Top Artists – Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington – Interpretations of Peer Gynt & more

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

One of Ellington’s most enjoyable classic collaborations with Billy Strayhorn.

A++, huge, so big it really fills the room from wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Not many records can do that.

Clear and hi-rez. It could use more richness — that alone would earn it another plus. (more…)

The Recordings of Duke Ellington – These Four Didn’t Make the Grade

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These Four Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the recordings by Duke Ellington that we’ve auditioned recently and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection, and may even belong in our Hall of Shame.

Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.

Duke Ellington & Count Basie – The Count Meets the Duke

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

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.

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. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Up In Duke’s Workshop

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

The notes for this shootout winning side one read: “lively, big, present, with great bass” and that’s the way we like our Big Band to sound!

The first track on side two is not quite up to the standard set by some of the other pieces here but by track two or three all is well sound-wise. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Duke’s Big 4

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

I don’t know of any other Pablo recording of the Duke from this era that has such big, open, clear, solid sound. VAL VALENTIN did the engineering, and as he has so often over the course of his storied career, he knocked it out of the park.

What both sides of this exceptionally good sounding Pablo pressing 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 1974
  • 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 stellar jazz combo 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 describe above, and for that you will need to take this copy of the record home and throw it on your table. (more…)

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington – The Great Reunion

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Note that the second track on both sides is slightly smoother and more natural than the first. Listen for it! 

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Louis Armstrong singing and Duke Ellington’s band playing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K. – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

Notice that, at least for most of the material, and perhaps all of it, Sinatra does not seem to be stuck in a vocal booth. He sounds like he is actually standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band.

Whether this is a recording trick — he’s in a booth but the engineer did a great job creating a sound for the booth that matched the ambience and space of the studio — or whether he is standing front and center with the band, the illusion is convincing and adds greatly to the “reality” of the performance..

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something. (more…)

Duke Ellington and Ray Brown – This One’s For Blanton

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This One’s For Blanton

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

BIG BOLD SOUND. It has that up front live in your living room sound. It’s very dynamic and tubey magical. (more…)

Duke Ellington – The Nutcracker Suite – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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The Nutcracker Suite

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Columbia Six-Eye Stereo pressing has an A+++ side one backed by a very good side two! This is a WONDERFUL album featuring Duke and his orchestra doing a jazzy interpretation of the famous Nutcracker Suite, and on a copy like this the sound is SUPERB! We pulled together enough copies to have a big shootout for this album and this copy took home top honors for side one. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Masterpieces By Ellington

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Masterpieces By Ellington

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6 eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic left in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.” (more…)