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



The Blanton-Webster Band

Bluebird 3CD Pack 82876 50857 2


Disk 1
  1. You, You Darlin’
  2. Jack the Bear
  3. Ko-Ko
  4. Morning Glory
  5. So Far, So Good
  6. Conga Brava
  7. Concerto for Cootie
  8. Me and You
  9. Cotton tail
  10. Never No Lament
  11. Dusk
  12. Bojangles
  13. A Portrait of Bert Williams
  14. Blue Goose
  15. Harlem air Shaft
  16. At a Dixie Roadside Diner
  17. All Too Soon
  18. Rumpus in Richmond
  19. My Greatest Mistake
  20. Sepia panorama
  21. There Shall Be No night
  22. In a Mellotone
  23. Five O’Clock Whistle
  24. The Flaming Sword
  25. Warm Valley

Disk 2
  1. Across the Track Blues
  2. Chloe
  3. I Never Felt This way Before
  4. The Sidewalks of New York
  5. Flamingo
  6. The Girl in My Dreams Tries to Look Like You
  7. Take the "A" Train
  8. Jumpin’ Punking
  9. John Hardy’s Wife
  10. Blue Serge
  11. After All
  12. Bakiff
  13. Are You Sticking?
  14. Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’
  15. The Giddybug Gallop
  16. Pitter Panther Patter
  17. Body and Soul
  18. Sophisticated Lady
  19. Mr J B Blues

  20. Alternative takes.
  21. Ko-Ko
  22. Bojangles
  23. Sepia Panorama
  24. Jumpin Punkins
  25. Jump for Joy

Disk 3
  1. Chocolate Shake
  2. I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
  3. Clementine
  4. The Brown Skin Gal (In the Calico Gown)
  5. Jumo for Joy
  6. Moon Over Cuba
  7. Five O’Clock Drag
  8. Rocks In My Bed
  9. Bli-Blip
  10. Raincheck
  11. What Good Would it Do?
  12. I Don’t Knoiw What Kind of Blues I Got
  13. Chelsea Bridge
  14. Perdido
  15. The "C" Jam Blues
  16. Moon Mist
  17. What Am I Here For?
  18. I Don’t Mind
  19. Someone
  20. My Little Brown Book
  21. Main Stem
  22. Johnny Come Lately
  23. Hayfoot, Strawfoot
  24. Sentimental lady
  25. A Slip of the Lip (Can Sink a Ship)
  26. Sherman Shuffle.

Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams – trumpet, Rex Stewart – cornet
Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown – trombone, Juan Tizol – valve trombone
Barney Bigard – clarinet & tenor, Johnny Hodges – alto & clarinet, Otto Hardwick – alto, Ben Webster – tenor, Harry Carney – baritone, Alto & clarinet
Duke Ellington – piano, Fred Guy – guitar, Jimmy Blanton – bass, Sonny Greer – drums, Ivie Anderson & Herb Jeffries – vocals.

This three CD album is a sub-set of The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973). These recordings were made in the period 1940 to 1942, when the band was going through a phenomenal stage of development. Billy Strayhorn had started to share the arranging/composing duties with the Duke, on some tracks he plays piano as well. When I say he shared the duties, he and the Duke worked together to produce composition and arrangements that were right up to date 60 years ago and still sound good today.

Many of the tunes are still regularly played by bands, large and small, throughout the jazz world. What is surprising is the number of tunes that are not heard regularly, but would be welcome additions to any band’s repertoire.

This band really had everything, it is often called the Blanton-Webster band, when these recordings were made brilliant young bass player Jimmy Blanton had just joined the band and the Duke had finally succeeded in luring Ben Webster away from the Cab Calloway band. The band was already rich with soloists, but the addition of Webster’s superb tenor saxophone playing added an extra dimension and allowed Barney Bigard to become the band’s specialist clarinet man. Barney Bigard grasped the opportunity and established a style of playing with the band which, up to a point, was followed right through to the superb Jimmy Hamilton in the band’s later years. The saxophone section also has two other magnificent soloists in Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, both of these musicians could produce amazing improvisations on any theme, whilst still being excellent section players. Carney was the No1 baritone player around and everybody tried to sound like him until the arrival of Gerry Mulligan on the scene a few years later. That is not to say that one is better than the other is, I would place them equal in an all time best baritone poll!

That was just the saxes, the other sections were just as well blessed, the trombones had ‘Tricky Sam’ Nanton and Lawrence Brown and the trumpets Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart all of them immediately identifiable and highly skilled soloists. The rhythm section benefited from the wonderful drive of Sonny Greer who propelled the band with great impetus at any tempo. Finally we should never underrate the Duke’s ability as a pianist, he was one of the finest that jazz has ever produced.

Turning now to the record, the sleeve notes by Brian Priestley, are the best I have ever read, they tell the story of this remarkable orchestra in a detailed but interesting way. Recently many of the sleeve notes I have had with CD’s for revue have been woefully inadequate and for many of us part of the enjoyment is missed, no problems of that kind here.

The music represents nearly four hours of total enjoyment and demonstrates how far the Ellington band was ahead of its competitors in this period and also it’s unique place in jazz history. I started off by attempting to review each track, but found that that was so much to say, that this review would have turned into an essay. As Brian Priestley has done this already in his essay ‘The Early Forties Recordings of the Ellington Band’ and it is inconceivable that I can do it nearly as well, I have not attempted such a thing.

This 3C D set is a must for anyone who cares about jazz, but doesn’t own the full 24 CD Centennial set, it is the kind of listening experience that repositions ‘The Duke’s’ music in your mind for ever.

Don Mather


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