When I first got very serious about jazz, I lusted after - but couldn't afford - a series of lps from the Smithsonian that documented Duke Ellington in 1938, 39 and 40.
Instead, a while later I got "Braggin' in Brass," the Columbia collection of the 1938 band.
It was overshadowed by "The Blanton-Webster Band" on RCA, but I have always had a soft spot for the 1938 band. It was lighter, poppier maybe, but I wouldn't trade a dozen or so of the performances.
Or maybe it's knowing what the band was about to become; the 1938 orchestra was to the Blanton-Webster years as "Off The Wall" is to "Thriller."
Anyway, I found the 38, 39 and 40 Smithsonian collections on ebay, relatively cheap, and bought them. (Which is the point of this note - if you listen to jazz on vinyl, pick these up while they can be found at a reasonable price.)
First note: the plain black and white pictures on the covers are great, as are the extensive liners. It was typical 70s-80s Smithsonian packaging, which was excellent.
Second note: I forget just how deep and luxurious this music is - as many other people have observed, there's a whole world in Ellington. I don't believe music makes you a better person, but if it could, this would be the stuff.