Personnel: Duke Ellington (piano); Golden Gate Quartet, Kay Davis, Al Hibbler, Joay Sherill (vocals); Ray Nance, Taft Jordan (trumpet); Juan Tizol (trombone).
Duke Ellington more than proved his patriotism by performing for a series of Treasury Shows during World War II, and for a time after, his good will facilitated the sale of war bonds. Ellington fans are fortunate that so many of the programs not only survived intact but were well-recorded. In addition, the bandleader chose a mix of favorites from his vast songbook, plus standards, pop tunes, vocal features, and even a few of his lesser-known works, some of which he never recorded commercially. This two-CD set features two complete 1945 Treasury broadcasts, plus excerpts from several 1943 airchecks from the Hurricane Restaurant in New York City.
In the October program, the band plays enthusiastically, with Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown adding hot trombone solos to "Johnny Come Lately," followed by Harry Carney's rich baritone saxophone. Joya Sherrill's warm vocal in Ellington's little known ballad "The Wonder of You" (co-written by Johnny Hodges and lyricist Don George) features Billy Strayhorn on piano. Hodges' lush alto sax is showcased in the cheerful ballad "Mood to Be Wooed." "Three Cent Stomp" received a number of performances in the '40s, though it was gone from his repertoire before the decade was up. This jump tune features trumpeters Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson, and Rex Stewart, Nanton, bassist Junior Raglin, and tenor saxophonist Al Sears. Kay Davis' vibrato-heavy voice sounds almost operatic in the standard "Yesterdays," while the blind singer Al Hibbler is backed by Brown's heartfelt trombone for "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me."
The November show sticks with the tried-and-true mix of familiar Ellington works, standards, and pop songs. The lesser-known songs are a special treat, particularly the spirited take of "Emancipation Celebration" (part of Ellington's "Black, Brown & Beige" suite premiered in January 1943 at Carnegie Hall), showcasing Stewart, Nanton, and Raglin. Anderson penned the brassy "Court Session," with the trumpeter sharing the spotlight with Sears. Ellington takes the microphone for several bond promos, occasionally revealing a case of nerves as he reads the scripts. While the announcers talk over the introductions and conclusions to most of the songs, they aren't as annoying as some of the emcees heard on other shows. The detailed liner notes and excellent mastering add to the value of this historical set. The fidelity of the Hurricane broadcasts is a shade lower than the Treasury series, though it is still very good. Highlights include the bluesy "Way Low" (performed a handful of times but not after 1945), and Juan Tizol's spirited dance number "Around My Heart" heard in its only known performance. Tizol is the soloist for a brief arrangement of Walter Donaldson's "Nevada," though Harry Carney's bass clarinet feature is spoiled by a scratch on the source transcription disc. ~ Ken Dryden