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Duke Ellington: 1936-40 Small Group Sessions (#235)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
“The music these still upcoming artists played at these sessions is priceless…and thanks to Steve Lasker’s sound engineering, the sound quality is superb.” – Theodore R. Hudson, Ellingtonia
Limited Edition: 10000 copies
7 CDs - $119.00
Ellington is widely regarded as one of the most important composers in the history of music and many would agree that at the time of these recordings, he was at the beginning of his creative peak developing "The Ellington Effect". This set gathers together all the small group sessions led by Duke Ellington and his sidemen Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges, during the years 1936-40.
Many of these songs -- now considered standards and jazz classics -- were heard first in these exceptional small group recordings. Juan Tizol's composition "Caravan" from a Barney Bigard session; Cootie Williams' "Echoes of Harlem;" vocal versions by the forgotten Mary McHugh on "Lost In Meditation" and "Prelude To A Kiss;" Rex Stewart's peerless cornet conceptions on "Rexatious" and "The Back Room Romp." And the Johnny Hodges masterpieces alone consist of "Blue Reverie," "Jeep's Blues," "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," a trio side with Duke and bassist Billy Taylor on "Finesse" and one of the most plaintive of these Hodges releases, "Wanderlust."
These songs will be played again and again through the ages. But these records stand alone.
The set also includes small group sessions led by Ellington during this period and a special bonus session recorded a few years earlier; Ellington's piano solos; and the duet sides with bassist Jimmie Blanton. There is also the Gotham Stompers session that comprises both the Ellington band and the Chick Webb band with Chick at the drums. As an extra special bonus, Ellington collector Steven Lasker included his own, rare treasure: a rehearsal disc of "Echoes of Harlem."
All known alternate takes are included here as well, some of which only came out on short-lived bootleg LPs in the 1960s and 1970s. There are 173 tracks in all with rare photographs and a complete, updated discography. We have worked on this one long and hard. It's truly a labor of love and a set that is not to be missed.
Read More About Duke Ellington:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
“The vast majority of these 173 tracks expertly integrate inspired ensemble playing, pithy, often glittering solos, and imaginative arrangements into compact settings with jewel box perfection.” – Steve Futterman, Jazz Times
- Audio Quality
- Sample Session Notes
In the age of microsizing, every Mosaic Records Box Set booklet is still 11 x 11 inches to allow our customers to appreciate all the extras we put into printing them (and for easier reading).
When work began on this issue of small group Ellington sides, we knew there would be considerable interest especially among the hard-core Ellington enthusiast. These records, from the Columbia family of labels, had never been properly released in any kind of complete fashion and the discographical research, transfers, photos and liner note writer all had to be handled with special care. After a conversation with musician and 78 collector Jeff Healey, we found a person whose knowledge of anything Ellingtonian was in a league of its own.
Steven Lasker would bring to the table a wide assortment of goods. First of all, he has an extensive Ellington record collection chock full of mint test pressings and commercially issued sides. And even though we had access to the original metal parts from Sony/BMG, Steven’s 78 collection made it possible for us to still obtain marvelous sound quality. His stash included as well the many alternate takes that had been available to the public only through short-lived bootleg LPs during the 1960s and 1970s. Again, they were in mint condition and a joy to have combined with the many issued master takes.
Steven had engineered a number of reissues in the past and he had all the source material at his home. His sound restoration on the set is top notch and many hours were spent choosing the correct stylus to use as well as speed correcting and other procedures that go into this process.
Photo Copyright © Protected
Twenty magnificent images have been pulled from the collections of Lasker, Frank Driggs, Duncan Schiedt and Don Peterson for the 28-page booklet.
January 19, 1938
The session times weren't noted in the ledger but the engineer's log notes day went from "10:00am to 11:30pm incl." A grueling day? For ordinary men perhaps, but Ellington's musicians were hardly ordinary.
Drummer's Delight is a feature for Sonny Greer. On If I Thought You Cared, Rex Stewart channels trumpeter Arthur Whetsel, who in a month's time would be forced by illness to leave Ellington's band and retire from music. The sheet music and copyright deposit for this title show lyrics by Irving Mills, music by Barney Bigard and Harold B. Jackson, the latter name one otherwise unknown to me.
Lost In Meditation would become a standard as a slow, dreamy ballad, but this first version, titled Have A Heart, was up-tempo. (First pressings of the Vocalion 78 were labelled Have A Heart, but later pressings were labelled Lost In Meditation.) Slower versions would be recorded by the full orchestra on February 2nd, and by Johnny Hodges and his orchestra on June 22nd. The sheet music shows music by Duke Ellington and Lou Singer, with lyrics by Irving Mills. Lou Singer, then 24 or 25 years old, had been a child prodigy pianist/composer who, after flirting with law school, went to work as a staff arranger for Irving Mills. The published piano scores (sheet music) of Caravan, Alabamy Home, Azure and Yearning For Love are all shown as "transcribed" by Singer. Singer would with Tizol and Ellington later compose the melody of Gypsy Without A Song. Leonard Feather profiled Singer for the November 15, 1941 issue of Down Beat, and noted that while working for Mills, "Lou also made a number of arrangements for Duke Ellington, some of which have often been erroneously credited to Duke himself. One of the best was a Gypsy Without A Song, composed by Singer and Tizol, arranged by Singer [and recorded by Ellington's orchestra on June 29, 1938]. Often, when Duke came in on a recording session without any music prepared, the young ofay would help him out and was rewarded with ample praise from the Duke..." Singer would go on to arrange classical-inspired pieces for John Kirby's small group.
The was the first of four Johnny Hodges sessions with vocalist Mary McHugh. She also recorded this same month with another Mills-managed band, the Hudson-De Lange orchestra, which suggests that Mills chose her to work with Hodges.
The day finished with a title by Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Echoes Of Harlem. This had been recorded by the full band for Brunswick on February 26, 1936. The second theme is the same as the first theme of Blue Mood, by Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington, which the band had recorded for Brunswick September 19, 1932. (When it was finally released in 1947, Blue Mood was released on Columbia and the composers miscredited as Irving Mills and Edgar Hayes, due to confusion with a different composition of the same title from 1936 that was credited to Mills and Hayes.) While Ellington is the sole credited composer of Echoes Of Harlem, Cootie Williams, claimed he wrote it.
Ellington's name wound up on a lot of original compositions, some of which he didn't necessarily compose himself. While many today consider this sort of behavior reprehensible, this was a normal business practice for many bandleaders in the 1930s. Some of Ellington's men took it with a grain of salt. Cootie Williams: "Most of Duke's compositions in the late 1920s and the 1930s were composed with the musicians assisting. If any member of the band wrote a tune it was thought of as an honor for the band to play it; we didn't think of the money value of nothing like that. Everybody contributed something on their own also--Tizol, Hodges, Bigard, Carney, and myself--but Duke used to get credit for them. Sometimes we would write a complete number and Duke would still get all the credit and all the money. I did Echoes Of Harlem and Concerto For Cootie and they were entirely mine, but Duke got his name on the label. I didn't mind."35 Barney Bigard wasn't as sanguine: "That's what was bad about Duke. I mean, he didn't give the guys credit, you know, for what they did. He wanted to give everything [sic]--like he did everything. People know that. I mean--he composed some good numbers, too. Give him that credit, but give the boys credit [for] what they did, you know?"36 Helen Oakley: "On these small band originals, if it were not for Duke's ability to size up potential and shape sounds, many would have amounted to little. As it was, he often read into them more than the composer intended, and ended up translating them into big band performances. This was understood, and the instrumentalists who were most often able to come up with an original concept for a memorable eight bars accepted as a matter of course a joint credit. It became an issue only in the event a hit was developed, and the primary composer came to consider he was due a greater share of the proceeds."37
The rehearsal glimpses were preserved on a 12" acetate disc which somehow escaped ARC's studio in 1938, possibly given to Ellington's childhood friend Jerry Rhea, as the back bears the following inscription in china marker: "Duke and his screwy kids. Marked by Jerry. The Pers. Set. How's that." The disc found it's way into the collection of Washington D.C. collector Ted Shell, who in 1987 sold his Ellington collection to dealer Bob Altshuler, who turned around and sold me the rehearsal disc for $150; I've had it ever since. (If the last minute or so is somewhat noisy, the disc is worn and there are no other copies. So sorry.)
Here is a document of the Ellington band crafting an arrangement on the fly. Nanton(?) asks "What about the brass part, Duke?," only to be told "There is no brass part" (unlike the 1936 record by the full orchestra, which has one). Note what an extrovert Sonny was, and what a contrast his tympani work on this title is to his work on Drummer's Delight recorded at the start of this very long day.
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"If you think you've heard this music before, you're wrong! The remastering is award-worthy! The sonic quality is far better than any other release of this essential muisc. Thanks, Mosaic, for your dedication to the restoration and release of musical masterpieces."
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