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Duke Ellington

Norman Granz Presents Duke: The Last Jam Session DVD

Review by Gary Hill

Duke Ellington was an American treasure. As a musician, but more so as a composer and band leader he had few equals. It's a great thing that this set has been released. It's important to preserve the treasures of the music world for future generations and with the digital conversion of these two old films we know that they will be out there for all to see for many years to come. We get two DVD's in this set. Each has its own charm and identity. Each is great and the combination makes this a "must have" for all fans of authentic jazz.

Ella and Duke at Cote D'Azur is the first DVD. In this setting the star was truly Ella Fitzgerald with Ellington and his group serving as her backing band. That didn't stop them from shining. They showed that they were worthy of stardom even in a secondary role. That's talent! The film (from 1967) is in black and white and shows limitations of the technology of the time and signs of wear and tear. It is obvious that restoration has been done and overall it looks quite good. The sound is clear and crisp. The gig started with just Ellington and the band and Fitzgerald made her appearance after a time. This was her showcase, but they were the vehicle and a shiny new ride they made.

The second disc is literally Ellington's "final jam session." The setting is the recording sessions for his Duke's Big 4 album. The film is up close and personal and lends a familiarity and air of authenticity and personal touch to the appreciation of the album that it became. This footage (from 1973) is in color. The limitations of the technology of the time can be seen here, but not as drastically as on the first disc. The sound is solid, just like it was on the other footage. The effect of sitting in while musical magic is made is a wonderful one and makes this a touching and fitting tribute to the master Duke Ellington.

We also get an interview with Ellington's bassist Ray Brown to round things out - as a nice bonus. If you are a fan of Ellington you probably got this the day it was released. Fans of jazz that haven't already picked it up - stop waiting and get this thing. You won't be disappointed. It doesn't get much better than Duke Ellington and this is a classy production worthy of the Duke.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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