For jazz big bands in the 1930s, trains were the logical upgrade from the drudgery of the band bus. Several bands, including those of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway had their own Pullman cars that could be attached to any outgoing train.
Tunes inspired by the sound of the train whistle, the roar of the engine at full throttle and the rhythmic sound of cars passing over the tracks will fill the 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 “Take a Train!” concert by the Purdue Jazz Band and the Concert Jazz Band in Loeb Playhouse of the Purdue Stewart Center.
Admission is free.
From freight trains and luxury passenger trains to New York City’s subways, the tunes reflect every kind of rail travel. And no tunes could be more perfect for an audience dominated by Boilermaker fans.
“Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” – both on the Purdue Jazz Band’s section of concert – reflect different modes of travel. Introduced in 1941 in the movie Sun Valley Serenade by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” enjoyed instant success, residing at Number 1 on Billboard’s Best Sellers Chart for nine weeks. It was written by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while traveling on the Southern Railway’s “Birmingham Special” train. From 1880, most trains bound for America’s South passed through the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga on to the super-hub of Atlanta.
Likewise, “Take the A Train,” written in 1938, was also inspired by a special train - the A subway train in New York city, running at that time from eastern Brooklyn up into Harlem and northern Manhattan, using the express tracks in Manhattan. Written by Billy Strayhorn, the catchy tune became the musical signature of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Under the direction of M.T. “Mo” Trout, the Purdue Jazz Band’s performance also includes such tunes as “Midnight Freight” by Sammy Nestico, a tune that debuted with the Count Basie Orchestra; “Freight Trane” by Tommy Flanagan,” GG Train” by Theolonious Monk,” “Happy-Go-Lucky-Local” by Duke Ellington and “Night Train,” a major rhythm and blues hit for one of Duke Ellington’s top tenor saxophonists Jimmy Forrest.
Fred Strum’s “Great Northern Express” was commissioned by the Northern Michigan University Jazz Ensemble, and is an upbeat tone poem portraying the Great Northern Railway that ran for a century from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean.
The Concert Jazz Band opens the concert with John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” Peter Quinn’s “The Curly Shuffle” and Howard Rowe’s “Jive at Five” among others.
The concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestra which offers a series of jazz, concert band and orchestra events throughout the year.