Ellington and Basie – The Count Meets the Duke

More Ellington

More Basie

First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

 

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  • Shootout Winning sound quality – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, and rich Tubey Magic by the boatload – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then 
  • Quiet throughout – good luck finding a Six Eye Stereo pressing this nice on your own, they sure don’t grow on trees
  • “… a very successful and surprisingly uncrowded encounter… Ellington and Basie both play piano (their interaction with each other is wonderful) and the arrangements allowed the stars from both bands to take turns soloing.” – 4 1/2 Stars

What the best sides of this wonderful collaboration between two jazz giants have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of this large group of players having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut or Ray Moore were probably the engineers for these sessions — we cannot find the credits to know one way or the other — in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

You can read more about it by clicking on the 30th Street Studios tab above.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

The Players

Duke Ellington, Count Basie – piano
Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Eddie Mullens, Ray Nance, Sonny Cohn, Lennie Johnson, Thad Jones, Snooky Young – trumpet
Lou Blackburn, Lawrence Brown, Henry Coker, Quentin Jackson, Benny Powell – trombone
Juan Tizol – valve trombone
Jimmy Hamilton – clarinet, tenor saxophone
Johnny Hodges – alto saxophone
Russell Procope, Marshal Royal – alto saxophone, clarinet
Frank Wess – alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute
Paul Gonsalves, Frank Foster, Budd Johnson – tenor saxophone
Harry Carney, Charlie Fowlkes – baritone saxophone
Freddie Green – guitar
Aaron Bell, Eddie Jones – bass
Sam Woodyard, Sonny Payne – drums

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Battle Royal 
To You 
Take The “A” Train 
Until I Met You

Side Two

Wild Man 
Segue In C 
B D B 
Jumpin’ At The Woodside

AMG  4.5-Star Review

At first glance this collaboration should not have worked. The Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestras had already been competitors for 25 years but the leaders’ mutual admiration (Ellington was one of Basie’s main idols) and some brilliant planning made this a very successful and surprisingly uncrowded encounter. On most selections Ellington and Basie both play piano (their interaction with each other is wonderful) and the arrangements allowed the stars from both bands to take turns soloing.

Learning the Record

For our shootout for First Time! we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought should have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for sides two, three and four.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the other pressings do not do as well, using a few carefully chosen passages of music, it quickly becomes obvious how well a given copy can reproduce those passages. You’ll hear what’s better and worse — right and wrong would be another way of putting it — about the sound.

This approach is simplicity itself. First you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained step by step precisely how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

Do It Again

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to do the shootout all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way to go about it if you want to be successful in your hunt for the Ultimate Pressing.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one.

30th Street Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Bob Brookmeyer, Stan Getz, et al.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.