Duke Ellington: Sepia Panorama (live 1940)


Sepia Panorama


Duke Ellington & His Orchestra


The Duke at Fargo, 1940: Special 60th Anniversary Edition (Storyville)

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Duke Ellington (piano), Rex Stewart (cornet), Wallace Jones (trumpet), Ray Nance (trumpet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Juan Tizol (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Otto Hardwick (alto sax, clarinet), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Jimmy Blanton (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

Composed by Duke Ellington


Recorded: The Crystal Ballroom, Fargo, North Dakota, November 7, 1940


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

For many jazz fans (myself included), Ellington's ensemble with bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster represents the gold standard by which other big bands of the era are measured. But this now-legendary group stayed intact for only a brief interlude. Blanton joined Ellington in 1939, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1941, and died the following year -- but in that short period he revolutionized the bass' role in jazz. Ben Webster would leave Ellington's band in 1943, and Duke would never find a better tenor sax soloist for his group.

We are fortunate that Ellington recorded extensively during the late 1930s and early '40s, but this live performance in Fargo, North Dakota, gives us our best insight into how this group sounded on the road. And everything here reinforces the stellar reputation of this installment of the Duke's orchestra. On "Sepia Panorama," both Blanton and Webster solo at top form, and Ellington pulls out one of his finest charts. Yes, jazz history was made in Fargo, North Dakota . . . but only because Jack Towers and Dick Burris were on hand with their portable recording equipment. [Note: Don't confuse this 5-minute version of "Sepia Panorama" with the truncated 1-minute rendition recorded earlier that same evening.]

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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