In 1971 George Duke, having just recently done his time with the Mothers of Invention, was engaged by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Beginning in April of that year, Duke made two recordings over a short timespan that on their release in 1973 as a double LP (against the desire of the artists, by the way), would be a major statement. On Chapter One of his fusion autobiography, “Solus”, Duke, along with the skeleton crew of bassist John Heard and drummer Dick Berk, tries out the new compositional philosophy he had absorbed from his work with Adderley. The album was obliged to maintain a jazzy environment, illustrated by the harmonically flowing piano improvisation on “Love Reborn” and the bop-influenced busyness of “The Followers”. But the record also signifies the importance of the keyboards in all their diverse contexts – the funky rock of “Au-right”, and the smoldering, dreamy feel of “Peace”, for instance.
Duke Ellington's very busy year of 1938 resulted in enough music (counting small group dates led by his sidemen) to fill up more than three CDs. This disc has big-band dates plus outings headed by Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges. Although 1939-1942 is often thought of as the peak of Ellington's career, his output from 1938 was very impressive too. Among the high points of the sessions on this CD (which feature such soloists as trumpeter Cootie Williams, cornetist Rex Stewart, trombonists Lawrence Brown and Tricky Sam Nanton, altoist Johnny Hodges, clarinetist Barney Bigard, baritonist Harry Carney, and Duke on piano) are "Love in Swingtime," "Prelude to a Kiss," "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," "Mighty Like the Blues," "Battle of Swing," and "Hodge Podge."
This 1959 album is the second of Oscar Petersons two 50's Duke Ellington Songbook recordings and the first one in stereo. On this album the line-up is Oscar Peterson (Piano), Ray Brown (Double Bass) and Ed Thigpen (Drums). The first Ellington songbook album by Peterson and his trio, the 1952 album Oscar Peterson Plays Duke Ellington was a mono recording. Both albums were digitally remastered and compiled on one CD for the Verve Master Edition re-release series in 1999.
During the period covered by this CD, the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded nine performances (including vocal and instrumental versions of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm") while combos led by Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Rex Stewart, and Cootie Williams that were mostly filled with Ellington all-stars accounted for 14 other selections. Duke was overseeing everything while letting his star sidemen stretch out, and the result was a steady stream of fresh and high-quality recordings that both fit into the mainstream of swing and stood apart from other bands. Among the more memorable selections on this set (which contains quite a few obscurities) are "The Back Room Romp," "Tea and Trumpets," the remarkable "Harmony in Harlem," and the original versions of "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue."
1933 found Duke Ellington going overseas for the first time, and the four songs (and a short interview) that he recorded in London are on this CD. Otherwise things stayed pretty consistent with no major personnel change (Otto Hardwick rejoined the band), Ivie Anderson proving to be a strong asset with her vocals, and such gems as "Merry Go Round," "Sophisticated Lady," "Drop Me Off in Harlem," and "I'm Satisfied" offering further proof that Ellington was the master of the three-minute record, making every bar count. As usual with the Classics series, all of the master takes are included on this CD (repeating songs if they were recorded on different days) but leaving off the alternate takes.
The classic 1962 album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane showcased the rising jazz saxophone innovator performing alongside the long-established piano institution. While the pairing might have portended a dynamic clash of the musical generations, instead we got a casual, respectful, and musically generous meeting of like-minded souls. Similarly, while one might have assumed that Ellington would use his sidemen, instead producer Bob Thiele (who also produced similar albums for Ellington including pairings with Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins) chose to bring in Coltrane's own outfit for the proceedings.
This 23-track round-up of the bandleader's 1932-1933 output still offers enough in the way of quality originals and stellar playing to keep most Duke enthusiasts happy. The first half contains the choicest selections, including such top-notch ensemble vehicles as Benny Carter's "Jazz Cocktail" (his arrangement is used, too) and superb Ellington charts like "Slippery Horn," "Blue Harlem," and "Lightnin'." The latter half does sag a bit with several vocal novelties featuring Ivie Anderson, the Mills Brothers, and Adelaide Hall, but the always excellent contributions of Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown, Barney Bigard, and Cootie Williams keep things in check. An enjoyable slice of early Ellingtonia that's may be best left to the more trench-friendly of early jazz lovers.
Trying to make sense of Duke Ellington's massive catalog is one of the more daunting tasks facing jazz lovers. His early output alone includes scores of songs, often with several different versions and a variety of record labels to consider. For completists, the Classics label offers a chronological route covering the mid-'20s through the mid-'40s (without a lot in the way of alternate takes). And while not as strong in content as roundups on Bluebird or Columbia, these discs offer one the thrilling opportunity of witnessing Ellington go from novelty jungle material to sophisticated early swing and on into the annals of jazz legend with those stellar early-'40s sides…
The main change for the Duke Ellington Orchestra during this period was that the increasingly unreliable Bubber Miley (an alcoholic) was fired by Ellington in January 1929 and quickly replaced by Cootie Williams. Otherwise, the personnel was stable, featuring trombonist Joe Tricky Sam Nanton, altoist Johnny Hodges, and clarinetist Barney Bigard as key soloists along with trumpeters Miley, Arthur Whetsol, and Freddie Jenkins. Most of the selections from this era border on the classic, with highlights including Miley's spot on "Bandanna Babies," "I Must Have That Man," "Harlemania," and a two-part version of "Tiger Rag."