Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Deceptive packaging but still worth the listen
bukhtan | Chicago, Illinois, USA | 06/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
Johnny Hodges plays only on tracks 1 through 12. On the rest, the alto is Willie Smith, one might say "the great Willie Smith", if not annoyed by getting him when expecting to get the even greater Hodges. In fact, this is one of the few opportunities you may have to hear the not-quite-as-great-as-Johnny-Hodges Willie Smith in an environment worthy of him. His other recordings with Duke, from his brief stay with the Ellington orchestra ca. 1951, are not so easily available; Columbia has not re-issued all of these recently. Smith (on leave from the more mundane Harry James Orchestra) was soon replaced by Hilton Jefferson and, later, Rick Henderson. Listeners who know Smith's playing from other contexts may be surprised at some of the performances on these records. They will hear some promising soloing from Paul Gonzalves as well.
As for those track Jeep DOES play on, well, no fan will be disappointed.
Personnel on 1 to 8 (recorded in June or late 1947):
Taft Jordan tp
Lawrence Brown tb
Johnny Hodges alto
Al Sears ts
Billy Strayhorn pn
Oscar Pettiford bass
Wilber de Paris dms
Personnel on 9 to 12 (June 1947):
Harold Baker tp
Hodges, Al Sears, Billy Strayhorn, Oscar Pettiford
Harry Carney baritone
Sonny Greer dms
Personnel on 13, 16, 17 & 21 (April 17 1950 (sic)):
Cat Anderson tp
Juan Tizol tb
Willie Smith alto
Paul Gonzalves ts
Billy Strayhorn pn
Wendell Marshall bs
Louis Bellson dms
[I have transcribed the recording date as listed in the liner notes. The year for this first Willie Smith recording date was actually 1951; the Duke Ellington Orchestra, still including Johnny Hodges, was touring in Europe in the spring of 1950. Hodges left the Ellington organization in March of 1951.]
Personnel on 18, 22,23, & 24 (May 18, 1951):
Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman & Juan Tizol tb
Willie Smith, Billy Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall & Louis Bellson
Personnel on 14 (June 1, 1951):
Juan Tizol, Willie Smith, Wendell Marshall & Louis Bellson
Billy Strayhorn organ (!) and Duke Ellington pn
Personnel on 15, 19 & 20 (June 19, 1951):
Juan Tizol, Willie Smith, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Wendell Marshall, Louis Bellson
plus Jimmy Hamilton ts and clarinet.
(Duke and Strayhorn lay out on #20)
Over the whole, I would say that these recordings are good to superb examples of Ellington's small band work. A number of them, especially the tracks that don't feature Hodges, could be characterized as "screwy music" (to use the Thirties term), the sort of stuff we hear in "Clothed Woman". Other than "Sultry Serenade" (damaged in storage? only available in consumer end products?), sound quality is what one would expect from the time; these issues are a bit heavy on noise reduction, as one would expect from the release date (1992). Mosaic has re-issued most of the Brunswick & Vocalion small band recording recently; these replace the older Columbia issues which also have that muffled quality apparently thought to be so pleasing to some "hi-fi" enthusiasts. We still await a separate release of the early Forties RCA-Victor small bands; to my knowledge the latter-day re-mastering is only available in the massive RCA Centennial package.
This release includes the original liner notes by Leonard Feather.