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

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Portrait of a Lion

Le Chant du Monde 274 2410.12




1. Jubilee Stomp

2. Move Over

3. Mississippi Moan

4. The Lazy Duke

5. Blues of the Vagabond

6. Syncopated Shuffle

7. The Mooche

8. East St Louis Toodle-O

9. Sweet Mama

10. Hot and Bothered

11. Black and Tan Fantasy

12. Rocky Mountain Blues

13. Old Man Blues

14. Lot o’ Fingers (Fast and Furious)

15. Slippery Horn

16. Indigo Echoes

17. Caravan

18. Stompy Jones

19. Downtown Uproar

20. Lament for a Lost Love

21. Jazz à la Carte

22. Moonlight Fiesta

23. Sponge Cake and Spinach

24. Swing Baby, Swing

25. Jubilesta

26. Pigeons and Peppers


1. Portrait of a Lion

2. My Sunday Gal

3. Lament for Javanette

4. Dear Old Southland

5. The Giddy-bug Gallop

6. Clementine

7. Subtle Slough

8. Perdido

9. Jumping Room Only

10. Tonk

11. The Clothed Woman

12. Snibor

13. The New Piano Roll Blues

14. Later

15. Primpin’ at the Prom

16. Satin Doll

17. Orson

18. Blossom

19. B-sharp Blues

20. Passion Flower

21. Dancers in Love

22. Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

23. Janet

24. Band Call

25. Harlem Air-Shaft

26. Serious Serenade


1. Rubber Bottom

2. Prelude to a Kiss

3. Such Sweet Thunder

4. Bli-blip

5. Mood Indigo,

6. Solitude

7. 23rd Psalm

8. Blues in Orbit

9. Villes Ville is the Place, Man

10. C-Jam Blues

11. In a Mellow Tone

12. It Don’t Mean a Thing

13. Main Stem

14. Black Beauty

15. Tonight I Shall Sleep

16. Fontainebleau Forest

17. A Hundred Dreams Ago

18. Drop Me Off in Harlem

19. Take the “A” Train

20. Paris Blues

21. Warm Valley

22. In a Sentimental Mood


This is another triple album in the “Jazz Characters” series. It follows the career of the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1928 (when it was an eleven-piece ensemble) to 1962. In fact this leaves out nearly the first four years of the band’s existence, when it began as the Washingtonians. And it also omits the last dozen years of the orchestra, as the Duke continued recording almost up to his death in 1974.

Nevertheless, this is a fascinating survey of possibly the most important group in the history of jazz. The earliest tracks show that Ellington already had a talent for choosing musicians of individuality and invention. Thus Jubilee Stomp boasts such distinct voices as the trumpet of Bubber Miley, the trombone of Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, and the drums of Sonny Greer. And there is also the unique sound of Duke Ellington at the piano – at this time still playing in the stride style. The development in his playing can be heard in Lot o’ Fingers, a very fast piece which is mainly a Ducal piano solo. More importantly, Duke’s abilities as a very special arranger were already in evidence, as in the mysterious reeds on Misssissippi Moan.

Tracks like The Mooche and East St Louis Toodle-O would recur throughout the life of the band, although they were often rearranged (I once recorded nine different versions of The Mooche on a cassette for a friend). Later tracks on the first CD have the benefit of such soloists as Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart.

The second CD takes us from 1939 to 1955 – a period which included the Webster-Blanton personnel which is often cited as Ellington’s finest hour. Strangely enough, this compilation omits some of the 1940 tracks (Jack the Bear, Ko-Ko, Cotton Tail) which are generally regarded as highspots of the period. Instead, this disc includes such oddities as The New Piano Roll Blues, a rather muddy 1950 recording including Red Rodney and Max Roach.

Thankfully the last CD contains such memorable recordings as Prelude to a Kiss, Such Sweet Thunder, Mood Indigo and Solitude. This period of the band’s existence could boast such special soloists as Clark Terry, Jimmy Hamilton and the impeccable and uplifting Johnny Hodges. Just sample Hodges on a track like Tonight I Shall Sleep and try to think of a lovelier sound in jazz. And the Duke’s piano continues to make its mark, with such touches as the gloriously ambiguous chords which close It Don’t Mean a Thing and Main Stem.

As with the Louis Armstrong collection in this series, this set is not a definitive cross-section of the Ducal achievement – but that would probably need at least a hundred CDs. However, the compilation offers plenty of surprises as well as many moments of sheer joy.

Tony Augarde


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