I recently acquired half-a-dozen copies of the music magazine Crescendo from the mid-sixties. I thought I’d share the following from the magazine for March 1964 on Duke Ellington’s appearance at the Royal Festival Hall, a month earlier:
At the opening Festival Hall show, Paul Gonsalves was temporarily indisposed. Tubby, who happened to be backstage, found himself literally whisked into the vacant chair.
It is an indication of Tubby’s outstanding musicianship that he navigated without apparent effort scores he had never seen before. As Duke remarked:
“You’d think he’d made the rehearsal.”
In fact, the rest of the band had rehearsed the new compositions from 10 am until 4 pm that same day.
Tubby’s reaction to the experience:
“It was tremendous. I felt as if I was dreaming. Some of the parts were pretty difficult such as ‘Harlem’, with its changes of tempo. There weren’t any parts for a couple of things, so those I didn’t know I didn’t play. ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ I knew okay.
“The band was very helpful, especially Jimmy Hamilton. Some of them weren’t played as written, so he tipped me off as to what to leave out, where to come back in and so on.
“The second time through I knew what was coming better, so I was able to watch Duke more.
“Playing in that section was wonderful. The quality of sound was quite frightening at times. And they didn’t seem to be blowing over- loud. As for the band as a whole – most of the time I was concentrating on looking for the music and playing, but I particularly noticed Lawrence Brown’s terrific sound behind me.”
There is more than a little poetic license about Tubby’s happening to be backstage, the truth being rather more prosaic. The quotations are gold dust, however.
This legendary performance was in fact recorded, as you can see from the picture of the tape box which headlines this post.
I have it on good authority from Tubbs expert Simon Spillett, however, that the sound quality is nothing to write home about. He says:
“The Ellington recording is extremely lo-fi (think the worst Parker airshots and you get the picture) so it's unlikely that it will receive commercial release."
If it were, I’d still buy it in a heartbeat...
Recordings by the saxophonist just days before his allegedly impromptu appearance with the Ellington band are available, however, on the Savage Solweig label. The disc can be purchased here.