One winter night in late 1940, Jack Towers (then a young Ellington fan) received permission to record the orchestra on his portable disc cutter at a dance in Fargo, ND. Little did he know that it was a historic night (as trumpeter Ray Nance made his debut with the band) and that the band would be in inspired form. Decades later the music came out on LP and now this double CD includes every scrap of music that has survived. The Duke Ellington Orchestra was at one of its peaks during this period, overflowing with distinctive and unique soloists, and propelled by the top bassist in jazz (Jimmy Blanton). With the accelerated writing activity of Ellington and his new musical partner Billy Strayhorn, there was no better orchestra at the time, and rarely since. Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster is heard in top form on "Star Dust," cornetist Rex Stewart, trombonists Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown, clarinetist Barney Bigard, and altoist Johnny Hodges also have some very strong moments, and Ray Nance does his best to fit in; many in the band were hearing him for the first time. It is indeed very fortunate that Jack Towers was present for what would have been a forgotten one-night stand.
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