In the years just preceding these recordings, Ellington had ensconced himself in residence at the Hollywood (later The Kentucky) Club in Times Square, and after that at Harlem's The Cotton Club. Radio broadcasts brought his music coast to coast, until there was no way to satisfy the demand short of touring; Ellington remained on the road the rest of his life.
But those years in New York were instrumental in allowing him to establish "The Ellington Effect." With a small group of musicians who accompanied him from his native Washington, later augmented and replaced by others who would stay with him for decades, Ellington created music that wasn't so much composed on music paper as it was fashioned expressly for the men who would play it - Rex Stewart's talking cornet; Juan Tizol's giant valve trombone and "Tricky Sam" Nanton's plunger-muted slide instrument; Barney Bigard's lush, silvery, slithering clarinet; Harry Carney's riveting, full, rich baritone saxophone; Cootie Williams' coy trumpet; Sonny Greer's subtle drums, especially alongside Jimmie Blanton's swinging bass. And how can you say enough about alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, the commanding presence in Ellington's band for his melodious and warmly expressive solos?
Within the idiom of a popular form, Ellington achieved something extraordinarily rare. His intricate compositions were uncommon for the time, or any time. An added talent was his insight into each player's personality and how to build an ensemble sound from those elements. The final piece of the puzzle was creating solo opportunities that gave individual musicians a spotlight.