1938 was a very busy year for Duke Ellington in the recording studios, whether making classics with his big band or being the pianist and organizer of sessions allegedly led by his sidemen. This disc has plenty of big-band sides and combo dates led by clarinetist Barney Bigard, trumpeter Cootie Williams, and altoist Johnny Hodges. Most notable among the selections are "Stepping Into Swing Society," "Echoes of Harlem," "The Gal From Joe's," "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart," and "Jeep's Blues," but there are no throwaways among these three-minute gems.
Duke Ellington's very busy year of 1938 resulted in enough music (counting small group dates led by his sidemen) to fill up more than three CDs. This disc has big-band dates plus outings headed by Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges. Although 1939-1942 is often thought of as the peak of Ellington's career, his output from 1938 was very impressive too. Among the high points of the sessions on this CD (which feature such soloists as trumpeter Cootie Williams, cornetist Rex Stewart, trombonists Lawrence Brown and Tricky Sam Nanton, altoist Johnny Hodges, clarinetist Barney Bigard, baritonist Harry Carney, and Duke on piano) are "Love in Swingtime," "Prelude to a Kiss," "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," "Mighty Like the Blues," "Battle of Swing," and "Hodge Podge."
During the period covered by this CD, the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded nine performances (including vocal and instrumental versions of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm") while combos led by Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Rex Stewart, and Cootie Williams that were mostly filled with Ellington all-stars accounted for 14 other selections. Duke was overseeing everything while letting his star sidemen stretch out, and the result was a steady stream of fresh and high-quality recordings that both fit into the mainstream of swing and stood apart from other bands. Among the more memorable selections on this set (which contains quite a few obscurities) are "The Back Room Romp," "Tea and Trumpets," the remarkable "Harmony in Harlem," and the original versions of "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue."