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Edward Kennedy Ellington came into this world on April 29th, 1899. On this hundredth anniversary of his birth, it's important to remember that Duke Ellington was the greatest jazz bandleader/composer that America has ever seen. While there are a slew of great CD re-issues being made available to commemorate the Duke's immense contribution to jazz, none are as far reaching and comprehensive as "The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973)". Duke wrote more than 2000 compositions in his life and released countless albums for a variety of different record labels, but his relationship with RCA endured (albeit sporadically) for nearly a half century. This extensive 24-CD set comes with a handsome 128-page book and captures Duke from the dawning of his illustrious career and follows the master through almost every musical turn he took until the end of his extraordinary life.
The collection begins with Ellington's classic "Cotton Club" phase, which cannot be overemphasized as essential listening for any and all music lovers. The first seven discs were recorded between 1927 and 1934 when the Ellington band was brimming with variety, energy and host of distinctive musicians. Whether showcasing the expressive plunger trumpet of Bubber Miley, the growling trombone of Tricky Sam Nanton or the sweet vocals of Ivie Anderson, Duke's ornate sound thrust jazz headlong into the 20th century with unanticipated vigor. Blending sophisticated horn arrangements with frenzied jungle rhythms, joyful singing, and expressive soloing; the early Ellington ensemble set a towering musical standard that is still cherished today.
Although the band's personnel would change a great deal over the years, many musicians (like altoist Johnny Hodges and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney) worked with Ellington for decades. The band's recordings from the 40's (often considered their best ever) are well represented here with brilliant performances from legendary bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor star Ben Webster. Many of these prime 40's recordings profited from the writing and arrangements of Ellington's musical soul mate, Billy Strayhorn. While Ellington's Sacred Concerts take up four full discs and are an acquired taste at best, the non-religious performances from this same period (especially "The Far East Suite") are stately and impressive.
Buying this gigantic CD collection is not important. Listening to Duke Ellington is. Remember that all modern jazz stems from this man's accomplishments. Now, get with the program and pay your respects to the true spirit of jazz!