Duke Ellington & His Orchestra


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Decades after these recordings were made, an LP appeared as part of RCA Victor's superb Vintage series bearing the title Daybreak Express. Focusing on much of his best work from the mid-'30s, that album was a perfect introduction to the music of Duke Ellington. Number 646 in the Classics Chronological series serves this purpose just as effectively, shifting the frame of reference to include the autumn and winter of 1933, a broad sweep through 1934, and two originally unissued tidbits from January of 1935. From the first few bars of "Harlem Speaks," you know you are in front of what Fats Waller always swore was the greatest jazz orchestra in the world. Wellman Braud pushes the band around the room, his bass fiddle chugging along in fourth gear. Joe Nanton blows "ya-ya" smoke rings through the trombone. The trumpets are a bitch. And the reed section is the very bloodstream of Duke's orchestra. This band could play anything. Even "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" becomes radiantly hip under such conditions. Legend has it that "Rude Interlude" got its title in honor of a request for "Rude Indigo." As for that "Daybreak Express," a life-sized steam locomotive is conjured with almost aggressive clarity. You can practically smell the oil and feel the tracks vibrating as the band roars by with horns in the air. "Solitude" appears in two lovely takes recorded eight months apart. Number two is fleshier. "Stompy Jones," named for a courier and valet who traveled with the band, is the definitive hot jam. While Louis Bacon and Ivie Anderson were both fine vocalists, the toy surprise inside of this package is the first version of "My Old Flame," recorded in Hollywood on April 23, 1934, and issued on the world-renowned Biltmore label. The vocalist is none other than Mae West! Whoever thought of putting her and Duke together on the same record should have ordered up a dozen more sides, as this is one fascinating combination of personalities. Both were notably sensual individuals, incredibly dignified and strong-willed. Having carefully made way for Mae, Ellington's instrumentalists are able to play more expressively on Ivie's turf. Interesting comparisons could be made between Mae's and Ivie's takes and Billie Holiday's stunning Commodore rendition of 1944. "Admiration" introduces cornetist Rex Stewart, a brand-new addition to the Ellington troupe. "Farewell Blues," so beautifully rendered in 1934 by the Claude Hopkins Orchestra, receives the full Ellington treatment.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:09
2 3:12
3 3:09
4 2:54
5 3:32
6 2:55
7 3:18
8 3:02
9 3:26
10 3:09
11 3:22
12 3:30
13 3:16
14 3:26
15 3:12
16 3:18
17 3:18
18 3:11
19 3:16
20 3:05
21 2:36
22 2:37
23 2:24
blue highlight denotes track pick