The Troy Street Observer

May 18, 1951: Duke Ellington’s Mercer Sessions

Duke Ellington recorded four sides in Boston for the Mercer label on May 18, 1951. The question is, where did the session take place?

Mercer was a short-lived record label financed by Duke Ellington and run by namesake Mercer Ellington and Leonard Feather. It recorded small-group sessions by Ellington sidemen, sometimes including Duke himself, between February 1950 and July 1951. The Boston session was the only occasion on which the label recorded outside of New York.

Mercer Records label
A Mercer Records LP, with tunes from the Boston session. It has Strayhorn’s name, but it’s Ellington playing

This small group was called the Coronets, and it was a unique session in the realm of Ellingtonia. This configuration of the Coronets was a septet with the trombones of Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, and Juan Tizol up front with Willie Smith’s alto saxophone, and Ellington, Wendell Marshall, and Louis Bellson in the rhythm section. Billy Strayhorn replaced Duke on one number. (The Ellingtonia site includes Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope on the session, but other sources including the Duke Ellington Panorama disagree, as do my own ears.).

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