Friday, 21 December 2012

Out of the Blue

The blog Into a Blue Haze is well worth checking out.

Three concerts by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra are currently available for download and you can access them by clicking the link here.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

For the record...

Here are details of a 'one of a kind' Ellington recording which came up for auction at a certain internet clearing house recently.

The vendor claims the disc in question is an off air recording of the Famous Orchestra during its first stint at The Cotton Club (it was the 85th anniversary of Ellington's opening at the club a couple of weeks ago).

The full description runs:

A truly remarkable two sided LIVE recording of DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA from the COTTON CLUB in New York!. 

This one of a kind disc was found in the collection of musician/collector DICK is on a metal "UNIVERSAL BLANK RECORDING DISC........Likely at the Cotton Club in Harlem shortly before it moved to Mid-Town in the mid-1930' of the tunes identified is DUCKY WUCKY which is from 1932.introduced as an arrangement you haven't heard. 

.....the sections of the disc I played  play pretty well on my rig but requires a bit of extra weight..there is distortion in some sections and very clear in others..some one putting some time into play this will likely get  better results than me ....the sleeve also identifies I'VE GOT TO BE A RUG CUTTER " fine trumpet & Hodges sop"...side B says "Azure"..this one is sold AS IS!

Whilst it is often difficult to establish provenance, the auction was contested hotly, and the disc sold for the not inconsiderable sum of $385 dollars (about £285)! One for the record books?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Do I hear...

Going, going…

Under the virtual hammer of a certain Internet auction house at present is a fascinating collection of Ellingtonia. I thought I’d post the description and all the photographs of the various lots here. For the record…

From the vendor's description:

"Duke Ellington memories collectible collection all original items. Arrangements From His Private Collection. Which include Fascimile, Copies Of The Exact First Drafts Of Many Ellington Strayhorn Songs There on Passantino Sheet Music And Forrest Brand With The Tempo Music Inc 333 Riverside Drive. Manuscripts Of Strayhorn, it's a very beautiful collection. I have never seen The Exact Copies of how Ellington and Strayhorn wrote there music in exact form.
Love You Madly, Love Scene (Making That Scene), B Sharp Blues, Spanking Brand New Doll, Love You Madly, Such Sweet Thunder, And On A Turquoise Cloud. And Many More
Exactly How Duke And Billy Wrote There Notes...Very Rare.

I didn't want to Add These Arrangements but there are so many from different friends of my father's, I figure Someone who really loves Duke Would Appreciate This Collection. It is all One of A Kind And All 100% authentic.

1. One signed card hand signed in blue ink. Merrie Christmas Happy New Year Duke Ellington love xxx (Great For X-mas, This Item Has a lot of value due to the fact it states no name, so it could be a great Joy to an Ellington Fan) This would be Dukes Last Hand
Written Card comes with Envelope addressed to and from

2. Hand designed card by Duke Ellington Very special and rare only to his closet friends.
"Merry Christmas is Merriest
Happy new year is happie, you are beautiful compounded with luv and blessings and may your total future be the greatest! Duke Ellington. With love and hearts xxxx"

3. (20) Negative photos. One of Duke Ellington at Billy StrayhornMemorial. And one of the Strayhorn memorial plaque. Never before released,My father took the photos with his rolleflex camera. Will sign the photography rights over. Very Rare

4. A Copy of Half the Fun (From The Original Arrangements in Dukes Hand) written by Duke And Strayhorn, from his original transcribes 1957 tempo music inc. with Duke Signature titled on top by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

5. Framed 4x6 photo from the negatives of Duke And Bob Udkoff by the American flag. Beautiful. One of a kind shot. Never released. Developed with Epson perfection lighted scanner.Slight pop look to it. 6. East meets the west through the swinging music of Duke Ellington LP Signed on the back to my mother."Xxxx to Beautiful lady of grace Loretta.I'm very glad to see that you are prettier now then before, don't stop now love xxxx duke xxxx for your Jose ERS.

7. Sacred concerts complete Duke Ellington inspirational songbook 1972 tempo music, given to my father not for sale original arrangements very small pressing for concert. Extra fine condition.

8. Photo card hand written from the great Lou levy, one of the most underrated Jazz pianists.

9. Duke Ellington we love you madly tribute card January 10th 1973 from Quincy Jones. Mint
With envelope.

10. (20) Classic Ellington Lp's Nm And Sealed First Press

11. Framed Card About Love And Life Christmas And New Years By Duke Ellington. Have Not Seen Another
Like it.

12. 5 Song Books By Duke Ellington

13. Strayhorn Original Arrangement of Passion Flower And Lush Life...People Say Strayhorn isn't worth As much but Billy was The Engine

Will Email any photos Ran out of photo space.

The Negatives show Duke by The American Flag...There are over 50 beautiful photos of Ellington...Will Sign Over Rights."

Monday, 1 October 2012

Hobsbawm on Ellington

The death was announced today of historian Eric Hobsbawm. He wrote extensively on the subject of jazz under the nom de plume Francis Newton. A heady and evocative account of those years is here.

Bliss must it have been in that very dawn...

Reading the obituaries and the scatterings of virtual press 'cuttings' on line, I also happened upon this brief piece on Ellington which I thought more than quoting here:
"The sort of teenagers who were most likely to to be captured by jazz in 1933 were rarely in a position to buy more than a few records, let alone build a collection. Still, enough was already being issued in Britain for the local market: Armstrong, Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and John Hammond's last recording of Bessie Smith. What is more, shortly before the trade dispute stopped American jazz-players from coming to Britain for some 20 years, the greatest of all the bands – I can still recite its then line-up from memory – came to London: Duke Ellington's. It was the season when Ivy Anderson sang Stormy Weather. Denis [Preston, a cousin] and I, presumably financed by the family, went to the all-night session ("breakfast dance") they played at a Palais de Danse in the wilds of Streatham, nursing single beers in the gallery as we despised the slowly heaving mass of south London dancers below, who were concentrating on their partners and not on the wonderful noises. Our last coins spent, we walked home in dark and daybreak, mentally floating above the hard pavement, captured for ever.
"Like the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who has written better about it than most, I experienced this musical revelation at the age of first love, 16 or 17. But in my case it virtually replaced first love, for, ashamed of my looks and therefore convinced of being physically unattractive, I deliberately repressed my physical sensuality and sexual impulses. Jazz brought the dimension of wordless, unquestioning physical emotion into a life otherwise almost monopolised by words and the exercises of the intellect."

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Plus ca change...

The photograph, above, of Duke on bath night is currently for sale at a certain internet auction house. The description reads:

This auction is for an original 9" by 7" photograph of Duke Ellington smiling while bathing. This is a rare photo and may be unpublished. Stamped on the back: Olaf Ibsen Foto. Olaf Ibsen was a well known Danish photographer of the 1940s & 50s.

It is the former owner of the photograph which shows the Gallic connection, however. The vendor writes:

From the estate of Gaston Criel (1913-1990) French author and Jazz critic and Paris celebrity of the 1940s & 50s. A friend to many prominent French writers and artists and Jazz musicians.

Here is a photograph of M Criel.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Black, Brown and Neige

Dashing through the snow...

Why did Duke Ellington record a version of Jingle Bells as part of his sessions for the Midnight in Paris album?

This particular session, Ellington’s penultimate for Columbia, took place in New York on 21 June, 1962:

Columbia recording session at the 30th Street Studio.

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Ray Nance, c; Cat Anderson, Bill Berry, Roy Burrowes, t; Lawrence Brown, Britt Woodman, tb; Chuck Connors, btb; Jimmy Hamilton, cl, ts; Johnny Hodges, as; Russell Procope, as, cl; Paul Gonsalves, ts; Harry Carney, bs; Duke Ellington, p; Aaron Bell, b; Sam Woodyard, d.

June seems a little previous to be thinking of Christmas music (although it’s true that stars such as Frank Sinatra recorded their Christmas albums in August). It’s pretty much an ‘orphaned’ track. Was it intended as a single? What would have been on the reverse?

In fact, the recording remained unreleased until after Ellington’s death when it appeared first on a series of five albums on CBS in – appropriately – France. The track occasionally turns up on compact disc anthologies of Jazz at Christmas, etc.

Well, one possible reason might be found in the dialogue from the film Paris Blues. In his book on jazz and film, Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema, Krin Gabbard transcribes part of a scene of the film. Ram Bowen (Paul Newman), the eponymous trombone-playing hero of the piece, has gone to see music impresario Rene Bernard (played by Andre Luguet) with a view to getting his most recent composition played in concert.

The dialogue is as follows:

Bernard: You have a good melodic feel.
Bowen: Mr Bernard, I want to develop that theme into a piece to be played in concert. Now, what’s the possibility?
Bernard: Mr Bowen, you are a creative musician. Every time you put a horn in your mouth, you are composing. Your improvisations are highly personal. They give you a stamp as a musician. But there is a great deal of difference between that and an important piece of serious music.
Bowen: In other words, you’re trying to tell me that I’m just sort of a lightweight.
Bernard: I don’t know what you are yet, Mr Bowen. And neither do you. I’m only saying that you haven’t yet given yourself a chance to find out.
Bowen: I’ve worked with musicians all my life. I know everything I can do.
Bernard: Perhaps you need to do something else now. Paris is a great city for an artist to work and study composition, harmony, theory, counterpoint. Perhaps you need to change you life for a couple of years in order to give yourself a chance to do what you wish.
Bowen: Well, in other words, it’s no good.
Bernard: On the contrary, I like it.
Bowen: But it’s not good enough to be played.
Bernard: Oh, I’m certain, [pause] a record company...
Bowen: But nothing more than that.
Bernard: It is what it is. A jazz piece of certain charm and [pause] melody.

The piece in question is Ellington’s theme for the film, Paris Blues. All his life, Ellington suffered a comparison between his work and that of the Western, European tradition. Such comparisons are not only odious but also completely irrelevant to what Ellington and Strayhorn were trying to do. Worse, whenever Ellington did attempt something beyond the confines of the three minute seventy-eight side, he was castigated by the likes of John Hammond for pretension if not betrayal of the blues form: for pieces such as Reminiscing in Tempo or Black, Brown and Beige  Ellington repeatedly suffered this charge, culminating, famously, in the Pulitzer Prize Board’s failure to give him the award in 1965.

The dialogue from this film for which Ellington composed the music resonates, then, in a very particular way. It is not as if, in composing the film score, Ellington was offering parody or pastiche.  It was – to paraphrase the dialogue – what it was: consummate work by Ellington and Strayhorn. It is Ellington’s music itself then which is being given seven shades of back handed compliment in this exchange.

Did Ellington dwell on this dialogue when he was assembling pieces for his French album twelve months later? Well, Ram Bowen’s final retort in this scene – not transcribed here by Gabbard – gives us pause. In response to the claim that his piece has a certain ‘charm’ and ‘melody’, ‘Ram’ replies:

‘Yeah, well, Jingle Bells is a great tune. You can hum that the first time you hear it.’

In other words, the composer finds the remarks of the impresario crass, patronizing and insulting, the fruits of his labours being of no more artistic merit than – literally -  a jingle.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris was the final album Duke Ellington made under his contract with Columbia Records.  Ellington was, reportedly, increasingly dissatisfied with the company. This particular album, in fact, took six months to complete – between January and June, 1962. Ellington was simultaneously working on his Featuring Paul Gonsalves album at Fantasy and squirreling away recordings in his own private stockpile, too.

It’s easy to look at the somewhat indifferent cover art, listen to the rather middle-of-the-road content of the album and conclude that this particular project was the casualty of the shifting pop market as record companies lost confidence in ‘adult pop’ and went chasing The Beatles and the new demographic.

But look again. It’s easy to imagine, rather, twin impulses behind this particular collection.

Firstly, Ellington’s general dissatisfaction with the way things had turned out over his film project, Paris Blues. Unlike his previous, much heralded, film score, Anatomy of a Murder, Ellington’s work on the 1961 motion picture Paris Blues was not celebrated by a release of the music on album from Ellington’s ‘house’ label. A soundtrack did appear on MGM. Perhaps it was because of the involvement of Louis Armstrong no longer signed to the label, an album on Columbia was not possible.

As it is, much of the music from Paris Blues was not released. The recent album French Touch from Laurent Mignard’s superb Duke Orchestra included some of that unreleased music. 

Perhaps in compensation, a couple of numbers – Wild Man and Battle Royal – Ellington himself featured on the Columbia album he made with Count Basie and his Orchestra. Ellington also ensured there was a collaboration with Louis Armstrong in the studio, too, in the famous couple of albums they recorded for Roulette. And finally, Midnight in Paris allowed the bandleader to put out an album on Columbia with a Parisian theme and which included his own compositions Paris Blues and Guitar Amour.

And the second impulse is Billy Strayhorn. Any surface artistic frustrations Ellington was feeling were nothing compared to the deep river of Strayhorn’s love affair with the City of Light. And this is Billy Strayhorn’s album.

The title track (originally intended for the Basie album), Under Paris Skies, My Heart Sings (a feature for Joya Sherrill back in the day), Comme-Ci, Comme-Ca, Speak to Me of Love, I Wish You Love (Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet is sublime), River Seine, Petite Waltz and No Regrets were all arranged by Strayhorn. It is Strayhorn’s touch on piano through several of the tracks, too. Twelve months earlier, whilst in Paris with Ellington to work on the score for the film, Billy had recorded an album of his own compositions at the Barclay Studios in the city. Now, back home in New York, Strayhorn was the principal architect behind this new Parisian themed collection. And what pastel shades he created, what a rich and varied tapestry is woven throughout the thirteen selections.

The album has never been released on compact disc in the USA – and appeared only fleetingly in a very small print run in – appropriately enough – France.

Here, then, for your listening pleasure, is Midnight in Paris.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Blues in Paris

Essential reading about Duke Ellington's involvement with Paris can be found in the article Busy Winters by Matthew Asprey which is on the Pop Matters site here.

And for an interesting piece on the making of the 1961 motion picture Paris Blues by Krin Gabbard, his illuminating essay is available  as a PDF here.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Week in Paris

Pendant mes vacances...

The works outing for Duke's this year is a week in Paris.  The hotel – Pallais de Chaillot - was booked on the strength of it being named for the venue where Duke Ellington played a concert on 3 April, 1939.

There’s going to be, then, something of a Gallic theme to the next few postings, exploring the music of the Ellingtonians in France.

Ellington’s band played the Palais de Chaillot again when they returned for a tour of continental Europe in 1950. During the band’s stay in the City of Light, a small group of musicians made a few sides for the Vogue record label under the leadership of Johnny Hodges. Sixteen of the sides have been anthologized several times on the Vogue label. Somewhat more rare is the first session for the label by this small group.

They recorded four sides on that initial date which took place on April, 14, 1950. The first of the tunes, Saint-Germain des Prés Blues appeared under Harold ‘Shorty’ Baker’s name. The remaining three sides credit Hodges as leader.

The full discographical details for the session are as follows:

Harold Baker (tp) Quentin Jackson (tb) Johnny Hodges (as) Don Byas (ts) Raymond Fol (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Butch Ballard (d)

Paris, April 14, 1950

OSW671 Saint-Germain des Prés Blues
0SW672 Good to the Last Drop 341, Onyx ORI216
0SW673 Only Wish I Knew 349, -
0SW674 We Fooled You - , -

What of the music recorded during this session? Well, as one might expect, it’s very different to that recorded under Hodges’ leadership in the late thirties and early forties.

Be bop is clearly making its presence felt in the sharp stabs from the brass lines behind the soloists. The presence of Don Byas – living in Paris at the time, I think – also lends a cool modernism to the proceedings. The sound of the group is reminiscent of the recordings James Moody was making about this time in Sweden. Indeed, the 1950s saw the beginnings of that emigration of musicians from New York to the European continent.  Hodges himself, before long, of course, would attempt to fly free of the Ellingtonian nest and launch his own solo career. The sessions are, in some ways, a launching pad for his flight.

Three of the four numbers are up-tempo, the exception being the ballad Only Wish I Knew which in Baker’s tender horn lines, and despite its rather abrupt ending, is somewhat reminiscent of Miles Davis’s work in the Birth of the Cool sessions.

Anyway, presented here are those four sides from Hodges’ Paris sojourn. Medium rarities.