Cotton Club, Vol. 1: 1938

Duke Ellington

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Cotton Club, Vol. 1: 1938 Review

by Ken Dryden

Duke Ellington's extended engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, which regularly featured the band on radio during the late '30s, helped him achieve stardom. The music in this budget compilation, which clocks in at a rather stingy 33 minutes, is a treasure trove for fans of Ellington's early years. "Harmony in Harlem" and the peppy "Riding on a Blue Note" showcase Johnny Hodges on soprano sax (he gave up the instrument for good two years later) and trumpeter Cootie Williams. "Rose Room," which eventually inspired Ellington to compose "In a Mellow Tone" (one can hear a bit of the future piece in his introduction), brings clarinetist Barney Bigard to the forefront. Vocalist Ivie Anderson is engaging in the pop tune "At Your Beck and Call." The fidelity is quite good for broadcast material from 1938, with decent balance and soloists who are distinctly audible. It is a shame that this historic music has been reissued in such scattershot fashion, as a box set of all available recordings would be preferable over a brief (though enjoyable) compilation like this release.

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