When I began this blog ten years ago - or it will have been on the 18 October this year - it was originally called Midriff, after Billy Strayhorn's composition. For many years, it was then titled Villes Ville is the Place, Man - an Ellington composition quite obscure even to fans of Duke Ellington's music, from the album Blues in Orbit.
I found the perfect photograph for the title header - a distant church tower in the background contributing to the provincial town or 'ville' of the title. Here is the full photograph:
In addition to using this for the banner of the blog here - now called Ellington Live across all the social media platforms with which I dally (see the column on the right) - the portrait of Ellington was also used as the logo for the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference.
The story behind the photograph was told in the special edition of Ellington Society UK's journal Blue Light which was also the conference programme. I've reproduced the article below.
In researching the photograph for another article for the journal, I discovered two other photographs and to my delight some colour film of the occasion.
The 'screen shot' at the top of this post is taken from this newsreel footage which may be found at the Bay Area Television Archive here.
The other photographs I have managed to source, I have included at the foot of the article here.
This is a very long shot, but if you are reading this and were one of the students (or staff!) who were present on the occasion of Ellington's visit, please get in touch!
Here is the article, told here in his own words by the late Dr. Herb Wong, life-long jazz and Ellington aficionado and Principal of Washington Elementary School. The essay is drawn from interviews conducted in 1998 by Caroline Crawford, University of California, Berkeley, California who graciously gave permission to quote from their conversations. You can read - and download the PDG of the full interview with Dr Wong here.
Jazz Goes To Collage
In the late 1960s, while working on developing a curriculum for the Berkeley School District’s primary classes, I happened to play an Ellington tune to a group of elementary school kids, asking them to write down and draw their thoughts as they listened to the music. When I read their reactions, my reaction was to read their writings to Duke. The next time he called (Duke called frequently, often at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, while he was up all night composing) I was ready, with my students’ essays by the bed.
I read a couple of the letters to him: “When I hear Duke’s music I have this deep down, brown feeling in my tummy,” said one of the kids; “When I hear Duke’s music, it’s like giant valentines floating up in the sky,” said another.
Duke listened for a moment and then said, “Who are these people? Who are these authors, these poets?”
“Oh,” I said, “Probably about the same age as when you started.” He said, “Then how old was I?” That's the way he said it; he's so delightful. He said, “How old was I?” I said, “Oh, probably five or six.”
I said, “Okay, now listen to my challenge. I've gone over as much of your music as possible. I can't identify all of them, but I kind of connected to the inspirational sources and what imagery you might have had that prompted you to think about a tune or
a title or something. Correct me if I'm wrong. Of all the different areas in the world that you have drawn from as inspirational sources, I don't think you have included young children. Now, tell me right away if I'm goofing.”
There was silence on the other end. And I'll never forget this. It was a longer silence than I thought I would ever hear from him, and then he said, “Oh my god. I think you have found a hole in my thing, and I would appreciate it, Herb, if you would help me to fill that hole up as soon as possible. Will you do that?”
I said, “Look, while you're in Las Vegas, you're not that far away from Berkeley. Do you think that you might come to school and perhaps do a concert, say, in your last week?”
So he said, “Well, that's an interesting idea. Okay. Let's think about that.”
I brought Duke over there to the rehearsal at Berkeley High.
By the time I brought him to the school and we got out of my car—in fact, as we approached—I couldn't believe it—the place was jammed with thousands of people, absolutely packed. I thought, “Wow! What the hell is this?” We got out of the car, and there were channels 4, 5, 7, whatever—9—I don't know. They were all there, taping what was going on. Duke was dressed very informally, because his formal stuff was not with him... because that was being brought by the band bus later with the guys.
Well, we took three steps up to the yard, and we walked in. It was a sunny day, and there were all these cameras and all these signs and posters and stuff from other schools. A lot of kids from other schools came with their principals, who knew I was doing this and didn't just stay in their habitat— they brought children.
Now, this next incident is priceless. A little black girl, five years old came up to Duke and yanked on his jacket that was over his left arm. She looked up at him and said, “Mr. Ellington, I know you're very old, but your music sounds so young.”