Original Artist: Duke Ellington
Original Album: Single (1937)
Historian: Charles Franz, lumpblockclod
One of several Duke Ellington classics in the Phish repertoire is the swing era masterpiece, “Caravan.” Written and most often played as an instrumental, lyrics were added later, making “Caravan” a standard for both jazz combos and vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald. At its best, “Caravan” can be a potent interplay of exotic rhythms and textures (Money Jungle’s version with Ellington, Max Roach, and Charlie Mingus is excellent). At its worst, it can sound like the background music for a television game show.
Played most often from 1990 through 1994, Phish’s instrumental rendition is respectable if not inspired. Given its jazz origins, it shouldn't be surprising that "Caravan" often makes appearances when Phish is joined by the Giant Country Horns or Cosmic Country Horns (7/20/91 and 12/2/94 are representative examples). Other special versions include 5/7/93 Bangor, ME (with a “Manteca” tease); 4/23/94 in Atlanta when Phish was joined by Merl Saunders on keyboards; and on its last Phish performance to date, 12/29/96 in Philadelphia. The latter performance belies the oft-stated claim that Phish can’t play jazz in large auditoriums.
"Caravan" has also been performed several times by the members of Phish in their various solo projects or while appearing as guests with other acts. Some examples include: 6/10/93 (Trey & Mike with Jazz Mandolin Project), 1/13/94 (Trey & Fish with Bad Hat), 4/11/96 (Trey with Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band), 10/1/96 (Mike with the Gordon Stone Trio), 6/8/99 (Trey with the Vermont Jazz All-Stars) and 5/31/03 (TAB). At a minimum, fans should check out the 5/31/03 version, also featuring Carlos Santana on guitar, which has been memorialized on the Live at the Warfield DVD.
Duke Ellington, "Caravan"