Ellington-Basie / First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

More Duke Ellington

More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Ellington recordings on Columbia from this era. The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you might own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special original stereo pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was almost nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

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 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 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 qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Production and Engineering

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

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 1/2 Star Review

A battle of the bands? Not quite — more like a mutual admiration society, with the orchestras of both jazz titans playing together. (The Duke is heard on the right side of your stereo/headphones, the Count on the left.)

Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. There’s no clutter, each band is focused, and they sound great together. This is not the thoughtful, reflective composer side of Ellington (listeners should check out Far East Suite or Black, Brown & Beige for that). The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.

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