Between 1934 and 1941, four of Duke Ellington's star instrumentalists made records as nominal leaders of small groups that were miniaturized editions of the Ellington orchestra, with Duke playing piano and serving as co-leader. None of the recordings on this collection were originally released under the heading of "The Duke's Men." That phrase was invented by the producers of two Epic reissue LPs in 1955 and 1956. The records, cut for Vocalion and Okeh in New York and Hollywood during the years 1936-1939, were presented to the public as the work of Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators, Rex Stewart & His 52nd Street Stompers, Cootie Williams & His Rug Cutters, and Johnny Hodges & His Orchestra. This works well as a 16-track sampler, allowing for a representative overview of the excellent swing music generated by these tight little ensembles. For a more complete selection, look for two double-CD sets on Columbia called The Duke's Men: Small Groups and The Great Ellington Units on Bluebird.
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