Duke Ellington was videotaped on a number of occasions during his career, but this pair of studio performances recorded for broadcast by Danish television are especially noteworthy. Although each program is in black & white, the sound and video seem flawless, as if the source tape had never been played since its initial broadcast. The half-hour solo/duo/trio set begins with a piece he rarely played, "Le Sucrier Velours" (from the Queen's Suite), a song which was recorded for presentation to Queen Elizabeth II but never issued commercially during his lifetime. He follows it with a moving take of Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom." A brief version of his tribute to stride piano great Willie "The Lion" Smith, "Second Portrait of the Lion," is a bit frustrating, as the camera never focuses on his hands and instead spends most of the time centered on drummer Rufus "Speedy" Jones. The contemplative "Meditation" is from the pianist's first Sacred Concert, played as a solo. Bassist John Lamb joins Ellington and Jones for an obscure original blues called "On the Fringe of the Jungle"; this is its only documented performance. The trio wrap their brief set with two favorites, the lovely ballad "Mood Indigo" and the romping finale, "Take the 'A' Train."
The second program, recorded the same day, features Ellington leading an octet with Cat Anderson, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and Paul Gonsalves plus John Lamb and Rufus "Speedy" Jones. Aside from a time when Ellington led an octet during an extended engagement at the Rainbow Room in New York City, he rarely led a group of this size this late in his career. Alto sax great Johnny Hodges is showcased in "Passion Flower" and "The Jeep Is Jumpin'." Baritone saxophonist Harry Carney is featured in "Sophisticated Lady," demonstrating his remarkable circular breathing technique at the climax of his solo. "Tippin' and Whisperin'" is another rarity, a blues heard in its only known performance, featuring Cat Anderson sticking exclusively to muted trumpet and avoiding his usual high note theatrics. Ellington introduced the ballad "Happy Reunion" as a feature for tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves during the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. While the pianist kept it in his book until near the end of his life, it never turned into a hit, though it was not for lack of effort by Gonsalves, who devoured this simple but powerful tune on any occasion. Gonsalves is also in the spotlight for the brisk full-ensemble version of "Satin Doll." Anderson returns to the forefront for the exciting blues "Jam With Sam," alternating with each of the horns and reeds in turn as he uses a different mute for each solo break, while Ellington eschews his normal introduction of each soloist in this number. Throughout this second program, Ellington's piano chops are evident. Any fan of Duke Ellington should snap up this DVD immediately.