Duke Ellington Albums Ranked

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and leader of a jazz orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death half a century later. Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s and gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured in Europe. Although a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, in the opinion of Gunther Schuller and Barry Kornfeld, “the most significant composer of the genre”,[2] Ellington himself embraced the phrase “beyond category” as a liberating principle and referred to his music as part of the more general category of American Music. Ellington was known for his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and his eloquence and charisma. His reputation continued to rise after he died. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Award for music in 1999. Here are all of Duke Ellington’s albums ranked.

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10. Black, Brown And Beige (1945) 

Black, Brown and Beige (1946 album) - Wikipedia

“An important musical expression of the African American Experience by one of its most prominent composers. There’s so much to savor here. Mahalia Jackson’s singing on the two primary tracks awarded to her is magnificent.”

9. Such Sweet Thunder (1957)

Such Sweet Thunder by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (Album, Big Band):  Reviews, Ratings, Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

“The music is just wonderful. Ellington, Strayhorn, and Orchestra really put everything they’ve got on display. “Such Sweet Thunder” is sly and ominous, “Lady Cinq” is a swinging, dancey tune, “Star Crossed Lovers” is melancholy (and beautiful), “Circle of Fourths” is driving and brassy. Every part of the orchestra gets a feature part, and Duke and Strayhon blend instruments to get great color and mood. I’m a big fan of classical music, and I think many of the best orchestrators (Ravel, Tchaikovsky, etc) would be jealous of what Ellington & Co. accomplish in this music–there is a tremendous range of colors, harmonies, melodies and emotions.”

8. Ellington Indigos (1958)

Complete Ellington Indigos - Jazz Messengers

“This is one of my favorite Ellington records. Slow paced, sensual and rich in melody with the his all-star lineup, really doesnt get any better than this. The LP sounds great and highly recommended addition to anyone’s LP collection.”

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7. Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)

Anatomy of a Murder [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] - Duke Ellington |  Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic

“ANATOMY OF A MURDER marked the end of an era in which the real action of movie mysteries was implicit and ambiguous, in which the audience was called upon to actually THINK. What Jimmy Stewart, Ben Gazarra and Lee Remick brought to this project will last a lot longer than I will. But what Ellington’s music did to amplify their superb performances is exceptional.”

6. Liberian Suite (1948)

Duke Ellington And His Orchestra – Liberian Suite And A Tone Parallel To  Harlem (1956, Vinyl) - Discogs

“Like most of Ellington’s singers Hibbler has a smooth voice that seems to want to signify sophistication – but this entails denying the the gutsier traditions of American black music that come from the blues and gospel: it’s as though Ellington thought these were a bit vulgar and wanted to be closer to white popular music – the song is pleasant but seems to want to deny the very things that bring life to the music.”

5. The Blanton-Webster Band (1986)

Duke Ellington – The Blanton-Webster Band (CD) - Discogs

“The greatest jazz orchestra ever at their absolute peak, it doesn’t get any better than this. I can listen to Duke in any era right up until the end in 1974, but this group of standout performances is the holy grail of Ellington masterpieces.”

4. Far East Suite (1967)

Duke Ellington – Duke Ellington's Far East Suite (1994, CD) - Discogs

“This is my favorite Duke Ellington album. When my original copy was stolen, I had to replace it. I was pleasantly surprised by the improved sound quality, and the bonus tracks are a fine addition. If you like Duke Ellington’s 50s film noir soundtrack style, you will surely want to add this gem to your music library.”

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3. Masterpieces By Ellington (1951)

Duke Ellington And His Orchestra – Masterpieces By Ellington (1951, Vinyl)  - Discogs

“My taste in jazz runs to the Art Ensemble and Sun Ra. This album is great – both the playing and the remastering. What I love is that you can hear Ellington changing the flow of the music slightly by playing a few surprising notes. And the orchestra responds immediately. Now one of my favorite LPs.”

2. Ellington Uptown (1952)

Duke Ellington - Ellington Uptown (180g Import Vinyl LP) | Shop Music Direct

“Ellington Uptown” is an early ’50’s release, and is orchestral in places. There are a few cuts that are well known by themselves: “Take The “A” Train”, the big hit “Perdido” and “The Mooch”, with its very cool cascading clarinet crescendos providing a timeless hook. Otherwise, the album showcases a couple of suites, if you will, including the Harlem suite and the Liberian suite that apparently was not part of the original LP. The music is rich and so full of colors and tonal delights that it will take repeated listens to truly grasp what was being played. It’s jazz, but maybe a more fitting description would be needed to describe how the music is so varied, brilliant and utterly original.”

1. Ellington At Newport (1956)

Ellington, Duke - Ellington At Newport 1956 (Original Columbia Jazz  Classics) - Amazon.com Music

“The 1956 Newport Jazz Festival put Ellington back on top solely because of the 14:56 performance of Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue (with 27 choruses by Paul Gonsalves on tenor saxophone) and, aided in large part, by a beautiful blonde woman whose dancing inspired the crowd nearly as much as the music. Suffice to say that it ranks as one of the great moments in jazz and a highlight of Ellington’s career.”