In 1999, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Mulgrew Miller came together in a unique and unlikely pairing to pay tribute to Duke Ellington on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The result was a passionate and long-lived musical partnership between two masters of their respective instruments, but the original recordings were never released. For the first time ever, more than 20 years after its recording, this lost treasure is finally made available to the public.
The duo was initially brought together by Bang & Olufsen and set out to celebrate Ellington and his partnership with bassist Jimmy Blanton. With the help of Per Arnoldi, who is also credited with the album’s artwork, NHØP was approached to take part and tapped Mulgrew Miller to tackle a series of Ellington’s classic themes and a couple of their own. He saw the opportunity to work with Mulgrew Miller, a pianist whom he admired and had not yet had the opportunity to work with, and this decision paid off greatly for both of them. A great musical and personal partnership was born, and the duo’s captivating chemistry is obvious from the first notes.
Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen is widely celebrated as one of the greatest to ever grace the upright bass and had a long and fruitful career among the greats of jazz. He is arguably jazz’s most virtuosic bassist, and his long career saw collaborations with legends like Oscar Peterson, Kenny Drew, Michel Petrucciani, Tania Maria, Philippe Catherine and Joe Pass. In the duo with Miller in particular, Niels-Henning’s unique sense of harmony and his impeccable timing stand out. Meanwhile, Mulgrew Miller, one of the most accomplished jazz pianists of the 80s and 90s delivers Ellington’s themes with grace and admiration. His playing is marked by versatility, skillful soloing and tasteful restraint. With NHØP on bass and MIller on piano, the talents of both are given plenty of space to explore Ellington’s themes and to form a musical dynamic that rivals that of Ellington and Blanton.
The duo was very successful and they toured the world in the following years. A live album, The Duo – Live!, was released on Storyville Records and documents the duo’s great musical chemistry in a live setting. They kept playing shows together until NHØP’s passing in 2005.
The collaboration was a unique meeting of two of the greatest jazz-minds of their time paying tribute to another legendary partnership. Thankfully, these recordings are finally available and they make up an important addition to the already extensive and impressive legacies of both NHØP and Mulgrew Miller as well as a beautiful tribute to Ellington and Blanton.