Friday, 3 August 2018

Berkeley Squared

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.” 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Happy Birthday, Kenny Burrell

Yesterday was guitarist Kenny Burrell's 87th birthday. 

Kenny Burrell is a great admirer of Duke Ellington's work and indeed ran a course  -Ellingtonia - in teaching his music at UCLA. A former student, Steve Bowie, incidentally, hosts a superb podcast Ellington Reflections.

In celebration of Mr Burrell's birthday, I have been listening to the second volume of his Ellington is Forever albums which has the added attraction of Ellington trombonist Quentin Jackson, who is also featured on a couple of vocals!

Here is a quotation about Ellington's Great Paris Concert album. This was posted to the Duke Ellington Society  group on Facebook by the group's organiser Jean-Marie Juif (the Society is recommended!)
The comments show one great musician's appreciation of the work of another.

KENNY BURRELL speaks about Duke's Great Paris Concert album (Atlantic Records) at the University of California, Los Angeles, May 7, 2013:
"The record the maestro recorded in Paris in 1963; there are many great things on this recording.
    It starts off with Rockin' in Rhythm which we all know has gotten it's own wings after Ellington.Written in 1929 - hello! - Zawinul and those guys were do it later.
Star Crossed Lovers from the Suite,the Theme from the Asphalt Jungle movie,couple of pieces featuring Cootie Williams, Concerto for Cootie, Tutti For Cootie and The Suite Thursday another suite by Ellington and Strayhorn.
One that I particularly like - well I have to say it's one of favourite pieces in all of Ellingtonia - and all music is Tone Parallel To Harlem known as Harlem Suite.
    This was commissioned in 1950 by Arturo Toscanini of The NBC Symphony Orchestra of New York.
    Ellington at that point was pretty popular and also gaining recognition as a serious composer so that's why he got the commission - at the time he was fifty one.
    That piece has been recorded in many formats including symphony orchestras both here and in Europe and on various occasions by Ellington himself with his band - this happens to be one of my favourite versions of it.
    First of all I love the composition, I think it's one of the most outstanding musical compositions ever written, certainly (ever written) by Ellington.
    It's a through composed piece of material - and it is jazz, not a lot of improvisation in this piece because it's through composed.
    But the main thing about this - it is a great extended composition of jazz music - that only Ellington could do.
    I would encourage anyone to listen this, it happens to be my favourite version of it - and this a live performance in Paris in 1963.
    One of the things you should listen to this piece of music is the huge variety of time changes - the huge variety of harmonic changes - the huge variety of tonal colour - of shifting around.
    It's amazing how he could get such variety with fifteen musicians - it's unbelievable, but he managed to do that and that's why he's considered many the greatest - not only the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century but the greatest composer of the twentieth century and this is coming from some serious classical musicians who feel that way - let alone jazz musicians who feel that way.
    The classical people are starting to say this is some new - material done in a highly sophisticated way that has never been done before - so that's why I wanted to talk about this record!
    It's like all great art - the more you listen, the more you look - the more you hear, the more you see - I never tire of hearing this.
Listen closely and something else reveals itself."

Saturday, 28 July 2018


Uploaded to Youtube on 21 July, 2018, a KNXT tribute to Duke Ellington. The poster writes:

"KNXT-2 May 24, 1974 CBS Movie Opening & Tribute to Duke Ellington all tapes are cleaned and baked before transfer. please keep in mind the quality Matters on condition of machines and how they were recorded plus tape stock Used. Also Many of These Recordings were Recorded Off Rabbit Ear Antenna, s Not Cable Tv Yet"

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Sprung from Athena...

From a recent sale on eBay, photographs of ticket stubs for a performance by Duke Ellington at the Memorial Auditorium,College Green, University of Ohio on 31 January 1974.

And here is some further information from The College Yearbook, 1974...(though, sadly, Ellington did not reach the age of 78...)

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'!

And here is Brian Priestley on Black, Brown and Beige...

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