Anytime the term "essential" is utilized in a compilation of an artist's work, critics are ready to second-guess it. But this two-CD set issued by Columbia/Legacy, now a part of the parent company Sony-BMG, represents a good cross-section of Duke Ellington's studio recordings and even licenses a few tracks from other companies to fill some gaps, spanning from 1927-60.
Ellington's compositions have stood the test of time rather well, due to his gift for unique voicings and ability to compose features that matched his soloists' abilities. While there are plenty of definitive interpretations of many of his best-known works, it's a special treat to hear Johnny Hodges play soprano sax (which he gave up after 1940) on several songs, especially the tasty blues "Tired Socks (from a small band date led by the saxophonist). Cootie Williams, Bubber Miley, Ben Webster, Harry Carney and other greats are also showcased, along with the pianist himself.
The one shortcoming is that Loren Schoenberg's liner notes don't name many of the soloists, probably due to lack of space. The sound restoration is excellent and there are lots of photographs. Serious Ellington fans will already have this music in their collections, but this compilation will be of interest to the casual jazz enthusiast.
Track Listing: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo: Black and Tan Fantasy; Take It Easy; Hot and Bothered; The Mooche; Rockin' in Rhythm; Creole Rhapsody; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); Creole Love Call; Sophisticated Lady; Drop Me Off in Harlem; In a Sentimental Mood; Back Room Romp; Clouds in My Heart; Echoes of Harlem; Caravan; Blue Reverie; Diminuendo in Blue; Crescendo in Blue; I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; Pyramid; Prelude to a Kiss; Tired Socks; Mood Indigo; Ko Ko; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Cotton Tail; Take the A Train; Harlem Air-Shaft; Do Nothin' 'Til You Hear From Me; Satin Doll; Perdido; Come Sunday; Jeep's Blues; Black Beauty; Arabesque Cookie.
Personnel: Duke Ellington: piano, arranger, tom-tom; Billy Strayhorn: piano, arranger; Ray Nance:
trumpet, violin, cornet; Juan Tizol: tambourine, valve trombone; Barney Bigard, Jimmy
Hamilton: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Harry Carney: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone,
baritone saxophone; Russell Procope: clarinet, alto saxophone, bamboo whistle; Rudy
Jackson: clarinet, alto saxophone; Hilton Jefferson, Rick Henderson, Bill Graham: alto
saxophone; Otto Hardwick: clarinet, alto saxophone, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone;
Johnny Hodges: clarinet, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Paul Gonsalves, Al Sears,
Ben Webster: tenor saxophone; Cat Anderson, Harold Baker, Wilber Bascombe, Willie Cook,
Harold Grimes, Shelton Hemphill, Freddy Jenkins, Wallace Jones, Wardell Jones, Andres
Meringuito, Louis Metcalf, Bubber Miley, Eddie Mullins, Jabbo Smith, Clark Terry, Arthur
Whetsol, Cootie Williams, Francis Williams: trumpet; Rex Stewart: cornet; Lawrence Brown,
Tyree Glenn, Quentin Jackson, Claude Jones, John Sanders, Booty Wood, Britt Woodman:
trombone; Ivie Anderson, Baby Cox, Al Hibbler: vocals; Brick Fleagle, Lonnie Johnson:
guitar; Fred Guy: banjo, guitar; Bass Edwards: tuba; Hayes Alvis, Aaron Bell, Jimmy Blanton,
Wellman Braud, Wendell Marshall, Billy Taylor, Sr., Jimmy Woode: bass; Fred Avendorf,
Butch Ballard, Louie Bellson, Sonny Greer, Jack Maisel, Sam Woodyard: drums.