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Live and Rare (Bluebird First Editions)

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Album Review

Many of this three-CD set's tracks are available elsewhere, excepting three previously unreleased performances from the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival announcement party, long-unavailable recordings made specifically for Reader's Digest (plus some unreleased alternate takes), as well as unissued rehearsals for the bandleader's guest appearance with Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops. The press party is a noisy affair and the recording quality is hardly polished, as the crowd can't seem to shut up during Ellington's rollicking "Sweet Fat and That," "Satin Doll," and "Carolina Shout" (erroneously credited to Ellington instead of James P. Johnson), which is suddenly broken off by the pianist, who seems to be a tad rusty. The Eastbourne tracks represent the band in its decline; although veterans Harry Carney and Russell Procope were still around, the lack of many other star soloists is noticeable, and although there are some excellent musicians present (Johnny Coles, Harold Ashby, and Harold Minerve, to name a few), the band is clearly running out of steam. The music from the 1965 Pittsburgh Jazz Festival, featuring Ellington in a duet with Earl Hines, a solo performance, and one song with a rhythm section, has been reissued more than once. The Reader's Digest sessions are rather conservative, trying not to overwhelm the neophyte jazz fans the magazine was likely targeting; the music is pleasant with some good solos, but rather bland compared to typical Ellington dates. The Tanglewood concert with Fiedler is enjoyable, though the decision to intersperse excerpts of Ellington's prerecorded responses to a promotional interview between songs is a bit odd, with the bandleader actually digressing into talking about his weight problem. Put it all together and you have a set that may appeal to the die-hard Ellington collector, though it is hardly essential for most jazz fans.

Biography

Born: 29 April 1899 in Washington D.C.

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who held his large group together continuously for almost 50 years. The two aspects of his career were related; Ellington used his band as a musical laboratory for his new compositions and shaped his writing specifically to showcase the talents of his bandmembers, many of whom remained with him for long periods. Ellington also wrote film scores and stage musicals, and several of his instrumental works...
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