While he often led sessions with small groups, particularly in the early years of his career, unfortunately not too many recordings of Duke Ellington in an octet setting have survived. The Duke Ellington Octet at the Rainbow Grille (Gambit Records, 2006) presents one of them, a very interesting date at New York' Rainbow Grille from August 17, 1967, preserved for posterity due to the fact that it was broadcast by the CBS radio network. The first five tunes on this album are apparently rehearsals that the sound engineer caught on tape while adjusting the balances in preparation for the broadcast. The first of these finds the Duke at the piano, wistfully playing a medley of two of his lesser-known compositions, "Heaven" and "Le Sucrier Velours," and in the background we can hear people chatting and glasses clinking, which suggests that nobody seems to be paying much attention to the performance. The whole octet begins to warm up next, using for that purpose classic Ellington numbers such as "In a Sentimental Mood," "Azure," and "I'm Beginning to See the Light," as well as a rocking tune called "Rock the Clock."
"Loch Lomond" prompted Goodman to step up to the microphone and clarify that, even though no encores had been prepared, Tilton would reappear later on in the show to sing another number. The audience's response to that second song, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," was just as noisy proving that the public at large did not share the bespectacled bandleader's contempt for vocalists, who, in fact, would in time end up becoming one of the many reasons for the ultimate demise of the big band business.
International Club Crosby. Although the medium of radio was of paramount importance in Crosby's meteoric rise as a multimedia star in the 1930s, unfortunately not too many broadcasts from this early period of his career have survived. As the subtitle of this disc ("Lost radio recordings rediscovered and released here for the first time") suggests, this compilation attempts to fill that void by presenting material from early Kraft Music Hall programs that have not been heard since they first aired in 1935 and 1936. At that particular point in time, December of 1935, Crosby's old boss, Paul Whiteman, was still the host of KMH, and the singer was simply a guest on the program. While the show was broadcast from New York, Bing's segments were relayed from Hollywood, as we can hear on the first track of this album, which has Whiteman introducing Crosby, who was not backed by Whiteman's outfit but by the excellent, swinging Jimmy Dorsey orchestra. It appears that it was common practice for Crosby during his guest spots to sing a medley of songs associated with him or taken from one of his then-current movies, as well as a few tunes that he had introduced or helped make popular, such as "On Treasure Island," "Red Sails in the Sunset," "Dinah" (unfortunately sans the Mills Brothers here), and "After You've Gone." As John Newton observes in the liner notes, Bing sings the romantic ballad "I'm Yours," which "fits neither category, but is nevertheless a welcome addition" and would later be beautifully recorded by Dean Martin.
The Vintage Years, which included broadcasts made between 1932 and 1950, featuring some interesting duets with Judy Garland and Jimmy Durante, and will delight Crosby fans for the scarcity of this type of material and also for the fact that it is up to the usual audio restoration standards of the fine British reissue label.