A Night in Tunisia

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m procrastinating, so I’m briefly giving into my obsession with the Dizzy Gillespie composition, “A Night in Tunisia.” 

It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by my knowing whose song it actually was. The song first wrapped itself around my brain when I heard it on a Miles Davis compilation I bought a year ago.  I was – and still am – on a Davis kick, having been seduced by his soundtrack to Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows that I bought after seeing the film on DVD. And learning on an interview on the special features how Davis literally scored the film while watching the filming just made it that more intriguing to me.

When I made a Miles Davis Quintet station on my Jango app and got piano player Duke Jordan’s version of the song, I had an a ha moment to look for and listen to  every single version of this enticing song (not a few of which can be found onYoutube). Jordan, who died in 2006, has a beautiful version of the song that, unfortunately, I’ve not found yet, other than a remix by DJ Jazzy Jeff. Which is not the direction I wanted to take with listening to this song. This afternoon’s listening was comprised by a few of the 36 artists credited in the Wiki article with having a version of the 1942 composition by Dizzie Gillespie (I know I could and should be using the Jazz Standards site, which I now will since I’ve bookmarked it for my future jazz questions).

Gillespie’s original is obviously more in common with the bebop he helped create; it’s also kind of cool if a little polite to my ears with the xylophone in the background. Nothing against the xylophone, but it’s not a wild man’s instrument.

Then I jumped over to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ excellent 1960 version, which opens with a cacophony of drums. It’s also very controlled, but the percussion has a Mardi Gras vibe to it, making it seem like complete mayhem will occur at any moment. And that’s when the horns come in, but the trumpet is the sharpest and most incisive while the saxophone is jumping erratically. And the drums keep everyone in line.

I have to stop and calm myself down now, having listened to the Blakey version twice through and becoming excited beyond endurance.

So, I went to the Stan Getz version for some West Coast mellow. It’s five minutes shorter than the 11-odd Blakey drum-plosion, but Getz wasn’t being overly fussy with capturing more than the skeleton of Tunisia’s turns.

The Charlie Parker version here, from a 1953 Toronto concert, gets loose with the song even though that is Gillespie’s trumpet, which is, again, the sharpest point of the song. I’d like to know who contributed those whistles at the 6.28 mark; they sound like whippoorwills.

Birds have stopped chirping outside, if they were, and the promise of an afternoon is becoming the work of an evening. Which means I need to put aside Tunisia if I’m going to be productive at all.