Centennial Collections: Ellington and Hawkins

David Rickert By

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Duke Ellington
The Centennial Collection

Duke Ellington's work will always be repackaged on a regular basis for those eager to sample his work; if you count Never No Lament, which collects the Blanton- Webster band material, this is the third Ellington compilation from Bluebird in three years. Sorting through all the various CDs available is a bit of a chore, and it's difficult sometimes to filter out the cheaply made discs with poor sound quality from the meticulously crafted, expertly remastered efforts. One could argue we need less Ellington compilations, and another is like an uninvited guest at an already overcrowded party.

The best way to hear a bunch of great Ellington tracks is still Never No Lament, but The Centennial Collection is broader in scope, including some of Ellington's earliest recordings. Creaky tracks like "East St. Louis Toodle-oo cast light on an artist developing his sound; the rhythms are stiff and don't quite swing, and the soloing fails to ignite. But the template was there for the majestic poetry of the later recordings: the novel arrangements of sound, the liberal use of the plunger mute, the beginnings of the jungle sound, all of which would become Ellington hallmarks.

After this, Ellington really hit his stride; most mark the period when Ben Webster and Jimmy Blanton entered the band (and Strayhorn's entry shortly thereafter) as the golden years. However, this is where the collection starts to fall apart. Any compilation will be largely a matter of taste, and some personal, lesser-known favorites will no doubt appear. "Jack The Bear and "Ko-Ko are suitable choices, but it's a huge oversight to leave off "Take The 'A' Train and almost criminal to ignore "Cotton Tail when they are readily available from the catalog, and surely Strayhorn deserves better representation than this. In trying to find the hidden treasures, producers Steven Lasker and Barry Feldman strayed from the map. Therefore, this is not where the merely curious should start.

So why check this disc out? All the unreleased goodies. The producers redeem themselves with the seven unreleased radio broadcasts at the end, which feature the Blanton-Webster band in fine form. Here we get the sublime "Chelsea Bridge and "In A Mellotone along with other tracks that demonstrate why this band was better than anybody at the time. The DVD is also filled with interesting bits of Ellingtonia, from soundies to an interesting peek at a rehearsal (the earliest film of Ellington in the studio).

This is not a selection for the uninitiated, but Ellington collectors will definitely find something of value.

Coleman Hawkins
The Centennial Collection

Coleman Hawkins' collection begins, appropriately enough, with "Body and Soul, his most famous recording. Not only is it one of the few perfect solos ever played, but it also established a new way of approaching standards ("you don't have to play the whole melody-just dance around it, and they'll get it. )

Before that, Hawkins honed his chops in the early hot jazz outfits, where banjos and wax paper combs were still en vogue (but, hey, jazz was still novelty music at the time.) Even then Hawkins was playing advanced solos and the others struggled to keep up. His long melodic lines sprawled over two or three bars while the other soloists were still choppy and stiff. Hawkins later departed for a long stay in Europe where his ideas really took shape. None of those recordings are featured here, as they belong to another label.

But once he returned, everyone else had caught up to him, and in Lionel Hampton's outfit he found eager young musicians like Diz and Hamp who could match him pound for pound. These were great years for jazz, and for great recordings too, when big band music was beginning to feel the push from the be-boppers into advanced ways of thinking.

Hawkins rode right along with the crowd and sat in with proto-boppers like Tadd Dameron and Fats Navarro with no problem. More than any other of his contemporaries, Hawkins was able to navigate the rough waters present in jazz at the time, not because he changed his style, but because his style was so adaptable to what everyone else was up to.

Hawkins never lost his gift for lyricism, as the beautiful ballad "Angle Face attests. And he was capable of carrying a whole record based on his playing alone, as the many selections from The Hawk In Hi-Fi proclaim. These recordings, featuring Billy Byers' orchestra, are from one of the best sax 'n' strings records ever made; Hawk really lays into "I Love Paris and seduces "There'll Never Be Another You .

One of the strengths of this compilation is that producer Barry Feldman has included selections that span the breadth of Hawkins' career. Thus "Just Friends, his fascinating collaboration with Sonny Rollins, successfully pairs two tenormen who were speaking different tongues, albeit ones that came from the same root language. Whereas many of the Centennial Collections stop somewhere in the forties, Feldman captures many of Hawkins' greatest moments throughout his career and thus creates a close to definitive compilation.

The DVD is a little skimpy, although Hawk probably wasn't as well documented on film as the other jazz greats. There are a few television appearances along with an unreleased performance of "Lover Man from a television pilot. As always, interesting stuff for the zealots.


Duke Ellington: The Centennial Collection

Black And Tan Fantasy; East St. Louis Toodle-O; The Mooch; Old Man Blues; Mood Indigo; Rockin' In Rhythm; Stompy Jones; Solitude; Jack The Bear; Ko-Ko; Concerto For Cootie; Dusk; Perdido; Are You Sticking? (previously unreleased); Chelsea Bridge (previously unreleased); Love Like This Can't Last (previously unreleased); Moon Mist (previously unreleased); It's Square, But It Rocks (previously unreleased); In A Mellow Tone (previously unreleased); Sepia Panorama (previously unreleased).

Coleman Hawkins: The Centennial Collection

Body And Soul; Wherever There's A Will, Baby; If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight; Hello Lola; Hocus Pocus; One Sweet Letter From You; Dinah; Bouncing With Bean; Say It Isn't So; Half Step Down, Please; Angel Face; I Love You; The Bean Stalks Again; There Will Never Be Another You; His Very Own Blues; April In Paris; I Love Paris; Love Me Or Leave Me; Just Friends; Body And Soul.


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