The widely heralded recordings made of Duke Ellington & His Orchestra during a 1940 concert in Fargo, ND, have been justifiably praised for their historic value as well as for the surprisingly good sound obtained by a pair of young amateur engineers with a portable disc cutter. Both the soloists and Ellington's unique-sounding blend of reeds and brass are very distinct. Some of these tracks previously appeared on the Jazz Society label, followed by a Book-of-the Month Club set, and all of them appeared on the now-defunct Vintage Jazz Classics, but this latest version tops them all for sound quality.
Just the fact that Ellington's extended masterpiece "Reminiscing in Tempo" is included here in its original and continuous form is reason enough to pick up this compilation. Initially recorded in 1935, "Reminiscing" was the first thoroughly composed jazz piece and one that not only demonstrated Ellington's knack for longer forms, but also featured practically all of his singular soloists. Upon its first release, the 13-minute piece was broken up over a few 78s, later making its way into EP form. Currently, the Classics label includes it on one of its Chronological discs, but spread over four distinct tracks. So, this 1991 Columbia release might be the only way to get this great work in its seamless form as it was originally recorded. Collector's concerns aside, this CD was the audio companion to an Ellington documentary aired on PBS. Predictably, it provides something of an overview of Ellington's career, beginning with a recording of "The Mooche" from his Cotton Club days in the late '20s up through a version of "Black Beauty" from 1960.
This second installment in the Classics Charlie Parker chronology contains quite a number of Bird's best-loved and most respected recordings. The first 12 tracks, recorded in New York for the Dial label in October and November of 1947, are all masterpieces of modern music, with the ballads, especially "Embraceable You," constituting some of Parker's very best recorded work. This is the classic 1947 quintet with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach. Even if his personal life was characteristically chaotic, 1947 was a good year for Charlie Parker's music. It was in November 1947 that this band hit the road to play the El Sino Club on St. Antoine Boulevard in Detroit. Unfortunately, Bird got really snockered and couldn't perform, so the El Sino management canceled the gig. Bird ultimately destroyed his saxophone by throwing it out of a hotel window onto the street below. (A tragic and disturbing image!) Back in New York, the band – now a sextet with the addition of trombonist J.J. Johnson – made six more sides for Dial on December 17, 1947.
Duke Ellington's piano style influenced generations of pianists, from Thelonious Monk to Randy Weston. This 1961 trio recording, with his orchestra's rhythm section of drummer Sam Woodyard and Aaron Bell, clearly unveils the maestro's powerful touch, black-and-tan chords, and unstoppable swing, all often overshadowed in the work of his bigger bands. The standard "Body and Soul" shows Ellington's debt to James P. Johnson's Harlem stride style, while "Blues for Jerry," recalls Count Basie's Kansas City grooves.