The Essential Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
The Essential Duke Ellington


First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12

Written by John Metzger


At first glance, the problem with The Essential Duke Ellington is its title. Without a doubt, Duke Ellington wrote, arranged, recorded, and performed more indispensable material over the course of his 50-year career than possibly could be represented by the 37 tracks contained on this double-disc affair. Indeed, one of Ellington’s charms is the manner in which he continuously invented and reinvented some of his best-known compositions so that he could perform them within the framework of each of his stylistic phases. Although The Essential Duke Ellington does a magnificent job of providing an overview of the 78-rpm single era in which he was most popular — it includes such classic cuts as East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Hot and Bothered, It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing), Sophisticated Lady, and Caravan, to name a few — it superficially skims the LP-oriented portion of his astounding catalog. In fact, only seven songs are utilized to depict the final 33 years of his life’s work. Nevertheless, the retrospective set — from the gentle sensuality of Prelude to a Kiss to the urban hustle and bustle of Harlem Air-Shaft to the spiritual grace of Come Sunday — succeeds in leaving listeners with a fundamental understanding of Ellington’s unique ability to paint cinematic portraits of 20th Century America. Simply put, Ellington was a magnificently gifted artist, and although The Essential Duke Ellington is far from comprehensive, it still provides a vital and vibrant introduction to his extraordinary canon. starstarstarstar ˝


Of Further Interest...

Count Basie Orchestra - Basie Is Back

Tommy Dorsey - The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing

Tito Puente - Dance Mania: Legacy Edition

Red Garland Quintet - Soul Junction: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Series


Around the Web

The New Yorker: Duke Ellington's Music and Race in America


The Essential Duke Ellington is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2005 The Music Box