Saturday, 11 June 2016

Salvation at hand

Seniors Moment column: 
The night I met Duke Ellington
Some details sketchy but not the impression of a jazz icon leading the charity band

JUNE 10, 2016 02:15 PM

Nadine Jones, left, chair the 1970 Salvation Army funding drive, managed to get Duke Ellington to lead the Salvation Army band at it`s open air concert. Evelyn Caldwell (Miss Sally Ann) left and Jones`` two daughters were also on hand. Photo submitted
The year was l970.  The event was the annual Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal. I happened to be the pro bono chairperson of the event that year, so it fell on my shoulders to make it all happen. The grounds of the then Vancouver Courthouse were secured. The respected and usually staid CBC Television News anchor, Lloyd Robertson, delivered the 6 p.m. national news wearing a Salvation Army Hat and suggested that his viewers go to the show... 

A lighting firm in Burnaby loaned sophistication by criss-crossing huge light beams back and forth across the sky over the area. (They did it for free but I can’t remember their name.)  Salvation Army ladies served coffee from hastily erected kiosks….coffee I had mooched from Murchies.

Jack Webster (a well-known Scottish news personality whom many of you will remember with a smile), Sweeney from Sweeney Cooperage on Granville Island advertized (From logs to Barrels. Now defunct), Gordon Wismer, (twice Attorney General of B.C. l937-41 and 1946-52), Grace McCarthy (well-know lady of many hats) and other dignitaries were “one, two, three, kicking in a snaky Congo line, much to the amusement of crowd.

The grounds were packed. The Salvation Army is a very popular organization and most people I contacted were delighted to become involved. I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of important people and happenings but, after all, it was 46 years ago.

So, being that long ago, there must have been something very impressive for me to recall the evening. And there sure was!

Duke Ellington, some would argue, invented jazz. His orchestra was the first Big Band Sound to jump on the jazz bandwagon and it brought Duke fame and fortune. Among his honours were receiving a life-time achievement Grammy award and receiving 16 honorary doctorates. He was presented with, not one, but two, gold medals from reigning presidents. He wrote songs such as Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, Don’t get Around Much Anymore and hundreds more songs many of which are still played today.

Born in l899 in New York as Edward Kennedy Ellington, he was christened “Duke” by his friends because of his flair for style and his gentlemanly manner. He broke the racial barrier by playing for years at the all-white Cotton Club. He married his high school sweetheart in l916, and they were still married when he died in l974. They had one son, Mercer, and that’s where I come in. I had read somewhere that the Duke had a soft spot in his heart for the Salvation Army. Mercer was with his dad on that l970s gig to the Cave Night Club, so I took a leap of faith. I got in touch with Mercer and asked him if he thought by any chance his dad might give a few minutes to the Salvation Army. Mercer got back to me and said yes. So the time and place for a meeting was arranged….in the courthouse grounds at a given time. My two pretty young daughters brought the Duke down from his suite in the Hotel Vancouver and he crossed Hornby Street and met me and Evelyn Caldwell, Miss Sally Ann,  (who actually was great and did a tiny bit of cheesecake when asked…not much).

My two girls were duly impressed.  When I asked them now as I write this, what they remembered of the evening, my eldest girl, Lynnette, (whom I’m hiding with my head in the picture) said she remembers he had on a cashmere coat, polo style.  And Christine remembers him saying “I wish they’d hurry, I’m going to get Fresh Air Poisoning.” The girls are now both grandmothers.

Duke couldn’t have been nicer or friendlier. We had his company for only a few minutes and then he climbed the stairs and led the Salvation Army Temple Band in a rendition, of what I don’t remember.

What I do remember is that he invited my then-husband and me to his show at the Cave and backstage to his dressing room at half time.  He was 71, no kid at the time, and had spent most of his life in second hand smoke so when we went backstage he was lying on his back full length, resting between appearances. Since I was sitting behind him, I held his head up while he signed autographs. Maybe that`s why I was born? To hold up Duke Ellington’s head?

As Ed Sullivan would say, introducing his popular show for the night, “It’s a really big SHEW,” and it was.  I trust the Army made a lot of money because it was a lot of work….but certainly rewarding.

Nadine Jones is a retired journalist.

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