After already leading his illustrious band for many decades, Duke Ellington saw fit to engage in a number of extracurricular activities during the early part of the ‘60s. All of these endeavors proved to be quite successful, including Impulse dates with John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins and the celebrated Money Jungle with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. As distinguished a pianist as he was a composer, the windfall that came with these sidebars was a better chance to hear Duke with the ”piano in the foreground”, to quote one of his Columbia projects.
As hard as it might be to fathom, a full-scale union of two of the greatest artists in the jazz pantheon came about only once. On two days in April of 1961 Pops and Duke got together to record the seventeen numbers assembled here. While is might have been appealing to have put Armstrong in front of the full Ellington assemblage, it was decided to go with a small “swingtet”, as it were, with trombonist Trummy Young and clarinet Barney Bigard added to Ellington’s piano trio.
All of the tunes come from the Ellington book, with Armstrong fitting into the scene without a bit of strain. He cuts loose with more than a fair share of rousing trumpet spots, while vocalizing on some numbers in his own inimitable style. Familiar cuts abound, although a spontaneous composition came about at the session titled “The Beautiful American” and Duke would also pull out the exotic “Azalea,” a number claimed to have been penned for Pops many years earlier.
Besides the excellent sound quality provided via a new remastering job, this deluxe edition includes two discs housed in a slipcover. The first one consists of the master takes, with the second sporting conversations, false starts and incomplete takes associated with ten of the original seventeen tracks. While nothing all the revelatory occurs on this second disc, you might want to check it out a few times after hearing the master takes. The camaraderie apparent between the two men is obvious, capping off what has to be a solid entry in both artists’ esteemed catalogs.
Disc One (Master Takes):Duke
Personnel: Louis Armstrong- trumpet & vocals, Duke Ellington- piano, Trummy Young- trombone, Barney Bigard- clarinet, Mort Herbert- bass, Danny Barcelona- drums