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Duke Ellington: The Essential Duke Ellington

Jim Santella By

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Trying to compile an album of essential Duke Ellington performances is a difficult task indeed. How can you get it all in? How does one performance of "It Don't Mean a Thing" compare to another? It's all arbitrary, and that's why our record collections continue to grow.

The recordings reissued on this two-CD compilation range from 1927 to 1960, with an emphasis on the earlier years. They're presented in chronological order. From the instrumental growls and vocal scatting of the '20s through the mellow swing of the big band era and beyond, you can trace jazz's history as it developed right alongside the work of Duke Ellington.

A few key mementos such as "In a Mellow Tone," "Main Stem," and "C Jam Blues" have been omitted from the program. Columbia chose to present "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue" from a 1937 session with clarinets instead of the popular 1956 Newport Jazz Festival marathon featuring Paul Gonsalves. Nevertheless, what we have here are essential memories of the Ellington Orchestra, featuring the sounds of legendary band members such as Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Jimmy Blanton, Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, and Clark Terry.

Barney Bigard and His Jazzopators perform "Clouds in My Heart" with the clarinetist sharing the feature with trumpeter Cootie Williams. Juan Tizol interprets "Caravan" from a 1937 session that featured drummer Sonny Greer's extravagant textures and bassist Billy Taylor's solid rhythmic foundation.

Cootie Williams and His Rug Cutters perform "Blue Reverie" with Johnny Hodges featured on soprano. On this small group performance, Ellington stands out with a superb blues-drenched piano solo. Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra features Billy Strayhorn at the piano on "Tired Socks." Six instrumentalists are arranged to sound like a full orchestra behind the soulful soprano aria that Hodges interprets clearly with a swinging attitude.

Most of The Essential Duke Ellington features the big bands that the pianist and composer served wisely for nearly five decades. It's the real thing. Why settle for imitations?


Track Listing: CD 1: 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; Solitude; In a Sentimental Mood; Back Room Romp; Clouds in My Heart; Echoes of Harlem; Caravan; Blue Reverie; Diminuendo in Blue; Crescendo in Blue. CD 2: 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, leader; Billy Strayhorn: piano; Louis Metcalf, Bubber Miley, Jabbo Smith, Arthur Whetsol, Freddy Jenkins, Cootie Williams, Wallace Jones, Harold Baker, Wardell Jones, Harold Grimes, Wilbur Bascombe, Shelton Hemphill, Francis Williams, Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Clark Terry, John Cook, Andres Meringuito, Eddie Mullins: trumpet; Ray Nance: trumpet, violin, cornet; Rex Stewart: cornet; Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Tyree Glenn, Claude Jones, Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, John Sanders, Booty Wood: trombone; Juan Tizol: valve trombone; Johnny Hodges: clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Rudy Jackson, Russell Procope: clarinet, alto saxophone; Rick Henderson, Hilton Jefferson, Bill Graham: alto saxophone; Otto Hardwick: clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass saxophone; Barney Bigard, Jimmy Hamilton: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ben Webster, Al Sears, Paul Gonsalves: tenor saxophone; Harry Carney: clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Fred Guy: banjo, guitar; Lonnie Johnson, Brick Fleagle: guitar; Wellman Braud, Hayes Alvis, Billy Taylor, Jimmy Blanton, Edgar Brown, Wendell Marshall, Jimmy Woode, Aaron Bell: bass; Bass Edwards: tuba; Sonny Greer, Fred Avendorf, Jack Maisel, Butch Ballard, Louis Bellson, Sam Woodyard: drums; Baby Cox, Ivie Anderson, Al Hibbler: vocals.

Title: The Essential Duke Ellington | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sony BMG Legacy


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