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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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The Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and his Sidemen

Fifth Edition


Scarecrow Press, USA, Canada, and Plymouth (UK), 688pp ISBN 0-8108-6028-7 61 paperback





Sometimes  dreams come true. For years I have yearned to have a complete discography of Duke Ellington's recordings, and had to struggle along with the outline listing in Peter Gammond's nevertheless worthwhile Duke Ellington (1987) and other partial discographies. So, encountering this marvellous book for the first time, I felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken (or something like that). Mr Timner doesn't call it a discography but he has compiled a reference book which comprehensively covers not only the recordings of Duke Ellington but also those that his musicians made under their own names or with other bands while they were with Ellington. This even includes musicians (like Cootie Williams and Lawrence Brown) who left the Duke's orchestra for a while before rejoining it - because, as Mr Timner says, they have always been "True Blue Ellingtonians".

Having such a guide to Ellington's recordings is particularly important because, as Dan Morgenstern says in his Editor's Foreword: "Some very knowledgeable people call [Ellington] the greatest of American composers". Not only that: I believe that the Duke was the greatest composer/arranger in jazz and therefore of prime importance in the history of the music.

The huge scope of the book is understandable, because Ellington led his own ensembles for 50 years: from the Washingtonians in 1924 to his death in 1974. Not only that, but he was a prolific composer and arranger who recorded many of his compositions over and over again - often in new versions or with different titles. For instance, the book tells us that Under the Balcony was also recorded as Sonata and Balcony Serenade. Never No Lament was also known as Foxy, Zoom-Ha-Ka and Zoom-Ha-Laa. This tune is one of many Ellington compositions that had lyrics added to them later, so that Never No Lament became Don't Get Around Much Any More, while Concerto for Cootie was turned into Do Nothing 'til You Hear From Me.

This discography was clearly a labour of love but understandably an immense labour, entailing a massive amount of research. It has resulted in a work of scholarship which seldom puts a foot wrong. In fact, its standard is so high that the reader is surprised to find the occasional mistake - like the tune listed in the index as Didicated (sic) To You, with a recording date given as 19 April 1950 - a date when Ellington apparently made no recordings.

The book came in useful almost as soon as I received it. The tune Angelica sounded familiar when I heard it on a 1962 recording. The discography reminded me that I knew it better as Purple Gazelle from the underrated 1963 album Afro-Bossa. Apparently the tune also appeared under the titles of Angelique, Cali and Ragtime Cha Cha.

The book has several sections. Besides the main chronological list of the Ellington Orchestra's recording sessions, there is the separate list of the recordings made by Ellington alumni. From this one can trace such facts as Johnny Hodges playing for groups led by Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billy Taylor and Sandy Williams, as well as the better-known sessions with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, plus numerous recordings leading his own groups.

There is also a list of radio and TV broadcasts as well as a general index, and indexes of musicians, plus cities and venues. A three-page Addenda emphasises how knowledge continues to multiply, even about a musician who died more than a generation ago. The music lives on - and so does our interest in it, which is where books like this are invaluable. I cannot recommend this wonderful book too highly to anyone who loves Ellington's music - and that should surely include all jazz fans.

Tony Augarde





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