Tuesday, 10 July 2012

... like an ever-rolling stream...

There are some very desirable artefacts often for sale courtesy of Jazz Record Center’s Ebay auctions. As I write this, there is a little under two hours to go on what is described as ‘rare Duke Ellington LP’ on the Gotham label. The starting price is $250.00 and there’s at least one bidder.

The item is described as follows:

"This recording - “Holiday Greetings from Gotham Recording Corporation” - on Gotham GRC-2873, includes two of the rarest studio tracks by Duke Ellington. The deep-groove record is pressed on red vinyl and was distributed as a holiday promotion (“Not to Be Sold, Broadcast or Copied”). The first two tracks on Side A are Duke’s “Duet” and “Threesome”, recorded on June 28, 1951. “Threesome” has a spoken intro by Duke; the band then plays while he and Freddie Robbins introduce members of the band as they take their solos: Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton, Shorty Baker, Paul Gonsalves, Britt Woodman, Russell Procope, Cat Anderson, Juan Tizol, and Nelson Williams. The sound quality is superb, with just a few random tics. The remaining tracks of Side A are “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” (with audible scratch) and an orchestral version of “I’ll Be Around”. Side B is a bizarre spoken bop narrative that sounds like a radio play with a lot of hipster terms that were popular in the early 1950’s. The cover has a 1” area in the top left corner of the front where a sticker has been removed; clear tape along the bottom seam. A folded information sheet is included."

It’s not exactly a Duke Ellington LP. Ellington’s contribution consists of two tracks, the rest being classical music. They’re not wrong, though.  These Holiday Greetings LPs are difficult to come by – and they are studio recordings by the Ellington Orchestra made in the Gotham Recording Studios in 1951.

 Ironically, a much cheaper to the Gotham LP is also available on Ebay at present and this contains fifteen minutes of those studio sides. The auction is for a 16” transcription disc for the Stars on Parade radio series. The cost of shipping is prohibitive for this particular potential bidder, but if you fancy a punt, details are here.

Ellington authority Steven Lasker is no stranger to bidding on transcription discs. In an edition of the Duke Ellington Music Society Bulletin in 2009, Mr Lasker wrote:

“Today's mail brought two 16-inch ETs which I won from a recent record auction. "Stars on Parade" program 575, "Ellington Moods" by Duke Ellington, is paired with "Stars on Parade" program 576, "Davy Crockett" starring Conrad Nagel. "Stars on Parade" program 581, "Music of Manhattan," is paired with program 582, "A Matter of Time" starring Ethel Griffies.

“The labels show the dates each program was to be aired: program 575 (by Ellington) was "release: week of August 19, 1951"; program 576 was "release: week of August 25, 1951"; program 581 was "release: week of September 30, 1951"; program 582 was "release: week of October 7, 1951."

“I note that each date cited was a Sunday, when the Gotham Recording Studio was likely closed, and that the label of my copy of program 581 (release: week of September 30, 1951) bears the penciled notation "WMIL 9-22-51," which I'll guess is the date when the disc was received at radio station WMIL.

“So: Ellington's "Stars on Parade"/ Gotham recording session wasn't held on 19Aug51 as shown in every discography, but at some earlier date, perhaps in late July or early August. To see a photo of the session and a list of the personnel, see DEMS 02/3-12. The photo is also found on the back cover of CBS(F)66607 ("The Complete Duke Ellington, 1947-52"), but misdated to 5oct51, the date of the Down Beat issue in which the photo was first published.”

Researching these Gotham sessions, I found an extract from one of the transcription discs on You Tube which certainly gives an impression of the fine recorded sound.

Al Hibbler sings Ol’ Man River. The early fifties were not a particularly propitious time for the Ellington band as the flame of the big band era guttered. Ellington’s problems were compounded by the recent departure of such stars of the Ellington firmament as Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn.  And with the voracious demands of countless radio broadcasts, Ellington cast the net a little more widely for repertoire than he might otherwise have done. They played show tunes very infrequently. This particular show tune – well, in its time and given some authenticity in the dignified performance by Paul Robeson, it is a testament to a certain picturesque view of the issue of civil rights. In 1951, politics had moved on somewhat and Ellington’s position within that political situation was unique anyway. This song is rather dwarfed by Ellington’s achievements as a creator of ‘American Music’. Within months – on the tenth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, in fact – he was to record a major work in his Tone Parallel to Harlem. The composition and performance here is not in the same league. It is presented, however, for your enjoyment as a souvenir of some sixty-one summers ago...

PS: The Gotham LP sold for $338.33

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