On February 29th 1960 that excellent jazz critic Stanley Dance who is a great admirer of Duke Ellington and his musicians, gathered together in the RCA studios a group of soloists from this marvellous orchestra under the leadership of Paul Gonsalves, assisted by the immortal Johnny Hodges.
Johnny Hodges as a soloist, composer and arranger is so great a personality that his presence alone gives this session an Ellington atmosphere which has always been unique in the jazz world for the past 40 years. Themes such as “Way, Way Back “, “It's something...” carry his personal imprint whilst still keeping the delicate bouquet of duke Ellington's music.
Johnny Hodges was born on July 26th 1907 and died on May 11th 1970. Almost the whole of his musical career was bound up with that of Duke Ellington. The music of this giant of jazz unfolds itself so naturally that the listener is straight away carried to the highest pinnacles of musical joy. And this by the most direct and simplest means. Each of his solos is a lesson in relaxation and release of tension. As for his sound quality there is only one word to describe it: it is unique. On this point, what is more cool, melodious and moving than his statement of “D.A. Blues” which is a typical Hodges blues. It is indeed the genius of Johnny Hodges that creates for us a musical universe of such rare beauty with such pure phrases that were they to be played by others they would be devoid of all grace and emotion.
Paul Gonsalves after having played from 1946 to 1950 with Count Basie joined the ranks of Duke Ellington's orchestra and it was there that he acquired great fame due to his beautiful sound and his astonishing improvisations. In his solos he uses a very joyful, interweaving style which is intriguing and which opposes sometimes some robust, pure phrases based on some madly swinging riffs.
In this session we have a Paul Gonsalves who is relaxed, and who plays his tenor-sax magnificently, as much at ease with a slow blues as with a fast tempo, as in “Daydream” which is entirely devoted to him and which he rhapsodizes in the Coleman Hawkins - Ben Webster style. His wonderful sound comes over to us perfectly.
As for the other soloists, although their parts are less important in this session, their support is nevertheless precious, as they fulfil in a very happy way the work of the two main players.
The trombone work of “Booty” Wood will be a revelation for some, whether it be by his robust open, solo in “Chocataw” or by his solos in “Way, Way Back” and “D.A. Blues” where he gives proof of his great mastery of the wa-wa mute.
The rhythm section is well worthy of the soloists with notably Al Hall who is a master on double-bass, bringing both a supple touch and a real swing to each title.
Notes from the original 1971 RCA France Release
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Johnny Hodges - Alto Saxophone
Mitchell Wood - Trombone
Ray Nance - Trumpet
Jimmy Jones - Piano
Al Hall - Bass
Oliver Jackson - Drums
1. It's Something That You Ought to Know (Hodges & M. Ellington)
2. Chocataw (Gonsalves)
3. The Line-up (Gonsalves)
4. Way, Way Back (Hodges & M. Ellington)
5. Day Dream (Strayhorn, Ellnigton & La Touche)
6. I'm Beginning to See the Light (George, Hodges, Ellnigton & James)
7. D.A. Blues (Hodges)
Recorded 29th February 1960 - NYC, USA
Serie Black & White Vol 36, RCA Victor (France) 731.071
Reissued 1997 & 1999 - RCA Victor CD