell
Back to Beautiful
1989 Concord Records 4398

Pianist Cowell sets a spring-like mood in his solo introduction before Steve Coleman enters on soprano sax. Bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Joe Chambers join in to pick up the pace for a joyous and imaginative reading of the song.

- Ben Maycock

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