Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Duke Ellington: The Duke Ellington Centenary Collection: The Travelog Edition

First released by MusicMasters between 1993 and 1995 as single or double CDs, the five concerts collated here in a packaged set of six discs span the Ellington band’s activities between 1946 and 1964. Starting with the earliest, the Chicago Civic House double-disc album (indicated by the first two “total times” listed above) consists of two completely different shows from January and November 1946, while the equally lengthy single concert of December 1948 from Ithaca’s Cornell University is contained on the third and fourth discs. The fifth disc brings together 14 selections chosen by Mercer Ellington from concerts staged in London in January 1963 and February 1964, while the final disc departs from the customary orchestral setting in showcasing Duke, his rhythm section of bassist Peck Morrison and drummer Sam Woodyard, and, in brief appearances, his early mentor, stridemaster Willie “The Lion” Smith, and his longtime “alter ego,” Billy Strayhorn. This final performance dates from a May 1964 concert at New York’s Columbia University. Thus, we have the loosely threaded “Travelog” connection between Chicago, Ithaca, London, and back home to New York.

On the hundred or so performances heard on these recordings, there are a few titles that inevitably will be repeated. But much more important are such standout spots as guest star Django Reinhardt’s nonpareil solo work on “Ride, Red, Ride” (an improvisation on “Tiger Rag” changes); “A Blues Riff,” “Improvisation #2,” and “Honeysuckle Rose” from November 1946; Oscar Pettiford’s January 1946 “Pitter Panther Patter” take on Jimmy Blanton’s original solo; and from the Cornell concert, Harry Carney’s “Paradise” and “Fantazm” solos, Johnny Hodges’ “Brown Betty,” Ray Nance’s sizzling violin and Shorty Baker’s trumpet on the way-up “Humoresque,” and the magnificent Ben Webster’s love caress-turned-rough-play feature on the multi-tempoed “How High the Moon.” From the better recorded 1963-64 performances in London it is especially difficult to isolate outstanding moments, primarily because the band now boasted in its ranks, in addition to Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Hodges, Carney, and Jimmy Hamilton, who all soared before, such more recent additions and substitutions as Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Paul Gonsalves, and the band’s most swinging drummer ever, Sam Woodyard. Virtually every performance on the London date, including the extended “wailing interval” solo by Gonsalves on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” is a winner.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published