Friday, 3 August 2018

Berkeley Squared

When I began this blog ten years ago - or it will have been on the 18 October this year, I found the perfect photograph for the title header - a distant church tower in the background contributing to the provincial town or 'ville' of the title. Here is the full photograph:

In addition to using this for the banner of the blog here, the portrait of Ellington was also used as the logo for the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference.

The story behind the photograph was told in the special edition of Ellington Society UK's journal Blue Light which was also the conference programme. I've reproduced the article below.

In researching the photograph for another article for the journal, I discovered two other photographs and to my delight some colour film of the occasion.

The 'screen shot' at the top of this post is taken from this newsreel footage which may be found at the Bay Area Television Archive here.

The other photographs I have managed to source, I have included at the foot of the article here.

This is a very long shot, but if you are reading this and were one of the students (or staff!) who were present on the occasion of Ellington's visit, please get in touch!

Here is the article, told here in his own words by the late Dr. Herb Wong, life-long jazz and Ellington aficionado and Principal of Washington Elementary School. The essay is drawn from interviews conducted in 1998 by Caroline Crawford, University of California, Berkeley, California who graciously gave permission to quote from their conversations. You can read - and download the PDG of the full interview with Dr Wong here.

Jazz Goes To Collage

In the late 1960s, while working on developing a curriculum for the Berkeley School District’s primary classes, I happened to play an Ellington tune to a group of elementary school kids, asking them to write down and draw their thoughts as they listened to the music. When I read their reactions, my reaction was to read their writings to Duke. The next time he called (Duke called frequently, often at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, while he was up all night composing) I was ready, with my students’ essays by the bed. 
I read a couple of the letters to him: “When I hear Duke’s music I have this deep down, brown feeling in my tummy,” said one of the kids; “When I hear Duke’s music, it’s like giant valentines floating up in the sky,” said another. 
Duke listened for a moment and then said, “Who are these people? Who are these authors, these poets?” 
“Oh,” I said, “Probably about the same age as when you started.” He said, “Then how old was I?” That's the way he said it; he's so delightful. He said, “How old was I?” I said, “Oh, probably five or six.” 
I said, “Okay, now listen to my challenge. I've gone over as much of your music as possible. I can't identify all of them, but I kind of connected to the inspirational sources and what imagery you might have had that prompted you to think about a tune or 
a title or something. Correct me if I'm wrong. Of all the different areas in the world that you have drawn from as inspirational sources, I don't think you have included young children. Now, tell me right away if I'm goofing.” 
There was silence on the other end. And I'll never forget this. It was a longer silence than I thought I would ever hear from him, and then he said, “Oh my god. I think you have found a hole in my thing, and I would appreciate it, Herb, if you would help me to fill that hole up as soon as possible. Will you do that?” 
I said, “Look, while you're in Las Vegas, you're not that far away from Berkeley. Do you think that you might come to school and perhaps do a concert, say, in your last week?” 
So he said, “Well, that's an interesting idea. Okay. Let's think about that.” 
I brought Duke over there to the rehearsal at Berkeley High. 
By the time I brought him to the school and we got out of my car—in fact, as we approached—I couldn't believe it—the place was jammed with thousands of people, absolutely packed. I thought, “Wow! What the hell is this?” We got out of the car, and there were channels 4, 5, 7, whatever—9—I don't know. They were all there, taping what was going on. Duke was dressed very informally, because his formal stuff was not with him... because that was being brought by the band bus later with the guys. 
Well, we took three steps up to the yard, and we walked in. It was a sunny day, and there were all these cameras and all these signs and posters and stuff from other schools. A lot of kids from other schools came with their principals, who knew I was doing this and didn't just stay in their habitat— they brought children. 
Now, this next incident is priceless. A little black girl, five years old came up to Duke and yanked on his jacket that was over his left arm. She looked up at him and said, “Mr. Ellington, I know you're very old, but your music sounds so young.” 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Happy Birthday, Kenny Burrell

Yesterday was guitarist Kenny Burrell's 87th birthday. 

Kenny Burrell is a great admirer of Duke Ellington's work and indeed ran a course  -Ellingtonia - in teaching his music at UCLA. A former student, Steve Bowie, incidentally, hosts a superb podcast Ellington Reflections.

In celebration of Mr Burrell's birthday, I have been listening to the second volume of his Ellington is Forever albums which has the added attraction of Ellington trombonist Quentin Jackson, who is also featured on a couple of vocals!

Here is a quotation about Ellington's Great Paris Concert album. This was posted to the Duke Ellington Society  group on Facebook by the group's organiser Jean-Marie Juif (the Society is recommended!)
The comments show one great musician's appreciation of the work of another.

KENNY BURRELL speaks about Duke's Great Paris Concert album (Atlantic Records) at the University of California, Los Angeles, May 7, 2013:
"The record the maestro recorded in Paris in 1963; there are many great things on this recording.
    It starts off with Rockin' in Rhythm which we all know has gotten it's own wings after Ellington.Written in 1929 - hello! - Zawinul and those guys were do it later.
Star Crossed Lovers from the Suite,the Theme from the Asphalt Jungle movie,couple of pieces featuring Cootie Williams, Concerto for Cootie, Tutti For Cootie and The Suite Thursday another suite by Ellington and Strayhorn.
One that I particularly like - well I have to say it's one of favourite pieces in all of Ellingtonia - and all music is Tone Parallel To Harlem known as Harlem Suite.
    This was commissioned in 1950 by Arturo Toscanini of The NBC Symphony Orchestra of New York.
    Ellington at that point was pretty popular and also gaining recognition as a serious composer so that's why he got the commission - at the time he was fifty one.
    That piece has been recorded in many formats including symphony orchestras both here and in Europe and on various occasions by Ellington himself with his band - this happens to be one of my favourite versions of it.
    First of all I love the composition, I think it's one of the most outstanding musical compositions ever written, certainly (ever written) by Ellington.
    It's a through composed piece of material - and it is jazz, not a lot of improvisation in this piece because it's through composed.
    But the main thing about this - it is a great extended composition of jazz music - that only Ellington could do.
    I would encourage anyone to listen this, it happens to be my favourite version of it - and this a live performance in Paris in 1963.
    One of the things you should listen to this piece of music is the huge variety of time changes - the huge variety of harmonic changes - the huge variety of tonal colour - of shifting around.
    It's amazing how he could get such variety with fifteen musicians - it's unbelievable, but he managed to do that and that's why he's considered many the greatest - not only the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century but the greatest composer of the twentieth century and this is coming from some serious classical musicians who feel that way - let alone jazz musicians who feel that way.
    The classical people are starting to say this is some new - material done in a highly sophisticated way that has never been done before - so that's why I wanted to talk about this record!
    It's like all great art - the more you listen, the more you look - the more you hear, the more you see - I never tire of hearing this.
Listen closely and something else reveals itself."