One of Duke Ellington’s finest albums is the glorious New Orleans Suite, a longform tribute to the birthplace of jazz. A gem from very late in his career (Duke would pass away four years later), the 1970 outing finds the band swinging as sharp and hard as it did 20 years earlier.

The album features some of the strongest and most memorable themes ever written by Duke, partially due to four “portrait” pieces written as tributes to New Orleans musicians Mahalia Jackson, Wellman Braud (a Creole musician who was Duke’s first great bass player), Sidney Bechet, and the legendary Louis Armstrong.

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Satchmo himself must have simply glowed with honor when he heard “Portrait of Louis Armstrong.” A marvelous tune written as a feature for one of Duke’s many star soloists, the great trumpeter Cootie Williams, forget the fact that Williams manages to make his horn sound exactly like Armstrong’s–rarely has a piece of music so perfectly captured the very soul of a human being the way this piece does. It’s impossible to hear it and not instantly picture Armstrong. It’s as if the great man himself were playing, and in the music you can clearly hear and feel Ellington, Williams, and the band’s love and respect for him. (To that end, note that though the song is unmistakably a trumpet feature, Duke wrote the arrangement so that he himself could make the opening statement.)

“Portrait of Louis Armstrong” is a work of pure joy, and one of the essential recordings from Ellington’s vast catalogue.

Here’s Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra taking a crack at it. (And here’s a second video of a much younger Wynton giving a more fiery take on it. Interesting viewing for contrast because it shows just how much freedom it allows the soloist to improvise within the arrangement.)

And as a bonus, here’s another movement from the New Orleans Suite, “Thanks For the Beautiful Land on the Delta,” featuring some deep, funky, sanctified tenor sax groove from Harold Ashby. Notice Duke’s piano part at the open is almost exactly the same as the introductory bars of “Portrait of Louis Armstrong,” just one of the ways the two pieces are linked in their sounds.

The New Orleans Suite is also notable for featuring the last recordings made by the great Johnny Hodges, a longtime fixture in the band. He died suddenly after a dentist appointment with only half the album recorded. It was fitting that his final recording was in the style he did best, a massive number written for him by Duke as the leadoff track, “Blues For New Orleans.” This song is also a rare instance in which a jazz organ is featured among the Ellington band, courtesy of special guest Wild Bill Davis. Hodges plays his heart out on this one, and it is yet another essential from the Ellington catalogue.

And here’s something very special: footage of a full-length concert in Italy from summer 1970, with the band playing several numbers from this suite. Most of the performances, honestly, seem uncharacteristically bland and dispirited here–possibly because this was one of their first tour dates after Hodges’ death–but “Portrait of Louis Armstrong” holds up, and is bolstered by Wild Bill Davis guesting again on organ! “Portrait” starts at 26:37.