During 1928, the main stars of Duke Ellington's orchestra (in addition to the leader/pianist/composer/arranger) were trumpeter Bubber Miley, trombonist Joe Tricky Sam Nanton, clarinetist Barney Bigard, and (starting in June) altoist Johnny Hodges. All of the master takes (including ones for different labels) are being reissued in the Classics series. This disc is highlighted by "Black Beauty" (particularly Ellington's solo piano version), the heated "Hot and Bothered" (featuring guest guitarist Lonnie Johnson and singer Baby Cox), "Louisiana," and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." Two songs feature singer Ozie Ware backed by a small combo taken from Ellington's big band. This CD has plenty of timeless classics, most of which are also available in other reissue programs.
As usual with the Classics series, the music on this CD is released complete and in chronological order, covering the music originally released by several record labels but without including alternate takes. In the case of Duke Ellington, because he would frequently record the same song slightly rearranged on several occasions for different companies, there are multiple versions of some titles on this CD, but the alternate versions that he made for the labels have been left out. During the very important period covered by this disc, the Duke Ellington Orchestra (having recently found their sound) was hired by the Cotton Club as the house band and they hit the big time…
George Duke was an American musician, known as a keyboard pioneer, composer, singer and producer in both jazz and popular mainstream musical genres. He worked with numerous artists as arranger, music director, writer and co-writer, record producer and as a professor of music. He first made a name for himself with the album The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio. He was known primarily for thirty-odd solo albums, of which 'A Brazilian Love Affair' from 1980 was his most popular, as well as for his collaborations with other musicians, particularly Frank Zappa.
Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington did not team up in concert until relatively late in their careers (although she did record her Ellington Songbook with him in the '50s). This live double-LP actually finds Fitzgerald singing six numbers with the Jimmy Jones Trio and only "Mack the Knife" and a scat-filled "It Don't Mean a Thing" with the orchestra. Ellington has eight numbers for his band, mostly remakes of older tunes (including a guest appearance by former associate Ben Webster on "All Too Soon," a remarkable Buster Cooper trombone feature, and a rowdy version of "The Old Circus Train Turn-Around Blues"). This is a spirited set of music that with better planning could have been great.
Best known as the founder of Roomful of Blues and for his short stint with the Fabulous Thunderbirds (replacing Jimmie Vaughan), Duke Robillard had only released two blues albums between 1996 and 2002. Although he was awarded the W.C. Handy Best Blues Guitarist award for 2000 and 2001 and his tireless road work always included plenty of stinging solos, Robillard left the jazz and worldbeat tangents behind for this welcome return to his first love. Those who have followed Robillard's career know that he's never been tied to one style, and Living With the Blues highlights his eclectic talents. Robillard crackles on everything here, from the straight-ahead Chicago approach of Willie Dixon by way of Muddy Waters' "I Live the Life I Love" to the Roomful-styled hard swing of the obscure Willie Egans' "I'm Mad About You Baby" to the acoustic treatment of Tampa Red's "Hard Road" and the jump blues of his own "Sleepin' on It" (reprised from the Roomful years). He turns the Brownie McGhee title track into a tough Chicago shuffle, featuring the rollicking tenor sax of old Roomful alumnus Doug James, and closes with a bluesy rhumba-styled version of B.B. King's "Long Gone Baby." He also adds tough spunk to Little Milton's "If Walls Could Talk," throwing in one of the disc's greasiest solos along the way.
There is a lot of intriguing music on this CD, which features Duke Ellington's postwar orchestra. "Dancers in Love" (from "Perfume Suite") and "Carnegie Blues" (from "Black, Brown and Beige") managed to catch on as individual pieces, "I'm Just a Lucky So and So" and "Just Squeeze Me" were hits, and both "Tonk" and "Drawing Room Blues" showcased the piano duo of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. A few numbers are V-Discs, including a brief version of "C Jam Blues" that features the combined orchestras of Duke Ellington and Woody Herman (his First Herd). Among the changes in personnel were Russell Procope taking over for the retiring Otto Hardwick on alto and clarinet and Oscar Pettiford succeeding Junior Raglin on bass. This underrated music ranks with some of Duke's best work.
Duke Ellington's orchestra in 1945 was riding quite high, with annual Carnegie Hall concerts, constant performing and recording, and appearances on many radio broadcasts. This disc features both studio recordings and a few V-Discs taken from radio shows. The latter are most notable for including the extended two-part "Frankie and Johnny" and the 12-and-a-half-minute "New World A-Comin'," while the studio recordings are highlighted by "Jumpin' Room Only" and three of the four parts of "Perfume Suite." With such soloists as Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and four trumpeters, Ellington's big band remained at the top of its field as World War II came to an end.