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

Duke Ellington: The Reprise Studio Recordings

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

The critics have largely neglected Ellington’s Reprise period (late 1963 to early 1965), and in view of the abundance of Ellingtonia spawned by the Ducal centennial, some might not consider this set essential. That would be a mistake: the music in this flawlessly assembled compilation is uncommonly multi-faceted, even for Ellington, and wondrous to hear and behold.

When, at the behest of co-owner Frank Sinatra, Ellington was signed by Reprise, he was given a free hand to record what he pleased, both as his own producer, and as jazz A&R man for the label. True to character, the jazz press began to question that Ellington truly had carte blanche when he failed to do what they thought he ought to have done. Thus, while the initial Reprise LP, Afro Bossa, which consisted in the main of new Ellington and Strayhorn pieces, was well received, as was The Symphonic Ellington, which contained the first recording of “Harlem” as scored for the band plus symphony orchestra and the premiere of “Night Creature,” the subsequent Ellington ’65 and Ellington ’66, compendiums of current hit tunes, and Mary Poppins, the Ellington-Strayhorn interpretation of the movie score, were considered lesser efforts. And so, predictably, was Will the Big Bands Ever Come Back?, Ellington’s reconsiderations of the theme songs of a wide range of bands, sweet and hot. (Enough of these were recorded for two LPs, but the second didn’t get issued until 1976, after Duke’s death, as did the fascinating Jazz Violin Session; both appeared on Atlantic but are included here.)

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.