December 12, 2006


Small Talk With Duke (WILL FRIEDWALD, December 12, 2006, NY Sun)

Listening to 70-year-old Duke Ellington recordings on your iPod is not nearly as incongruous as it might seem. As a new boxed set, "Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936–1940 Variety, Vocalion, and Okeh Small Group Sessions" (Mosaic Records), makes clear, great music can often be inspired by technological innovation.

Indeed, the jukebox may well have been the iPod of the 1930s, in that it served to disseminate the best popular music of the era and gave composers and performers like Ellington the impetus to create some of their most durable work.

Coin-operated phonographs in public places date back to the 19th century, but the concept was enthusiastically reborn with the end of Prohibition in 1933 and the beginning of the swing era two years later. At the depth of the Great Depression, most Americans couldn't afford to pay the cover charge at a big-city nightclub, or even plunk down 75 cents for a new record. But they could drop a nickel in the slot of a jukebox to dance and drink in the roadhouse establishments that proliferated once liquor regained legal status. The juke joints helped make superstars out of singer-playerfunsters like Fats Waller and Louis Prima, and inspired Ellington and his longtime associate Irving Mills to reach for a piece of the action.

Rounding Up the Best of the Boxed; Duke Ellington -- The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (BEN RATLIFF, NY Times)

In 1936 Duke Ellington had been leading a big band for a little more than 10 years and he was an international star, possibly the highest-paid black entertainer in the United States. At this point he undertook a series of small-group sessions. Some of the standout tracks: ''Tough Truckin','' ''Indigo Echoes,'' ''Love in My Heart,'' ''Pyramid'' ''Chasin' Chippies'' and ''Delta Mood.'' [....]

Ellington's music tends to be consumed on CD these days either by canonical collections of his early music or by his later, more carefully programmed LPs; this is a giant serving of early work, with unreleased alternate takes, offering the real truth from a great period of a great band. (Mosaic. Seven CDs. $119. Available only at, or 203-327-7111.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2006 12:00 AM
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