Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Conference, Birmingham: All the kids in the band want you to know...

Happy times with  Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Ellington Orchestra and head of Jazz, Jeremy Price at the conclusion of the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference, 27th May, 2018

It is over a month now since the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference took pace at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham City University.

The exam season and various other matters have prevented me from writing about the event until now.

The conference itself, the keynote speeches, the papers presented, the live music, facilities, accommodation and food were all superb. In terms of the research, study and performance of Ellington's work within the UK, the conference is likely to have far reaching consequences and hugely exciting projects are in development.

For now, I would like to say thank you to the key note speakers, the presenters who came from the world over to address the conference, the delegates who supported the event and the members of the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden and Duke Ellington Society UK in particular. Most of all, I would like to thank Dr Nicolas Pillai of Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University who worked tirelessly to organise the conference and Jeremy Price, Head of Jazz, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

I cannot  in fact, say thank you enough for the hard work, generosity and kindness shown by staff and students involved in organising and staging the conference.

Nic and Jeremy could not have been more accommodating and supportive of the idea of hosting a conference at the Conservatoire.  Their dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism were striking. The organisation of the conference on a practical level was also exceptional and Laura Carney from the Events Office was unstinting in the help, support and advice she offered.

The students of the Conservatoire’s Ellington Orchestra rose to the occasion magnificently, giving of their time generously in staging four concerts, including a farewell set on Sunday morning.  They are fine young musicians led by staff who nurture and encourage them to uncompromisingly high standards. The musicians are excellent ambassadors for Ellington’s music and, of course, for the Conservatoire itself. 

We do, of course, love you madly...

Friday, 29 June 2018

Ellington 88: 3

Another in our series on the International Duke Ellington Conference held in Oldham in 1988, shared by the fabulous Ellington Society Sweden.

Sam Woodyard is the featured star in these videos. More on Sam at a later date. Ellington would no doubt say that Sam wants to tell you 'A drum is a Woodyard'!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Ella Fitzgerald Special 1968

Here is something very special... a complete telecast from 1968 starring Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington.

... and here is some fascinating information about the music for the programme from the International Duke Ellington Music Society Bulletin, 2000/3:

Did Duke ever play Lush Life?
In a message to Annie Kuebler, Louis Tavecchio wrote: As for Duke's comp work, here are two cases in point, which very much substantiate your appraisal. One is Duke's fabulous playing behind Milt Grayson singing The Blues(The Great Paris Concert, Feb63). The other is his masterful accompaniment to Ella Fitzgerald singing Strayhorn's Lush Life. I saw and heard this in a documentary devoted to Ella. As a matter of fact, it's the only time I heard Duke playing this number. But what a performance it was!
Louis Tavecchio

Duke often stated that he never played Lush Life. I still believe him. If you think of the performance in the show titled "The Magic Of Ella Fitzgerald" (Apr68) you may be wrong. If you watch carefully you can see that Duke is not playing the music that you hear. Nowadays we call this playback. I am not convinced that the piano player you hear is Duke. 
Sjef Hoefsmit

A very interesting observation, Sjef! I'm going to consult with a few musician friends and learn what they have to say about it What is the opinion of other LYM-ers who have seen Ella performing Lush Life accompanied by (a 'miming'??) Duke? 
Louis Tavecchio

It has taken some time to answer the question, but my 'musician friends' and I do agree with you that Duke is play backing or miming during Ella's rendition of the song. At the same time, however, we are convinced that he is miming a recording of Lush Life played by himself!! There are many stylistic turns and peculiarities that are truly Ellingtonian. Itremainspuzzling why he would do such a thing, though.
Who knows the answer to this fascinating enigma? 
Louis Tavecchio

It has also taken me some time before I could sit down and watch the show again. I do not have the answer to the question, why Ellington did playback his performance ofLush Life other than that he did not play it in the first place.
    I have another question though. We can agree I hope that almost the whole show was played back. It is obvious inThings Ain't What They Used To Be and it is proven by the presence of a tape in the Danish collection. The tape-box is marked "Ella Fitzgerald Show","Playback for Ella Fitzgerald?" and on the tape is the music without vocal of the songsSweet Georgia Brown, Lover Man and Mack The Knife.

There are two selections in the show where I have doubts. These are Don't Get Around Much Anymore and
Oh! Lady Be Good, sandwiching Lush Life, which is the subject of this discussion. I believe that Duke played these 2 selections during the shooting of the film. This part of the programme is the only part where there are mikes in front of the bassist and the drummer. (There is constantly a mike on the white piano.) This is my question: if Duke played back all three numbers, why did he do such a poor job with

Lush Life while showing himself to be an expert in miming his own playing on Don't Get Around Much Anymore andOh! Lady Be Good? If, as I believe, he played both numbers (one and three) during the shooting, why would he have played back his rendition of Lush Life? I believe that Jimmy Jones played Lush Life. If it was recorded duringfilming,he could have used the black piano we saw earlier in the show.
I am veryreluctantto use arguments based on taste instead on facts. I also like the piano part of Lush Life very much, but Jimmy Jones was a heck of a piano-player himself. It does not sound like Duke to me.
After I saw the picture again, I wondered why the New DESOR accepted only those selections where Duke is visible on screen. The whole show is played by the Ellington orchestra, sometimes with and sometimes without a group of 6 violins, a harpist and a second percussionist. I also hear sometimes an invisible guitar.
Why is the sequence of the selections in session 6818 (8-1 lApr68) in the New DESOR on page 496 different from the final show?
Sjef Hoefsmit

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Dalla Scala a Harlem

A post on Luca Bragalini's  new study Dalla Scala a Harlem from the Italian blog Kind of Duke ...

Courtesy of Google Translate...

"For me it is not a chapter closed but a geological era!"

This is how his Facebook profile Luca Bragalini made his debut on May 24, 2018, when his Dalla Scala in Harlem. Duke Ellington's symphonic dreams come out in bookstores. And in fact the gestation lasted a decade and maybe more.

Tuesday 8 January 2008. The Parco della Musica Jazz Orchestra presents in Rome a program of Ellingtonian music dedicated to film music. Speaker and presenter of the evening is Luca Bragalini. On that occasion, at the end of the concert, who writes this article asks the musicologist directly about what, for at least a year, it is rumored to be a book on Ellington's symphonic music. I reply that it is being processed and that it hopes to give it to the press as soon as possible. Exactly one year before, in Chieti, the formations of the Orchestra del Teatro Marrucino together with the SIdMA Jazz Orchestra, led by the expert Bruno Tommaso, had cheered the audience of Chieti with a concert of rare Ellington music including a mysterious unpublished work called Celebration . The recording of that concert would be merged into a CD attached to the book in question.

Years go by, but the famous book by Bragalini no longer knows anything, so much to make the undersigned believe that everything was wrecked and that the project, as - joke of fate - many of Ellington's symphonic music, had run aground for some reason .

But here in the last years of that book we go back to talking. The author, contacted privately, talks about an imminent exit. We are in 2016, but it will take another two years for the volume to materialize on the shelves of bookstores and online bookstores. The publisher is one of the important ones, the Turin EDT and the book consists of 320 pages with the CD of the recording of the aforementioned concert in Chieti.

But why have we waited so long? Net of any editorial problems (of which, to tell the truth, who writes this article ignores), the answer is clear starting to browse and read the first pages of this text: it is immediately flooded by a lot of data, sources, stories, anecdotes, meticulous research. The collection and processing of this impressive amount of data must necessarily have taken a long time. Scrolling through the bibliographic sources, one realizes how hard it was for the author to complete this book.

The text investigates a portion of the immense relatively small and certainly little known ducal repertoire: Ellington's symphonic music. Between unexpressed dreams, shipwrecked projects, unanimous successes and hidden meanings, music conceived for symphonic formations reveals itself as extremely rich in interpretations and sophistication. And to give new light and to provide new means to discover and listen to it, Bragalini thinks to us, which does not limit itself to providing musicological analysis to the pieces taken into consideration, but tells its genesis, implications, context and ambitions. But we do not speak exclusively of symphonic music. It is often a pretext for in-depth study of history, art and sociology. This is how you dive, for example, in the Harlem district, a crossroads of a society and a way of life told so often by Ellington in his music, as in the monumental suite (A Tone Parallel to) Harlem or many others tracks (there is a list of as many as 26 Ellington compositions dedicated to the Black Quarter of New York!). But it is also an opportunity to get into that black cultural movement of the first decades of the twentieth century called Harlem Renaissance which laid the foundations for a new aesthetic and black awareness.

If from the first pages we are still a bit stunned by the too painstaking reconstruction of an engraving session in Milan, in which Ellington recorded a composition by the orchestras of the Teatro Alla Scala, but of which every memory and trace seemed to have disappeared ( but that the author reconstructs in an impeccable way), as the pages pass, the narration becomes more fluent and interesting. This is how New World A-Comin 'is shed new light, a composition inspired by the homonymous book by Roi Ottley and which will be performed by symphonic orchestras, big bands and Ellington solo at the piano. But the pride of this book is undoubtedly the aforementioned chapter dedicated to Harlem.

Not lacking interest are the following chapters that take in analysis equally successful compositions such as Night Creature, The Golden Broom And The Green Apple and then come to two works of composition almost unknown but of considerable interest. The first is an unfinished ballet to which the musician was working on his death bed in the hospital bed, Three Black Kings, a work dedicated to three black kings in history. The other is a work of which almost nothing was known and whose author is credited with having rediscovered it and brought it to a new light. In addition to a musicological examination, Celebration can be appreciated listening to the accompanying CD, in its only available recording (along with Three Black Kings and John Ellis' For Ellington).

What instead makes the reading of this study not complete is the impossibility of being able to consult some sound documents of which Bragalini makes extensive examination because it is unreleased tapes that the author has been able to consult thanks to the availability of some collectors. Of this thing certainly can not be made an accusation to the author but we take advantage to underline how the jealousy of many collectors is not good for anyone! We hope that some unpublished material can sooner or later be made available to everyone ...

In conclusion we can not but praise this editorial effort, because such a text was missing and not only in Italian. The Italian musicology that deals with jazz and African American music has shown in recent years to stay a step ahead of the American one. Bragalini is credited with having strongly believed in this project, which should not be underestimated, given the little-debated and well-known topic and of having tenaciously worked with a scientific method.

Dalla Scala at Harlem is a book that should not miss on the shelf of every good lover of Duke Ellington. It is a text that should be studied in conservatories and read by anyone interested in music.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Ellington 88:2

More videos from the superb website of the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden celebrating the Ellington Study Group Conference in Oldham in 1988, the thirtieth anniversary of which was last Saturday, 26 May.

Fast forward through this next presentation to about the forty nine minute mark or so to hear a performance of Afro Bossa and Tutti for Cootie when Duke was indisposed and the Orchestra was led by Cab Calloway in 1963. Voce makes no mention of the specific date. I believe it must have been 12 August, 1963, however. Duke was indisposed, in Chicago, in fact, preparing the show My People. Neither does Voce mention that "the piano player" on this occasion was Billy Strayhorn.