Duke Ellington CD Recommendations

Is there a particular Ellington recording that you particularly enjoy? I am a little overwhelmed with sheer number of his recordings, so any help is appreciated!

FOR DUKE - Real time record!!!
Blues in Orbit. It's a great recording. MFSL version which is dual layered cd/sacd. Which is Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's first and only release of a dual layered CD.
I second Blues in Orbit (the sacd layer is fabulous). Also Jazz Party (with Dizzy and Jimmy Rushing) - another MFSL disc - if you can find it.
I love the soundtrack for Anatomy of a Murder, and his album with Coltrane is one of my faves too.
The re-release of the Concert at the Newport Jazz Festival 1957 is great fun. The 20 bit re-master is well done.
"This one's for Blanton". Piano and bass only. Sounds like they are in the room with you.
Duke Ellington is one of the great American composers, as well as jazz musicians and orchestra leaders. Duke began playing music professionally in Washington, DC, in 1917, and soon moved to New York where he led a group called "The Washingtonians". During this time, Sidney Bechet played briefly with the band. More significantly, the trumpet player Bubber Miley joined the group, bringing with him the unique plunger mute style of playing, which led to what became known as the "Jungle Sound" that was responsible for much of Duke's early success. This "jungle sound" was the basis for many of the dance numbers that Duke's orchestra played at the Cotton Club in the late 1920's and early 1930's.

In partnership with Billy Strayhorn, his nonpareil arranger, Duke wrote hundreds of pieces of music which can be roughly grouped into 4-5 broad categories, including:

1. Sacred music, which included both individual pieces (In The Beginning, God; Heaven; Father Forgive; David Danced; Come Sunday; Meditation) and lengthier compositions (such as "Black, Brown, and Beige", which is, in effect, a suite).
2. African-styled songs and dance numbers featuring the "jungle sound".
3. Popular songs (Satin Doll; Take The "A" Train; Caravan; Sophisticated Lady; Mood Indigo; "C" Jam Blues; Prelude to a Kiss; It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; etc.)
4. Suites (Liberian Suite; Deep South Suite; Far East
Suite; The River).

Duke wrote much of his music for specific members of the orchestras that he led over a five-decade period, so there were tunes he composed for players such as Bubber Miley and Cat Anderson (trumpet), Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax); Jimmy Blanton (bass), etc.

I am answering your post from work, and will submit a much more comprehensive answer later this evening regarding some of the best recordings. In the meantime, here are a few that are well worth owning:
1. From the 1940-43 period:
a) "The Blanton/Webster Band", a 3-CD set on RCA
Bluebird. These are studio recordings by the band
that many regard as the greatest of all Duke's groups.
b) "Live At Fargo (North Dakota)", November 1940, a 2-CD
set on Vintage Jazz Classics
2. From the 1950's:
a) "Such Sweet Thunder", on Columbia
b) "At Newport, 1956", on Columbia (a new, very good
stereo version has recently been released)
c) "Black, Brown, and Beige", on Columbia, featuring the
phenomenal voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
3. From the 1960's:
a) "And His Mother Called Him Bill"
b) "Money Jungle" (trio recording), Blue Note Records
c) "First Time! The Count Meets The Duke", Columbia --
features the Count Basie Band with the full Ellington
4. From the 1970's:
a) "This One's For Blanton", Pablo Records, a duo with
Ray Brown.
Last, there is a 5-CD set of Duke's recordings on the LaserLight label. Although this is a budget label, the sound quality of the CD's is good, and the price of the set makes it a good way to hear a wide selection of Duke's music. (As I said above, I'll add to this list in my post later this evening.)

If you are interested in seeing Duke Ellington on film, he appeared in a number of productions as band leader:
1. Black and Tan Fantasy - 1929
2. Check and Double Check - 1930
3. A Bundle of Blues - 1933
4. Murder of the Vanities - 1934
5. Hot Chocolate - 1941
6. Cabin in the Sky - 1943 (produced by Vincent Minelli, who
was married to Judy Garland -- their daughter is Liza
7. Date With Duke - 1947
8. Anatomy of a Murder - 1959 (directed by Otto Preminger).

Many jazz experts and music critics regard Duke as one of the greatest American composers of the 20th century. Although his music may not be classified as "classical" in the same context as the work of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, etc., there is no doubt that Duke contributed an extraordinary body of sophisticated music that is classical in the sense it is enduring and adheres to established compositional standards. I encourage all who are interested in jazz, or simply in American music, to listen widely to Duke's body of work.

More later this evening......
I second the recommendation by Camadeco, the 20-bit digitally remastered on Columbia/Legacy of Ellington At Newport 1956 (Complete) is lots of fun to listen to. (C2K 64932)
On a side note I can’t wait to read what Sdcampbell has to enlighten us with!
Try Jazz Party In Stereo and Ellingon Indigoes as well
Hello, jazz fans, and boys and girls of all ages. I promised that I’d add some comments to my post this morning on Edward Kennedy Ellington, because he is such an important figure to jazz, and to American music in general. In the following comments, I am going to rely on my own knowledge, and draw upon material from Marl Gridley’s book, “Jazz Styles”.

Ellington led a group from 1923 until 1974, making it the most stable and longest-lived band in jazz history, with some musicians remaining 20 years, even 30 years, at a stretch. His musicians had strong, unique styles of their own, and together they made an all-star unit. Many of their improvisations were so good that they became permanent parts of the band’s repertoire, as if they were composed. Ellington cleverly and imaginatively mixed and matched their work with his in such a way that no other band in jazz history could claim the breadth or depth his group. Duke wrote more than 2000 compositions, as well as enormous numbers of arrangements.

As I mentioned this morning, Duke Ellington (1899-1974) contributed three-fold to the American music scene: as bandleader, as pianist, and as composer. As a piano soloist during the first three decades of his career, Ellington performed often in the stride-style piano tradition of James P. Johnson. Thereafter, he usually performed in his own original style, which was still quite percussive (don’t forget that the piano is considered a percussion, not a string, instrument). His playing had an unerring swing feeling, and he became noted for unusual harmonies and voicings. As an accompanist, Duke was highly praised by his sidemen for his vitality and imagination in finding ways to frame their phrases, always using a spare style.

As a composer, Ellington wrote many tunes (I mentioned some of the most famous in my previous post). Nearly all jazz musicians have played Ellington tunes during their career, and many have devoted entire albums to his music. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn recorded entire albums of the Ellington songbook, and groups as eclectic as the World Saxophone Quartet have paid tribute to Duke’s compositions.

Ellington wrote many longer pieces, and he is acclaimed for having taken jazz into the format of “extended works”. Some of the best known include “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” (which is a major feature on the “Newport, 1956” recording) and “Black, Brown, and Beige”, a 50-minute tone poem to the history of the American Negro. Some of his longest works were film scores, such as the music for “Anatomy of a Murder”, which starred Jimmy Stewart.

One of Duke’s greatest skills as an arranger was that of capitalizing on the uniquely personal sounds of the individual artists in his band. When writing for a group of instruments, he did not write parts that were anonymously assigned to the instruments (lead trumpet, 2nd trumpet, etc.) as most arrangers do. Instead, Ellington wrote parts suited to the particular sounds and capabilities of each player in his band (such as Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, etc.) For example, if a chord were scored for three trumpets, Ellington made use of the particular tone quality of each player, and he distributed the parts of the chord to them to create the overall color he wanted that chord to have. Other times, he would have one trumpet player use a mute, another with no mute, and a third player play with a tonal quality that only that man could extract from his horn. Ellington also scored this way for the saxophones and trombones as well.

Another notable skill employed by Duke is what is called “voicing across sections” of the band. While most arrangers routinely write passages that pit the sound of one section of the band against another (e.g., trumpets against saxes), Ellington often wrote passages to be played by combinations of instruments drawn from different sections of the band. The most famous example of this can be heard in the 1940 recording of “Mood Indigo”, where he voiced clarinet with muted trumpet and muted trombone, thus combining instruments from three different sections of the band.

Another unique sound pioneered by Ellington originated with the jobs he played for floor shows at New York night clubs, which wanted exotic “jungle sounds”. Partly to satisfy the club’s demand for exotic sounds, and partly due to his admiration for New Orleans jazz, Ellington scored for the growl style associated with trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton.

Some of the great sidemen with Ellington’s groups included: clarinetists Barney Bigard, Jimmy Hamilton, and Russell Procope; trumpeters Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, and Johnny Coles; trombonists Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Britt Woodman, and Quentin Jackson; saxophonists Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, and Harold Ashby; bass players Jimmy Blanton, Oscar
Pettiford, and Jimmy Woode; and drummers Sonny Greer, Louis Bellson, and Sam Woodyard.

Diversity and breadth characterized Duke’s music, and the pieces in his repertory were filled with variety. As I noted in my first post, Duke’s music can be broken down into broad categories, or books:
1. An impressionistic book with arrangements that place more emphasis on orchestral colors and shading than on rhythmic swing (such as “On a Turquoise Cloud”, and “Transbluency”).
2. A book of romantic ballads (such as “Prelude to a Kiss”, and “Sophisticated Lady”).
3. An exotic book, which included pieces such as “Caravan” and “Bakiff”, as well as suites such as “Latin American Suite” and “Toga Brava Suite”.
4. A concert book in which each pieces is a long work with much less improvisation than was usually found in his music. Examples include “Black, Brown and Beige”, and “Deep South Suite”.
5. A book of concertos in which each piece frames the style of one Ellington band member. Examples include “Echoes of Harlem” (written for Cootie Williams), and “Boy Meets Horn” (written for Rex Stewart).
6. A book of sacred concerts, which brought Ellington to use choirs, new vocal soloists, organ, and dancers.
7. A book of swinging instrumentals, each with improvisational solos, catchy ensemble themes, and punchy accompaniment.
In addition to all the music contained in these “books”, Ellington also composed several operas, a couple of ballets, and about ten musical shows.

In my first post, I provided a short list of some of the best of Duke’s recordings. It is noteworthy that Amazon.com currently lists some 550 CD’s of Duke’s music (admittedly repetitive). I won’t add much to the previous list, except for the following:
1. Duke Ellington: All-Star Road Band, recorded in 1964 and released on the Signature label (produced by Bob Thiele).
2. The LaserLight 5-CD set I listed above is titled “Happy Birthday, Duke” (volumes 1-5).

There are also recordings of the music of Ellington, but not played by his band. Two of the better recordings are the direct-to-disk recording, “For Duke”, on the M&K label; and “The DMP Big Band Salutes Duke Ellington”, which is a 5.1 DTS surround recording.

Well, before I wear out my welcome, let me close and wish everyone good listening.
I would point out that Duke Ellington does not appear on and was not there for the recording of the first recommendation "For Duke" it is a tribute album recorded by former Ellington band members after his death. Although the sonics are terrific, the performance lacks the Duke touch. Might I suggest "Francis A.& Edward K.", with Frank Sinatra on Reprise and "Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Together For The First Time" on Roulette. Both great if you appreciate vocals.
Not exactly what you asked for, but for something a little funky, Dr. John has a great CD of Duke Ellington music called Duke Elegant.
Here are my favorites with my most favorite first and least favorite last. All are reissued recently.

1.Three Suites (Here he rearranges Tchiakovsky's Nutcracker
You will hear just pure genius particularly if you are familiar with the original work. This CD is excellent sonically)

2. The Ellington Legacy (Very good sonics. Most of his major hits are here.)

3. His Mother Called Him Bill (This record made a recent Absolute Sound survey as among the 100 greatest jazz recordings of the 20th century. My father was the recording engineer on the original recording.)

4. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong: The Great Summit (Rereleased and remastered separately by RCA and MFSL, this recording was also originally recorded by my father.
Hi everyone,
Thank you all very much for the recommendations, and EXTRA kudos to Sdcampbell for going the extra mile of providing such detailed background info on Duke and his music.

I will be a few $$$s poorer by the end of this weekend, after I hit Tower Records, but I am eagerly looking forward to Monday night when I sit down for my first listening session...

Thanks again and Happy Listening!
If you're not through shopping, you might add one of my favorites, The Great Paris Concert. (Don't remember when it was released, but the concert was in 1963.) The sound is bright (not bad bright) and immediate, and hearing the verve and sophistication of these musicians in a live setting just makes their accomplishments all the more impressive. Johnny Hodges, especially, shines. The longish, thematic numbers, Suite Thursday and Tone Parallel To Harlem, are real treats.