Duke Ellington – Mrs. Clinkscales to the Cotton Club, Vol. 1: 1926-1929
To my ear, it just doesn’t get much better than this. Early Ellington, remastered by JSP. 96 songs, and every one of ’em perfection.
This isn’t just jazz school in a box. It’s music school.
Duke Ellington – Money Jungle
In the history of legendarily tension-filled masterpieces, this is one of the tensioniest most masterpieceiest of them all.
In the history of deliberate multi-generational “pairings,” this is one of very, very, very few that achieve genuine greatness.
In the history of Mingus Tantrum Tales, the Mingus Tantrum Tale that sits at the center of this album’s origin story is one of the best.
In the history of jazz albums that make history, this is one of the most historical.
And if it never quite occurred to you that Duke Ellington really was a fantastic bloody piano player, well, then this album is for you too.
Thelonious Monk – Plays Duke Ellington
It’s a sad and beautiful world, isn’t it? And a strange one, that at one time Monk should have been thought so difficult, that he had to be made to play Ellington to get a record out.
That wouldn’t prove to be a problem, of course, because Monk loved Ellington, though he preferred his own compositions by and large—and rightly so.
Given the incomparable richness of these recordings, it’s hard to remember sometimes it’s just a trio:
Thelonious Monk – piano
Oscar Pettiford – bass
Kenny Clarke – drums
The album is honestly perfection, but it’s also a “bridge” record between his early Blue Note days, and the still-two-albums-away Brilliant Corners—a certified masterpiece.
Ultimately, the record is an exquisite opportunity to kick back and swing with the greatest playing the greatest.
Ivie Anderson – It Don’t Mean A Thing
I may get in trouble for saying so, but for my money, Ivie Anderson is THE Duke Ellington vocalist. She is the ONLY Duke Ellington vocalist.
We may of course argue about this. But what is sadly indisputable, is that she is one of the most criminally overlooked voices in the history of popular music, and of jazz. Not to say she isn’t known. She is. It’s just that she was SO good. And I’m not sure everyone really realizes that.
Her canonical, standard-bearing vocal on “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” of course forever cements her place in the history books. And she enshrines herself equally permanently in the pop culture annals by virtue of her turn in The Marx Brothers film A Day At The Races, in which she performs “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.”
But for my money, her true glory resides in … well … everything she sang.
As it’s often easiest to understand accomplishments of her magnitude in comparative context, consider her absolutely sublime rendering of Stormy Weather, as can be experienced in this video:
My lord, that’s beautiful.
There are lots of different collections out there that gather her Ellington performances together—I picked this one because it has them all, but however you can hear Ivie Anderson, please hear her.
California friends, if you didn’t know, she’s a Gilroy girl. Born there in 1905.