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The Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington: Côte d'Azur Concerts On Verve

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Album Review

This is an eight-CD set more for Duke Ellington fanatics than for general listeners. Originally, some of the music came out as a two-LP set (Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur) and a single album (Ellington's Soul Call), but the great majority of the material was previously unreleased when this box came out in 1998. It contains all of the existing music from four concerts performed in France in 1966. Although Ella Fitzgerald gets first billing, she is only on 28 selections and is completely absent from discs one, three, four and eight, having just three songs on disc two. The 1966 Duke Ellington Orchestra included trumpeters Cootie Williams and Cat Anderson, trombonist Lawrence Brown and the remarkable reed section of Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney; they are fortunately in fine form throughout, playing some standards but also plenty of lesser-known concert material including selections from "Such Sweet Thunder." Two of Ellington's alumni, cornetist Ray Nance and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, make notable guest appearances on the July 29 concert. The first seven discs are from four concerts, many selections are repeated, and even the verbal introductions by Duke tend to be similar — but Ellington scholars will love comparing the different versions. The eighth disc has a rehearsal by the Ellington band from July 28 as the musicians run through "The Old Circus Train Turn-Around Blues," "Blue Fuse No. 1 and 2" and "The Shepherd." Ellington, producer Norman Granz and some of the musicians are heard commenting along the way. All of the music (except for a final version of "The Old Circus Train") is just excerpts from the arrangements. This disc is worth listening to closely once, but it is for the multiple live performances that Duke's fans will most want the box; pity that Ellington received second billing!


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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