In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, we are highlighting a fascinating record in our collection. Although the record itself is not particularly rare, the combination of a prominent composer and the anniversary of the premiere performance, in our opinion, makes it worthy of a few paragraphs and further exploration. It is one example among many written in 1969 containing “moon” in the title. “Moon Maiden” is one piece in Ellington’s “Music to Land on the Moon By,” commissioned by the American Broadcasting Company to be broadcast as part of a their 30-hour moon mission coverage. In the setting, Ellington is poised in front of exact replicas of the spacecraft’s components, including a model lunar module.
Moon Maiden is released on the album “The Intimate Ellington.” The liner notes from the original album were written by Stanley Dance, a jazz writer and close friend of Ellington, who was present during the rehearsals. There are conflicting citations of this track being recorded on either July 14th or July 15th, 1969, days before the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Ken Vail’s publication, Duke’s Diary, mentions it was recorded again on September 4, 1969, with a more robust instrumentation. This recording was released in 2002 on Duke Ellington Live and Rare, by Bluebird Records.
For comparison, I recommend first listening to the broadcast version followed by the track released on The Intimate Ellington album. The broadcast version was performed with piano and vocals by Ellington himself, along with Rufus Jones on drums, Paul Kondziela on bass, and Al Chernet on guitar. Mr. Dance writes that he anticipated the celeste might give a “moony” effect and thus during a rehearsal Ellington experimented with a celeste and vocal performance which was recorded and is heard on the album.
For additional listening enjoyment, check out the 1978 Luv You Madly Orchestra disco arrangement. For more Ellington early recordings, the Loeb Music Library has the Duke Ellington Recordings Collection, available upon request. The manuscript for Moon Maiden is held at the Smithsonian National Music of American History, Archives Center.