Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Joya Sherrill

I learned this evening of the passing of Joya Sherrill on 28 June. Her contributions to Duke Ellington's imperishable legacy will never be forgotten but how much more, of course, will she be remembered by her loved ones.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Noon Crowd

Driving home from work this afternoon, I was listening to one of several CDs I had burned of Duke Ellington's thirties big band recordings on the History label, against the day (soon, I hope) when Mosiac do the job properly.

The track was Billy Strayhorn's Something to Live For with Jean Eldridge, vocalist and I was struck, as I am always struck, by the immediacy, the power of the imagery in the lines:

My eye is watching the noon crowd
Searching the promenade
Seeking a clue...

So struck was I, in fact, that when I got home, I googled the phrase, the noon crowd on Images. One of the first hits it turned up was the photograph from Life I include above. The caption reads:

A view showing the noon lunch hour crowds streaming to the Bata Stores.
Photo: John Phillips./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Jan 1, 1938

Ellington's recording was made on the first day of Spring, 1939. Whilst Strayhorn probably composed the song some years earlier as a teenager (hence the truth and immediacy of the words, I suppose), it pleases me to think that the words were inspired by a very similar view.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sole Responsiblity

Here’s a follow up to the video I posted last night, Duke Ellington – Model of Leadership.

I have no idea of the provenance of much of this portmanteau of moving pictures but it illuminates brilliantly, if briefly, Ellington’s unique way of keeping that juggernaut of a band of his on the road all those years.

Bandleaders often get a bad press and, perhaps, with some justification but I have always had a sneaking regard for even the most authoritarian of them. Ellington – who was a martinet by no stretch of the imagination – in concert always talked about the ‘solo responsibilities’ of the men in the band. It was in discharging those responsibilities that he would often punish any indiscipline – so a musician high on drink or drugs would have to take chorus after chorus. The leader’s, however, is the sole responsibility – a different kettle of fish altogether. It is, by enlarge, his name on the marquee which brings the punters in, his personality, in the absence of any particular musical talent in some instances – which holds the whole show together. How long did any of these bands survive in the immediate aftermath of their leader’s departure? How many ‘ghost’ bands eclipse the achievements of the name on the monogrammed music stands?

Bandleaders, generally speaking, seem to fall into two categories: the libertarian or the martinet. Woody Herman, for example or Charlie Barnet, the former; Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman the latter. To Russia Without Love by bassist Bill Crow who testifies to his experiences touring the Soviet Union under the Benny Goodman regime. The essay can be found here.

Two battling brothers famously covered all bases in the attitude to being leader of the band: Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Fortunately, they finally found common ground and recorded what, for my money, was amongst the finest work they ever did. The music which comprises their last hurrah has just been released, some of it for the first time on compact disc. More in the next post…