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Take the A Train (Billy Strayhorn)

Billy Strayhorn wrote "Take the A Train" at the age of 24 to celebrate his hiring by Duke Ellington as a staff composer and arranger, basing the lyrics on Ellington's telegraphed directions to his home in New York City. But nothing came of the tune until December 1940, when the radio industry refused to play songs by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Since all of Duke Ellington's own tunes were registered with ASCAP, he needed an entire new book for his radio show. To meet the need, Strayhorn holed up with Duke's son Mercer Ellington at the Sutherland Hotel on Chicago's South Side, where in just two days Strayhorn created the compositions "After All," "Clementine," "Chelsea Bridge," "Johnny Come Lately," "Rain Check," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and "Passion Flower'—plus remarkable arrangemens of "Take the A Train" and an obscure Ted Grouya/Edmund Anderson tune, soon to be enormously popular: "Flamingo." Strayhorn's first treatment of "A Train" was heavily influenced by the style of the Fletcher Henderson band, but he made adjustments to fit the Ellington approach. "Take the A Train" became Ellington's radio theme, and later his band's performance theme, and became so closely identified with Ellington that many people believe he wrote the song. [Information based on David Hajdu's Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn].

The Safe Sax version is voiced for the the big-band sax-section sound (alto sax, two tenor saxes, and a baritone sax). The sample begins in the middle of the chart, where the saxes segue to a new key (concert F) using the theme that pianist Ellington used to kick off the Strayhorn arrangement. Steve Magnone's drumming for this out-chorus really kicks the band into high swing.

Safe Sax musicians include Mario Mongello (lead tenor sax), Steve Koerner (tenor sax), Herman Reyes (tenor sax), Glenn Broadhead (baritone sax), Bill Reda (guitar), Michael Daly (bass), and Steve Magnone (drums).

Recorded in 2007 by Nick Eipers and his students at Columbia College (Chicago).