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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby




Classic recordings vol. 4: 1936-1938





  1. Clarinet Lament (Barney’s Concerto)
  2. Echoes of Harlem (Cootie’s Concerto)
  3. I Don’t Know Why I Love You So
  4. Kissin’ My Baby Goodnight
  5. Yearnin’ for Love (Lawrence’s Concerto)
  6. Trumpet in Spades (Rex’s Concerto)
  7. It was a sad Night in Harlem
  8. Exposition Swing
  9. Mood Indigo-Solitude
  10. Sophisticated Lady-In a Sentimental Mood
  11. The New Birmingham Breakdown
  12. Scattin’ At the Kit Kat
  13. I’ve Got to be a Rug Cutter
  14. The New East St Louis Toodle-O
  15. Caravan
  16. All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm
  17. Prologue to Black & tan Fantasy
  18. The New Black & Tan fantasy
  19. Diminuendo In Blue
  20. Crescendo In Blue

Nobody would deny that Duke Ellington was a seminal figure in the development of both jazz and big bands. Himself an excellent pianist, arranger and composer, he surrounded himself with the very best musicians available, he paid them well and many stayed in his band for long periods of time. He also allowed the soloists in his time to have sufficient vehicles to express themselves and for their own specialist talents to develop. In these recordings from the period 1936 to 1938 Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and Lawrence Brown are all heavily featured as well as the Duke himself, who plays solo piano on tracks 9&10.

Once again Naxos have done a remarkable job on cleaning up these recordings, the sound quality, as with all this series I have heard to date, is quite acceptable.

The Ellington Band was going through a rapid period of development in the period of these recordings. As well as a residence at The Cotton Club, the band undertook some extensive tours of the USA and the Duke realised that in order to make his band viable, he had to tread that fine line between being musically successful and at the same time appealing to the public. Several of the tracks here made the top thirty and listening to them some sixty five years later, there is no doubt that the Duke knew how to accomplish this musical feat.

Many of the tunes are still played today and some of those that are not heard today surely would be if suitable arrangements were available for bands to play. Even Novelty Numbers like ‘I’ve Got to a be Rug Cutter’ swing like mad and the vocal group led by Ivy Anderson is great fun. The New East St. Louis Toodle-O follows it, which is a classic Ellington track in a more serious vein.

The Duke of course made many different arrangements of all his compositions and this constant up dating, often to accommodate joining soloists kept the band sounding fresh. The Duke was also happy to play other peoples tunes and the sprightly arrangement of Gus Kahn’s ‘All God’s Chillun’ proves the point admirably.

The last four tracks alone are worth the cost of the whole CD, they are classic Ellington Band performances.

Naxos have done all jazz fans a great favour by putting this music back on the market in a form which makes for very acceptable listening. The Duke Ellington Band of this period really signposted the way for every big band to follow.

Don Mather



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