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Duke Ellington: The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings

A massive project, but one well worth the effort and time that went into it, this collection of all existing recordings by Duke Ellington for Victor literally sums up his long career, since it begins with singer Evelyn Preer’s “If You Can’t Hold the Man You Love” from January 10, 1927, and concludes with the previously unissued “Mecuria, the Lion” from a December 1, 1973 concert held in Eastbourne, England, the last recorded performance of the orchestra under Duke’s leadership. Although Ellington recorded for numerous other labels, beginning in 1924 and continuing into the ’70s, his work for Victor not only depicts in minute detail his artistic development over the decades, but it is aurally definitive as well, for it was this label that, from the mid ’20s on, proved to be a pioneer in the field of innovative recording technology.

Divided into 24 generously timed discs, this collection consists of 461 tracks, of which 107 are alternate takes and additional titles. Included in this number are 18 performances previously unreleased in any form and 31 that are presented here in their first authorized American release. What these latter figures indicate is that while most dedicated lifetime Ellington collectors have long been in possession of bootleg 78s, LPs, and CDs, as well as legitimate European reissues containing most of the relatively unfamiliar performances, to the much larger number of interested aficionados this material will be brand new. Younger students of Ellingtonia, who perhaps have been raised on bop, avant garde, or other forms of modern music, will in particular be stunned, time after countless time, by the creativity, originality, and resourcefulness of Duke and his sidemen in the fashioning of their solos on repeated takes of the same arrangements, not to mention Duke’s own shifting points of view and rethinkings in his career-long returns to earlier themes. At the same time that Duke made fun enlightening, he also made inner musical growth fun.

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