Mercury Studios released an important double-bill DVD in April that is as essential to serious jazz fans as it is entertaining. Emmy-nominated Love You Madly was originally shown on US Network TV in 1965 and has rarely been seen since.

The film, directed by Richard Moore, follows arguably the most important figure in the history of jazz, Duke Ellington, as he prepares for a major performance at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Shot in an almost cinema verite style, not dissimilar to D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan doc, Don’t Look Back. You could suspect that Moore’s film may have been an influence, particularly in the backstage scenes and casual interviewing style of Ralph J. Gleason. Gleason would go on to co-found Rolling Stone Magazine.

Between interviews with Ellington, we see priceless footage of him with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Basin Street West, playing to an intimate crowd. If ever there was a filmed gig that would genuinely reflect the jazz scene of that time, then this is the one. The band dressed in sharp-as-hell zoot suits, the audience rapt in a smokey, pokey venue; it doesn’t get cooler than this. Iconic.

Ellington refers to his band as his “Travelling workshop” and admits to Gleason that he never plans a setlist, his band needs to be prepared for anything. He also likes to call the band his big toy, “I have a gimmick to keep it together, I give them the money, and I keep the kicks.” This jazz-talk permeates the hour-long doc as we are further allowed access to such legends as Jon Hendricks and Dizzy Gillespie, all singing Ellington’s praises.

Highlights from the Basin Street show include “Take the A Train” and “Impressions of the Far East,” the latter an exotic swirling sequence of pounding rhythms influenced by the band’s recent tour of Asia. Duke Ellington describes his music well and has a refreshing philosophy that in our lives, we only have earth on a lease, “Like footprints in the sand.” He certainly made the most of his time here.

In addition to the Grace Cathedral footage (more of that later), we are also blessed with some magical studio footage and an exciting performance of “Things ain’t what they used to be” from the Monterey festival.

Towards the end, there is a lingering shot, looking straight into Ellington’s eyes that show the passion and intelligence that makes his work so integral to the history of jazz.

The second half of this incredible double bill is the Cathedral gig itself. This 60-minute performance is nothing short of priceless and was described by Ellington himself as “The most important statement (the) orchestra had ever done.” Whilst clearly embracing Gospel music, this is still as much a straight jazz event as you could wish for, with full orchestra participation giving way to perfect solos and breath-taking guest vocalists.

Overture to “Black, Brown and Beige” opens the performance and is lengthy and complex, incorporating “Come Sunday” and embracing many elements and styles. Early stages recall Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver. Ellington himself was party to soundtracking movies, so this parallel is not surprising. A stunning sax solo from Jonny Hodges breaks the mood and leads to a full-blown swing section with notable deep double bass work and a heart-stopping drum solo from Louis Bellson. Ellington alternates from his piano to conducting his orchestra with fluidity.

Esther Marrow takes the vocals on “Tell me it’s the Truth” and is amazing, recalling the deep-throated delivery of Odetta, and Jon Hendricks lends his vocals to the extraordinary “In the Beginning God.” The passage where Hendricks takes us back to the beginning of time where there is “No Heaven, No Earth, No Nothing. No Mountains, No Valleys, No Mainstreets, No Back Alleys, No Beetles (Beatles?)” recalls two moments that were to occur a few years later in John Lennon’s solo works, Imagine and God. God similarly lists Lennon’s lack of belief in such icons as Dylan, Buddha and his own Beatles. Coincidence or influence?

The suite literally takes on biblical proportions in almost classical style at times, and over a swinging sax solo, the Herman McCoy Choir chants the neverending list of names that are presented at the start of the Bible. This is the one truly surreal moment in the whole event.

After a lull, the choir then lists the books of the bible.

Jimmy McPhail takes to the stage to sing “Aint But the One” with the recurring theme of “Good Lord Above” and verses that list God’s perceived achievements.

At the halfway mark, we are treated to a classical Duke Ellington piano solo that sounds a lot like Vince Guaraldi’s beautiful themes from the Peanuts cartoons. (Which were incidentally the tunes that turned me on to my lifelong love of jazz when I was little.)

The show finishes somewhat unusually with a performance of “David danced before the lord with all his might,” featuring a mesmerizing tap dance sequence from Bunny Briggs, who uses his magic shoes as an instrument to add a hypnotic beat to the climax of the event.

Ellington faces the congregation and hammers home his sentiment “(This is) The most important statement we’ve ever made… and we do love you madly.”

This release is an absolute must for Duke Ellington fans and jazz enthusiasts in general and comes as an absolute gift from the past. Perfect.

Director: Richard Moore
Producer: Ralph J. Gleason, Richard Moore
Starring: Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Esther Marrow, Jon Hendricks
Production Company: KQED Film Unit & National Educational Television
Distributed by: Mercury Studios
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Run Time: 120 minutes


Del Pike is a course leader for Moving Image Production at L20 University Centre in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.