This budget-priced, 23-track CD consists of the recordings of big-band standards that Duke Ellington originally did for Reprise in the early '60s. One suspects there was a quid pro quo here -- he would cut these '30s and '40s standards, which were certain to make money, for Reprise, and that same label, in turn, would record his symphonic music. The material is done in a smooth, swinging style, more laid-back than what the Count Basie orchestra of the same period would have done with this same stuff ("One O'Clock Jump" is included here as one of ten bonus tracks), but with enough fire and boundless elegance to make it more than worthwhile. Highlights include "Minnie the Moocher," "Cherokee," "Ciribiribin," "Contrasts," "Smoke Rings," "Woodchopper's Ball," "Rhapsody in Blue," and "Tuxedo Junction." The idea at the time was that these songs were tributes to their original signatories ("Goodbye" for Benny Goodman, "Christopher Columbus" for Fletcher Henderson, "Sentimental Journey" for Les Brown, etc.), so this is sort of a concept album, and a rather good one at that. The personnel include Billy Strayhorn (who also arranges the material that Ellington didn't), Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Hamilton, and Paul Gonsalves. This is an ideal companion to the similar set of tracks that Ellington did for Capitol a decade earlier, but a lot easier and cheaper to come by, and more cohesive.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder