Duke Ellington: A Guide to the Stockpile, Part I (1974-1986)

[Originally published at my defunct blog Honey for the Bears on 1 May 2012]


In his later years Duke Ellington was one hell of a productive musician. Beyond the many records he made each year for a variety of commercial labels, he found it necessary to privately finance additional recording sessions in the studio. As such, he left behind an enormous ‘stockpile’ of unreleased tapes. Since Duke’s death in 1974 numerous albums have been drawn from this archive. And don’t imagine these are just curiosities. Many of the stockpile recordings are essential to a full appreciation of jazz’s greatest composer. Some tracks are the only record of a unique Duke Ellington composition.

That said, many of the stockpile tracks are either new versions of Ellington standards or impromptu blues numbers, and it’s difficult to determine what portion of this material Duke thought worthy of release. He seemed to enjoy using the studio as a venue to try out new ideas and works-in-progress. Many of the tunes and arrangements were never again revisited.

The posthumous collections were compiled pretty haphazardly. This is the first of a three-part listener’s guide to the Stockpile releases. It doesn’t attempt to cover the gazillion posthumously released live recordings.

PART 1: 1974-1986


The Pianist (1966, 1970; released Fantasy, 1974). A good set of trio performances – the best kind of introduction to Ellington’s mastery of the piano. Not to be confused with the 2005 Storeyville CD The Piano Player (see Part III). The accompanists are either John Lamb (bass) and Sam Woodyard (drums) or Paul Kondziela (bass) and Rufus Jones (drums). The tunes are mostly new pieces.

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Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971; released Fantasy, 1975). One of three suites recorded in the first half of 1971 but unreleased in Ellington’s lifetime (the others are the Goutelas and Togo Brava suites). Afro-Eurasian Eclipse is a superb pseudo-ethnomusicological collection that verges on fusion. Duke never stopped exploring. The excuse for this suite is Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the whole world is going Oriental”. ‘Chinoiserie’ rocks hard with a Harold Ashby solo. ‘Didjeridoo’ is a rock groove based around a Harry Carney baritone sax riff and Duke’s piano. Incidently, the LP cover illustration is taken from J. Martin Miller’s Twentieth Century Atlas (1904 edition).

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The Ellington Suites (1959, 1971, 1972; released Pablo, 1976). This contains The Queen’s Suite, Ellington and Strayhorn’s tribute to Elizabeth II, which was famously pressed as a lone copy for Her Majesty. And we also have two later compositions, The UWIS (University of Wisconsin) Suite and The Goutelas Suite. Goutelas has a tender movement called ‘Something’.

N.B. – ‘Gogo’ and ‘Gigi’, two additional, newly completed Goutelas movements based on Duke’s unfinished sketches, are featured on the Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra’s album Ellington French Touch (Juste une Trace/Sony, 2012). Mignard also includes with the suite a new recording of ‘Goof’, which was first released on the stockpile collection Up In Duke’s Workshop (1979). (The unreliable works list in Ellington’s autobiography, Music is My Mistress (1973), strangely lists these three ‘G’ movements as constituting the entire Goutelas rather than the six included on the 1976 LP. Who knows?).

My review of Ellington French Touch is at PopMatters.com.

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Jazz Violin Session (1963; released Atlantic, 1976). Not technically from the stockpile, but from the Reprise vault. Ellington recorded this session one busy winter evening at Barclay Studios in Paris with a small band fronted by Stephane Grappelli, Svend Asmussen, and Ray Nance.

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Duke Ellington 1899-1974 aka The Famous 5-LP Box (1959-1971; released M.F. Productions, 1977). A kind of Ur-compilation of unreleased studio and live tracks that has been reissued in various shorter configurations on budget labels ever since. This is the gist: a dozen New York studio recordings from May-July 1962, with close to thirty mostly 1960s live tracks from Sweden. None of the compositions here are exclusive, although Mercer Ellington’s ‘Taffy Twist’ comes close (another performance appears on an Ellington-Della Reese album). Session details here.

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The Intimate Ellington (1969-71; released Pablo, 1977). Hear Duke sing (sort of) ‘Moon Maiden’. ‘Edward the First’ and ‘Edward the Second’ are both serious piano trio blues numbers. ‘Symphonette’ (aka ‘Sugar Hill Penthouse’) is an extract from 1943′s large-scale work Black, Brown & Beige.

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Up In Duke’s Workshop (1969-72; released Pablo, 1979). ‘Neo-Creole’ is an updated version of ‘Creole Rhapsody’ from 1931; the arrangement was featured in Ellington’s unreleased score for the forgotten movie Change of Mind (1969). I like this record. Good blues. And Norman Granz was really getting his money’s worth out of that photo session, wasn’t he?

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Unknown Session (July 14, 1960; released Columbia, 1979). Once again, not really a stockpile recording; this is a septet session from the Columbia Vault.

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The Girl’s Suite and the Perfume Suite (1957, 1961; released Columbia, 1982). Another Columbia vault item. Never released on CD. The Girl’s [sic] Suite is a ten-movement premiere release recorded September 1961. The Perfume Suite is a December 1957 remake of the 1945 work.

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Featuring Paul Gonsalves (May 1962; released Fantasy, 1984). The hero of Newport ’56 gets his own set of solos. There’s a decent version of the ‘Paris Blues’ theme. I guess this one is for Gonsalves fans. I’m more ambivalent. I like Gonsalves when he plays it slow and sensuous. For more of same see The Private Collection Vol 3 in Part II.

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Duke 56/62 volumes 1, 2, & 3. (1956-62; released CBS France, 1984). This is an obscure motherlode. These 5 LPs chronicle studio outtakes and alternative takes from the six year period Ellington was signed to Columbia Records. Once again, technically this is not part of the private stockpile but from the Columbia vault. By now many of these tracks have been re-released as bonus tracks on Sony CD reissues of the Columbia LPs, but there are still a number of tracks exclusive to this out-of-print set. There is a three movement Asphalt Jungle Suite (soundtrack for a short-lived 1961 TV show), alternate recordings of the Paris Blues music, even a version of ‘Jingle Bells’. The single LP third volume is devoted to unreleased vocalist sessions with Rosemary Clooney, Ozzie Bailey, Johnny Ray, etc.

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Best of and New Mood Indigo (1957-58, 1962-66; Collectables Jazz Classics, 2001) A rather stupidly titled single CD, but the best way to get two CBS LPs from 1985. The first seven tracks are 1957-58 small group recordings first collected as Happy Reunion (aka The Best Of Duke Ellington). Tracks 8-18 are from 1962-66, including some otherwise unreleased compositions and small group performances with Chick Corea.

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The Intimacy of the Blues (1967, 1970; released Fantasy, 1986): Small band sessions, including 1967’s Combo Suite (tracks 1-6). Organist Wild Bill Davis is on the 1970 tracks.

To be continued….

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