75 Songs, 3 Hours 52 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Duke Ellington had been an established force in the jazz world for more than a decade when the infusion of three dynamic talents ushered in what is largely considered the band’s most rewarding creative period. First was Billy Strayhorn, a young composer and arranger who finagled a backstage meeting with Ellington in Pittsburgh in late 1938 and impressed him enough to earn an invitation to the organization. Next came bassist Jimmie Blanton, who was 21 when Duke hired him in October of 1939 and who possessed a supple, bouncy style that gave the bass a new prominence. Finally, tenor Ben Webster signed on in January of 1940; his vigorous yet emotive tone had made him one of the most sought-after saxophone voices of the swing era. With a handsome new RCA Victor contract in hand, Ellington took his rejuvenated orchestra into the studio for the first time in March of 1940, and in a little more than two years, the orchestra produced these 75 glorious cuts — pop hits, jazz classics, tone poems, high-energy jams, Latin-influenced pieces, and more. With stalwarts including Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, and Barney Bigard already on board, the band delivered a host of riches: “Cotton Tail,” “Never No Lament,” “In a Mellotone,” “Warm Valley,” “I Got It Bad,” and “Sentimental Lady” among them. By 1941, Strayhorn's contributions were having a major impact, including the winsome “Chelsea Bridge,” lively “Raincheck,” and stylish “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

Duke Ellington had been an established force in the jazz world for more than a decade when the infusion of three dynamic talents ushered in what is largely considered the band’s most rewarding creative period. First was Billy Strayhorn, a young composer and arranger who finagled a backstage meeting with Ellington in Pittsburgh in late 1938 and impressed him enough to earn an invitation to the organization. Next came bassist Jimmie Blanton, who was 21 when Duke hired him in October of 1939 and who possessed a supple, bouncy style that gave the bass a new prominence. Finally, tenor Ben Webster signed on in January of 1940; his vigorous yet emotive tone had made him one of the most sought-after saxophone voices of the swing era. With a handsome new RCA Victor contract in hand, Ellington took his rejuvenated orchestra into the studio for the first time in March of 1940, and in a little more than two years, the orchestra produced these 75 glorious cuts — pop hits, jazz classics, tone poems, high-energy jams, Latin-influenced pieces, and more. With stalwarts including Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, and Barney Bigard already on board, the band delivered a host of riches: “Cotton Tail,” “Never No Lament,” “In a Mellotone,” “Warm Valley,” “I Got It Bad,” and “Sentimental Lady” among them. By 1941, Strayhorn's contributions were having a major impact, including the winsome “Chelsea Bridge,” lively “Raincheck,” and stylish “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

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