Personnel: Duke Ellington (piano); Russell Procope (alto saxophone , calrinet); Johnny Hodges (alto saxophone); Jimmy Hamilton (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone); Harry Carney (baritone saxophone); Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington (trumpet); Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper (trombone); John Lamb (bass); Sam Woodyard (drums).
Recorded live in 1965 & 1966.
A collection of exemplary Ellington radio material from three 1941 Hollywood sessions, TAKE THE "A" TRAIN is notable for its inclusion of Ellington's first recording of the title tune, which would become the Duke's signature piece. While familiarity and the passage of time may make it difficult to bring a critical ear to such an enduring piece, the clarity, rhythmic inventiveness and excitement of the arrangement are still undeniable. This disc is also noteworthy because of its 26 tracks, eight were never commercially recorded.
The orchestra includes several legendary players, including Ben Webster and the great Jimmy Blanton. The latter is often cited as having been a great influence on the direction of Ellington's band (not to mention an entire generation of jazz bassists) and the forceful rhythmic drive he brought to the proceedings is very much in evidence here. Webster's playing is also sublime, especially on a lush version of "I Hear a Rhapsody," which also features the silky vocal stylings of Herb Jeffries. In fact, these recordings include superior solos from almost everyone in the band, particularly lesser-known players Lawrence Brown and valve trombonist Juan Tizol, who is stunning on "Madame Will Drop Her Shawl." A not-to-be-missed Ellington disc.