What makes this album unique is not just that the play list consists of songs composed by jazz musicians -- that's been done before. Here, the "usual suspects" -- Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billy Strayhorn, Hoagy Carmichael, and others -- don't dominate the play list. Instead, there are tunes by Artie Shaw, Red Norvo, Joe Bushkin, Stuff Smith, and other musicians, some of whom are not especially renowned for the songs they wrote. (Moreover, the songs by Ellington, Strayhorn, and others are not necessarily the most familiar they have written. Strayhorn, for example, is represented by "Multicolored Blue," which is a 1958 rewrite of his 1947 song "Violet Blue."
"Black Butterfly" is Ellington's contribution to the set. The common thread of the music on the disc is that it all comes from mainstream jazz. There's nothing by bop and impressionist jazz musicians like Benny Golson, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. Gerry Mulligan comes the closest to being a "modern" jazz performer. The musicians on this album come from a similar mold. Dick Sudhalter's trumpet and flugelhorn are borne of the Louis Armstrong tradition with strong Ruby Braff overtones. Roger Kellaway, who can play any jazz genre with anybody, anytime, sticks to the more traditional mode. The other players are similarly disposed to mainstream jazz. Long-time standards singer Barbara Lea lends her vocal artistry to pianist Charles La Vere's "It's All in Your Mind" and the less-known Hoagy Carmichael/Bix Beiderbecke track "Someday Soon." The other participants on the session also make important contributions, which enhance the album. Ed Saindon's vibes and Joe Cocuzzo's brushes complement Sudhalter on Joe Bushkin's "Oh, Look at Me Now," with Frank Vignola getting extended solo time on guitar. Sy Johnson's arrangements are important to the artistic success of the album, but it's Kellaway who is the star of the set. More often than not, his piano assigns the mood and tempo, and his duets with Sudhalter are gems of musical collaboration. Listen to them wind their way through Benny Carter's lovely and under-recorded "Only Trust Your Heart." They give a poignant, fervent reading to Ellington's "Black Butterfly." They manage to turn a piece of fluff like "Eeny Meeny Miney Moe" into a toe-tapping call and response uptempo, fun-filled romp. There's not a bad cut on the album. Recommended.