My good friend Bethany has been doing this for a little while and has been encouraging me to do the same, so I figured it was about time. You can probably figure out the premise pretty quickly, but the idea is to review a CD that if you were trapped on a desert island, you would choose this to be a CD to survive the plane crash or apocalypse of choice. So in other words, a CD you absolutely could not live without.
So my very first entry into this is going to be a little odd, because it’s not really a well known album, or even stands on it’s own as an Album (capital A). Not many people will say “Oh sure, Duke Ellington Greatest Hits, the CBS Special Products one. Classic!” In fact, I will wager I’m the only person who will say that (if there’s another one of you out there who would say this, do speak up).
But this album was my introduction to the man who would become my music idol. Late in high school I developed a taste for, and later obsession with, classic jazz of the thirties and forties. I had been raised with a decent amount big band classics such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and suddenly something clicked about my junior year in high school, and I had an intense craving for more. So with a little bit of help from Bomp, who lived through that era, I scoured through used CD stores for anything by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, the Dorsey brothers, Ella and Billie, and the list goes on. I couldn’t get enough of the sounds of that era, the utter joys, and the deep yet meaningful melancholies. I was enchanted.
Well the first Duke Ellington cd I ran across was the Greatest Hits [CBS Special Products] and my first time through the disc, I was disappointed by its lack of up tempo numbers that I had grown accustomed to from other artists of this era (and the Swing Kids soundtrack, of course). However, on probably my third listen through the CD, I could hear the soul of the Duke, and I suddenly realized how much soul was in this music. To this day, if I put this album on, my heart seems to calm, my mind clears, and I feel this music, I mean really feel it.
From the catchy upbeat instrumental version of How High the Moon (made more popular by Ella Fitzgerald) leading immediately into one of the most bittersweet yet beautiful songs ever written, I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, sung by the unforgettable Rosemary Clooney, both my favorite female vocalist and my favorite Duke song (Rosemary Clooney later sings Sophisticated Lady as well). It’s hard not to love songs like Perdido, I’m Checkin’ Out – Go’om Bye (probably one of the goofier Duke songs ever), and It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it ain’t Got that Swing), but the true soul of Duke is found in the slow beautiful melancholies of Solitude, Mood Indigo, Prelude to a Kiss, and Satin Doll, possibly one of the greatest melodies ever composed (in my humble opinion, of course).
Truth be told, had I bought some other Duke CD randomly in some used disc shop, I would probably be reviewing it as my desert island CD, but fate had it that this would be the one that I would spin until it was warped and scratched, and would definitively be my first choice to make it onto the island.