From Apr. 7, 1945 through Nov. 1945 and again from Apr-Oct. 1946, Duke Ellington and his orchestra appeared on a weekly series of 55-minute programs sponsored by the United States Treasury Department. In addition to the performances, most of the programs had Ellington giving three promos for U.S. Savings Bonds. Since World War II. was still quite active in the Pacific until Sept. 1945, the earlier programs are filled with Duke urging the audience to give money so as to win the war. The later promos are about the wisdom of saving for the future and the importance of buying savings bonds.
While the promos are skippable, the music is timeless. These well-recorded broadcasts first appeared complete and in chronological order in the 1980s on over 40 LPs put out by the Merritt Record Society. After a couple of decades of being out-of-print or only available in piecemeal fashion, they are being reissued as a series of two-CD sets by the Storyville label. Each twofer, in addition to two complete broadcasts, includes other live material from 1942-54 (mostly from the 1940s) taken from radio broadcasts, some of which was previously unreleased, along with lengthy and excellent liner notes. When it is completed, the series will be comprised of 26 or 27 twofers.
Recently Vols. 21 and 22 were released, mostly featuring the 1946 edition of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. While that particular big band has never seemed to be as highly rated as Duke’s orchestra of 1939-42, it was actually at the same high level. Consider that most swing era big bands had perhaps five strong soloists. The Ellington ensemble heard on the July 27, 1946 broadcast had no less than a dozen, all of whom were distinctive: trumpeters Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson and Shorty Baker, Ray Nance on cornet, violin and occasional vocals, trombonist Lawrence Brown, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope on alto and clarinet, altoist Johnny Hodges, tenor-saxophonist Al Sears, baritonist Harry Carney, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and the pianist-leader. Also heard from are singers Al Hibbler, Kay Davis and Marion Cox, drummer Sonny Greer, and such section players as trumpeters Shelton Hemphill and Francis Williams, and trombonists Claude Jones and Wilbur DeParis. It made for quite a mighty band.
Vol. 21 has the July 6 and 27, 1946 broadcasts plus five live numbers from 1942. Highlights include “Caravan,” “Metronome All Out,” “Just-A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “Suddenly It Jumped,” “Just You, Just Me,” and “Unbooted Character.” In addition, there is a nine-song hits medley that was dedicated to trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton who had recently passed away.
Vol. 22 includes such memorable performances as “Just Squeeze Me,” “Hollywood Hangover,” “Rocks In My Bed,” “9:20 Special,” “Metronome All Out,” another version of “One O’Clock Jump,” an odd medley of “Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue” with Davis’ feature on “Transbluency,” and Ellington’s three-part “Tonal Group” which is climaxed by “Jam-A-Ditty.” The Aug. 9 and 17, 1946 broadcasts are augmented by seven selections from 1942-43.
Although it is an enormous amount of music, true Ellington fans will want all of the Treasury Shows in Storyville’s admirable reissue series. Just imagine, 44 CDs (thus far) from a 16-month period in Duke Ellington’s career!
See also Scott Yanow’s review of the concluding volume of this series. Duke Ellington’s Treasury Shows Vol. 25
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