I was sorting through several hundred CDs the other day trying to identify all the Duke Ellington albums I had amassed over the last 40 or so years………probably in excess of 50.
I have many of the classic albums “Such Sweet Thunder”, “And his mother called him Bill”, Far East Suite” and his final masterpiece “New Orleans Suite”
Then I came across a CD entitled “A Portrait of Duke Ellington” which was issued by Sony records in the late 90s and on which they had pulled together some outstanding performances of Ellington repertoire classics.
The album has 17 tracks but I just want to highlight a few to wet your appetite:-
C Jam Blues A wonderfully smooth performance by the orchestra but topped off with the magnificent alto playing of Johnny Hodges, effortless melodic improvisation and a smoothness of tone unsurpassed.
Take the A Train Essentially the bands theme tune with an intro by Duke himself who then brings in the whole band and encouraging the band with his shouts. A short trumpet solo is followed by some superb ensemble playing by the band.
Perdido Here kicked off by Ellington playing “stride piano” and it is easy to forget how good a pianist he was (try listening to the piano version of Lotus Blossom on the “And his Mother called him Bill album”, it will reduce you to tears). We sometimes forget how well the band could “cook” when let loose from the constraints of constantly playing medleys of hits in concerts.
There are other gems on this CD and would strongly recommend it to any music lover. Ellington in my view was the greatest American composer of the 20th century (and yes, I include Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein etc) but because he was classed as a “jazz” musician he has never received the recognition that he deserves.