Take the 'A' Train
Music: Billy Strayhorn
Original Artist: Duke Ellington
Original Album: Take The "A" Train (1941)
Historian: Charles Franz
With music written by long-time collaborator Billy Strayhorn, “Take the ‘A’ Train” became Duke Ellington’s signature piece and remains an enduring swing-era jazz classic. The “A” train provided New Yorkers the quickest way to Harlem when that was the locus of the city’s nightlife and the place to hear jazz. It’s a fast-paced piece, with a clear melodic line and inventive rhythm.
The members of Phish have paid homage to many jazz classics, and “Take the “A” Train” was frequently in the rotation from 1987 through 1992. By 1993, however, it was a rare event, another victim of the apparent belief that Phish covers of jazz tunes do not translate well to auditoriums. “‘A’ Train” was a staple of 1991’s “Horn Tour” with the Giant Country Horns. Trumpeter Carl “Geerz” Gerhard also has performed the tune alone with Phish. For representative examples, check out 11/14/91, 12/30/92, 5/5/93, and its last performance to date, 4/13/94.