During the early 1960s, Duke Ellington made many collaborative recordings with jazz greats. He paired up with Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus, but his album with John Coltrane was among his most successful.
This was in due in no small part to the brilliance of Coltrane’s playing. But Coltrane, ever the perfectionist, felt like he could’ve done even better. Maybe. “I was really honored to have the opportunity of working with Duke. It was a wonderful experience. He has set standards I haven’t caught up with yet,” Coltrane said in early 1963. “I would have liked to have worked over all those numbers again, but then I guess the performances wouldn’t have had the same spontaneity. And they mightn’t have been any better.”
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane was recorded on September 26, 1962, at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliff’s Studio. It was, unusually for Ellington, a small group recording on which Jimmy Garrison and Aaron Bell shared the bass duties and Elvin Jones and Sam Woodyard split the drum playing.
By this point, 63-year-old Ellington was a jazz legend, having honed his chops at Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1920s. For 36-year-old Coltrane, this album was in a similar, more accessible area to his Johnny Hartman and Ballads albums recorded around the same time.
What is so beautiful about this record is the way the two jazz giants complement each other. Neither Duke nor ‘Trane attempts to take over the recording. The result was one of the most delightful albums to be issued by Impulse! in the first few years of its existence – aided by Van Gelder and producer Bob Thiele.
The album features Ellington standards like “In a Sentimental Mood,” new Ellington compositions including the playful “Take The Coltrane,” and a new Coltrane composition called “Big Nick.” These jazz geniuses are clearly comfortable in one another’s company, and you’ll be very comfortable in theirs.