March 2008

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra 1929-1943
Storyville Films 26033
Format: DVD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality **1/2
Image Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

The Storyville Films DVD releases are culled from the jazz film and documentary archive of Danish jazz fan and collector Karl Emil Knudsen, whose Storyville Records released many European live and studio performances by American jazz musicians. Three new Storyville DVDs bring together films that Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie appeared in for RKO, Paramount, and other American studios.

The Duke Ellington set begins with a 1929 short for RKO, Black and Tan, Ellington’s first appearance on film. The movie is balanced on a thin plot line that is just an excuse to present Ellington, along with a few dancers, in a Cotton Club-style revue. The remainder of the DVD is composed of excerpts from other films, including Check and Double Check, an Amos and Andy film from 1930; Symphony in Black from 1934; and three others. Vinyl lovers will want to catch Record Making with Duke Ellington, a documentary made by Paramount in 1937 for use in movie jukeboxes.

Duke is grand and regal throughout the DVD, and it is fun to pick out some of his best-known players. The performances were synched to recordings, and you can often tell, but it’s still a pleasure to see how jazz was presented to the film-going audience. The sound is generally good, often better than on some of the audio recordings from the same time period. Stick with the original mono, though. The footage here won’t take the place of live films in the Storyville catalog, but it gives us an enjoyable part of the Ellington story.