Over the years many superb jazz artists have devoted a whole album to the work of Duke Ellington - Louis Armstrong, Dr. John and Chris Barber spring most readily to mind. Those are all good efforts (especially Louis meets Duke, the Great Summit) but there is one that stands head and shoulders above them all, this supreme effort from the First Lady of Jazz herself, the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald.
This album stands out for several reasons. The breadth of styles embraced, from classinc up-tempo swing to slow melancholy blues, big band to small intimate quartet. Who else but Ella could do justice to all of these numbers? The sheer number of tracks included - most artists pick out 10 or 12 favourites, here we are presented with 40 tracks! And the quality never dips, there is no filler to be found here. The quality of the songs (for such a prolific composer Duke seemed to write very few duff numbers), and, above all, the aristry of the personel. Not just Ella, but the contributions of the Duke himself, his arranger and co-composer Billy Strayhorn and the rest of the Ellington band. Not only that but many of the recordings also feature fine performances from another major jazz figure, Oscar Peterson.
Ella was a fine singer, but always seemed to be pushed to new heights when working with someone of equal stature, listen to her collaborations with Louis Armstrong or Count Basie for example. Here though, she seems to have been pushed to new peaks, rising to the challenge of doing this excellent set of songs justice admirably. She takes each of these songs and makes them her own in a way that very few, if any, artists could ever hope to emulate. What must have Duke thought, sitting there in the studio hearing his creations turned into sublime art right in front him?
For my money these have to be the greatest recordings in the Ella Fitzgerald canon. A must have album for any fans of Ella, Duke, or just good jazz.