Friday, 14 April 2017

Berklee Square

Here is more detail about Herb Pomeroy's involvement with teaching Ellington's music at Berklee. The source for this extract is Ellington's New England by Tom Reney.

The trumpeter and educator Herb Pomeroy, who spent several years on the road with Lionel Hampton and Stan Kenton before embarking on a 40-year-long teaching career at the Berklee College of Music, experienced Ellington from two perspectives. In the late '50's, Pomeroy established a seminar on Ellington at Berklee, the only course of its kind in the country at the time. Duke's unconventional composing and arranging styles, described by Pomeroy as "trial and error, seat-of-the-pants," baffled other musicians for years, perhaps even Ellington himself, who was notoriously tongue-in-cheek. "On one of the early occasions when we met," he recalls, "Duke said, 'Herb, I understand you're teaching a course on me up there in Boston. Maybe I should come up and take it in order to find out what I'm doing."

Pomeroy also played with the Ellington orchestra on numerous occasions, spelling the veteran trumpeter Cootie Williams. His first time with the band was unforgettable.

"We were playing the Starlight Lounge in Peabody, and I'm playing Cootie's book. You know, even with Duke it wasn't all concert halls and festivals. He had to have a book for country club dances and proms, and as I was looking through Cootie's book I noticed some music by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,"Tijuana Taxi," as I recall. I thought, 'My God, the great Cootie Williams has to play this stuff.' I'm expecting a night of "Cottontail" and "Harlem Air Shaft." Well, after awhile, Duke introduced me as a new member of the band, saying 'Ladies and Gentleman, Herb Pomeroy wants you to know that he loves you madly, and he would like to play "Tijuana Taxi" for you.' Well, I was so taken aback that I got out my plunger and played something-- whatever it was, it wasn't very sincere. But I got through it. And then Duke thanked the audience for their kind applause and reminded them that 'Herb Pomeroy still loves you madly, and now he would like to play "Tijuana Taxi" for you once more.'   You know, it was Duke's way of saying, 'Welcome to the band, Herb!'"

Pomeroy survived this innocuous hazing ritual and remained wide-eyed in his appreciation of Ellington. "I was like a kid in a candy store every time I played on that band," he says. "I was checking out everything. The band itself was like a vibrant human animal.

Among the dates Pomeroy played with Ellington was one of the series of summer concerts presented by Elma Lewis in Franklin Park during her annual Marcus Garvey Festival. This was a highly favored venue of the Ellingtonians, who enjoyed the relaxed, down home air of the event and the opportunity it afforded for reunions with old friends and family. In Music Is My Mistress, Ellington described Lewis, who was one of the invitees to Duke's 70th birthday party at the Nixon White House, as "the symbol of Marcus Garvey come alive and blazing into the future of the arts. Her cultural center in Roxbury is above and beyond abnormal expectancy." He happily recalled the orchestra's "wonderful reception...and the soul supper afterwards."

1 comment:

  1. It's neither here or there, really, but in the small-world department: a professor of mine, Bill Youngren, used to play in small groups with Herb Pomeroy. I didn't know about Pomeroy's Ellington connection. Bill was a professor of English who was enormously dedicated to music as well.