This "musical fantasy" paralleling the history of the origins of jazz is not, despite some critics' contentions and the public's disregard, inferior Ellington. In fact, with its combination of the Maestro's narrative wit and colorful orchestrations, it's quintessential Ellington-Strayhorn, a picturesque, dramatic, and expressive tone poem that fully exploits the unique styles of Duke's key soloists (Gonsalves, Terry, Hodges, Hamilton, Woodyard, Joya Sherrill). Ellington's ironies and symbolism are admittedly not always obvious, but his scholarship is right on. The attention to the African-West Indies-American synergies, the legend surrounding Buddy Bolden, the exotic and hypnotic atmosphere of Congo Square are oral history brought to life by Duke's musical magic.
No doubt this work was the inspiration behind Wynton Marsalis' Pulitzer Prize-winning "Blood on the Fields," a more ambitious but comparatively less rich musical epic about the African-American experience. Once again, it's not violent but barren cultural fields that threaten our liberation from ignorance.
You'll have to look for this one on eBay, possibly settling for the original LP. It's essential Ellington, equally engaging for youthful and experienced listeners, good enough to justify fixing up the old turntable.