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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The Duke at Fargo 1940

Storyville 103 8435



1. It’s Glory
2. The Mooche
3. The Sheik of Araby
4. Sepia Panorama
5. Ko Ko
6. There Shall Be No Night
7. Pussy Willow
8. Chatterbox
9. Mood Indigo
10. Harlem Airshaft
11. Ferryboat Serenade
12. Warm Valley
13. Stompy Jones
14. Chloe
15. Bojangles
16. On the Air
17. Rumpus in Richmond
18. Chaser
19. The Sidewalks of New York
20. The Flaming Sword
21. Never No Lament
22. Caravan
23. Clarinet Lament

1. Slap Happy
2. Sepia Panorama
3. Boy Meets Horn
4. Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
5. Oh Babe, Maybe Someday
6. Five O’clock Whistle
7. Fanfare
8. Call of the Canyon/Unidentified Title/All This and Heaven Too
9. Rockin’ in Rhythm
10. Sophisticated Lady
11. Cotton Tail
12. Whispering Grass
13. Conga Brava
14. I Never Felt This Way Before
15. Across the Track Blues
16. Honeysuckle Rose
17. Wham
18. Star Dust
19. Rose of the Rio Grande
20. St Louis Blues
21. Warm Valley
22. God Bless America

Rex Stewart – Cornet
Wallace Jones – Trumpet
Ray Nance – Trumpet, violin, vocals
Joseph Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown - Trombones
Barney Bigard – Clarinet, tenor sax
Johnny Hodges – Alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet
Otto Hardwick – Alto sax, clarinet
Ben Webster – Tenor sax, clarinet
Harry Carney – Baritone sax, clarinet
Duke Ellington – Piano
Fred Guy – Guitar, whistle
Jimmy Blanton – Bass
Sonny Greer – Drums
Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries - Vocals

In 1940, two young men had the idea of recording a concert by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. One of them owned a professional portable disc recorder and they got permission from Duke’s management and Ellington himself to record a concert at Fargo in North Dakota. The results are to be heard on this double album.

The early 1940s are often pinpointed as the golden years of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which is fine as long as this assessment is not used to denigrate other eras of the Ellington band. This was certainly a good time for the band, with the presence of two talented newcomers: bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. The concert at Fargo probably also marked the debut of Ray Nance, who replaced Cootie Williams. Cootie had been one of the greatest assets to the band, but Ray Nance brought not only his unique talents as a trumpeter but also as a violinist and vocalist. His ability as a trumpeter is clear in his understandably tentative solo on Rumpus in Richmond. His violin can be heard soloing on Honeysuckle Rose and his idiosyncratic vocals are on the next track, Wham. Ray’s versatility makes one believe the sleeve-note’s assertion that Ray had formerly played at a venue for female impersonators!

Nance was one of the individualists among the trumpeters, who also included Rex Stewart, the cornetist whose unusual sound is intriguing on such tracks as Boy Meets Horn. The trombone section included three very different voices, and the sax section was hard to beat. The recorded sound is often surprisingly good, given the circumstances, although there is some fuzzy sound as well as some volume surges, while some tracks lack beginnings or endings (or even middles, as in The Sidewalks of New York). Yet we are lucky to have this document of the band with its many outstanding soloists.

Ben Webster’s romantic solo heightens the sentimental There Shall Be No Night, and Ben lets himself go on Bojangles. He concocted the version of Star Dust here with Jimmy Blanton, whose bass rings out solidly throughout the recording. Webster’s solo on Star Dust seems to challenge Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul as a classic tenor outing. Webster and Blanton are both featured on the marvellous Sepia Panorama, where one can hear how Blanton made the bass an important solo instrument. And while we’re with the rhythm section, it is good to hear drummer Sonny Greer more clearly than he is often heard on commercial recordings.

As I said above, the sax section was hard to beat, primarily because it included such masterly musicians as Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and the aforementioned Ben Webster. The ineffable Hodges is featured in Never No Lament (the tune which became better known as Don’t Get Around Much Anymore) and he even makes Whispering Grass sublime. Harry Carney’s incredibly deep baritone sax comes to the fore on Slap Happy. And we mustn’t forget Barney Bigard, whose down-home sound is featured on Clarinet Lament and St Louis Blues.

We also mustn’t forget “the piano player”, who created this unparalleled ensemble and held it together for several decades. Duke Ellington modestly stays in the background much of the time but you can hear him to advantage on such tracks as Rockin’ in Rhythm and Across the Track Blues. This essential album shows how Ellington moulded a collection of individualists into what I consider the greatest jazz band ever.

Tony Augarde

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