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Archive for December 7th, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Duke Ellington, “The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958”

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What made Ellington a Duke? Though born in the final year of the 19th century, few figures in 20th century music were as influential as composer, pianist and bandleader Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. By the time of his first ever long-playing album, 1951’s Masterpieces by Ellington, he was already American royalty, well-established via films, Broadway musicals and the enduring compositions he gifted to the Great American Songbook. Masterpieces also kicks off the nine-disc journey through Legacy Recordings’ The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958 (88697 93888 2). As the title indicates, this box set only covers a part of Ellington’s Columbia career, excluding live discs and his work into the 1960s. But it makes available in one fell swoop some of the most important music of Ellington’s long career, and restores to the catalogue two albums previously unavailable on CD in the U.S.: 1956’s A Drum is a Woman and 1958’s At the Bal Masque.

The nine albums in the box are representative of Ellington’s work during this fertile period. These nine albums serve as bookends to Ellington’s renowned 1956 Newport Jazz Festival appearance which reaffirmed his place in the pantheon and landed him on the cover of Time. The big band era in which he once flourished might have passed, but the time for Duke Ellington’s orchestra certainly did not. He took advantage of the long-playing LP format to revisit past classics in epic style on albums such as Masterpieces and 1952’s Ellington Uptown, teamed with vocalists Rosemary Clooney and Mahalia Jackson for two incredibly different sets, and crafted ambitious suites with A Drum is a Woman and Such Sweet Thunder. He even intermingled his own well-known compositions with those of his others on Ellington Indigos, At the Bal Masque and The Cosmic Scene, which despite its space age title, incorporated already-vintage songs by Al Jolson, W.C. Handy, and Johnnys Burke and Mercer. All of the albums in the new box set are essential listening for fans of big band, “pure” jazz and popular vocals, too. Each LP, too, has bonus tracks carried over from previous Legacy reissues, excepting the new-to-U.S. CD Bal Masque and Drum.

We explore the contents of the box set further after the jump! You know what to do…

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 7, 2012 at 11:54