Saturday, 22 June 2019

Toney Awards

President and Mrs Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, His Excellency The President of Liberia and Mrs Tubman, Duke Ellington
A recent interesting item for sale on eBay confirms the spelling of the first name of vocalist (to use an antique term) Toney Watkins who was a fixture of the personnel of the late period of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His name was often spelled 'Tony' even here on the programme for a concert given at The White House on 27 March, 1968. There is signatory evidence to the contrary, however, since this particular document had been autographed by Watkins himself, as the photographs show.

Here is a screen shot from the ever-reliable Duke Where and When website, with information about the White House concert...

The reception was held in honour of the President of Liberia, William Tubman and the music was played by the Duke Ellington Octet. I should certainly like to hear those selections from Liberian Suite played with that instrumentation. It is unlikely any recording was made of the event.

There is a fascinating link on the Where and When website to an article about the reception  entitled Jeff Castleman: Bass Player and Lone Survivor. The colour photograph which headlines this post is taken from that source.

Here are the photographs of the programme for the concert...

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Date with the Duke

Recently listed on eBay, this inscribed powder compact... 

The vendor describes the item as follows:

"Guaranteed legitimate Duke Ellington signature. My mother was born in 1921 went to a show that featured Duke Ellington. She had him sign the powder puff from her compact. She kept this all her life, but gave it to me shortly before she died in 2015. I am going to guess that this was probably signed around 1940. Could be shortly before or shortly after. It was signed in Evansville Indiana but I don’t know at what venue. It has been stored out of the sunlight and separate from the compact. There are still powder in the compact."

I don't know about Ellington's appearance in Evansville around 1940. Numerous broadcast performances from 1945 survive, however, from the Treasury series... "your Saturday Date with the Duke."

It isn't beyond the bounds of possibility that the owner of that compact was in the audience for the recording of one of the shows and one could hear today, in the words of the poet, her hands "tiny in all that air applauding..." 

And on the subject of Date with Duke, to round out this reminiscence, here is the George Pal 'puppetoon' of that title from 1947, Duke and the orchestra playing, appropriately enough, selections from The Perfume Suite...

Date with Duke - 1947 from Clint on Vimeo.

Friday, 31 May 2019


This performance of selections from Duke Ellington's Sacred music was streamed live midnight UK time Wednesday. Principal soloist is DeVonne Gardner who, of course, performed this music with Ellington himself. Ms Gardner reminisces about her audition for Ellington with Billy Strayhorn at the piano and her involvement with the Orchestra.

For ur readers in the USA, this intimate chamber performance is a precursor of a full concert of Sacred music by Bucks County Choral Society on 1 and 2 June. All the details below from the website here.

2018-2019 Spring Concert

Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts

Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 4:00 PM
Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 38th St. between Chestnut and Market, University City
[free parking available in the lot at the corner of 38th St. and Powelton Avenue (across from Penn/Presbyterian Hospital,
a 7-minute walk down 38th from the Cathedral]
Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 4:00 PM
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doylestown PA (directions to church)
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door - See the Purchase Tickets page for info on Group Sales.
“Everyone prays in his own language.” The final concert of the season features an uplifting program of music from Duke Ellington’s ground-breaking Sacred Concerts. Along with the beloved musicality of Jay Fluellen and his ensemble, we will be inspired by two exciting new voices on the scene, soprano Brittany Rumph and baritone Shafiq Hicks, who in turn will be listening very carefully to the return of Choral Society favorite, original Ellington soloist DeVonne Gardner. We will also be joined by two guest choirs, the Intermezzo Choir, directed by Carrie Lessene, and the Philadelphia Community Mass Choir directed by Jay Fluellen.
To read Thomas Lloyd's article on the Sacred Concerts in the May 2009 Choral Journal, click here:
The Revival of an early “Crossover” masterwork – Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts.
Combined choirs: Ellington - Freedom No. 7 (DeVonne Gardner)
Choral Society: Ellington -  In the Beginning (Shafiq Hicks)
Philadelphia Community Mass Choir: Spiritual, arr. Fluellen/Stevenson – Wade in the Water 
Choral Society: Ellington - Will you be there / Ain’t but the one (Brittany Rumph)
Intermezzo Choir Ministry: Thomas A. Dorsey, arr. Arnold Sevier - Precious Lord
Choral Society: Ellington - Father Forgive (all soloists)
Solo: Ellington – My Love (DeVonne Gardner)
Combined choirs: Ellington - The Majesty (Beauty) of God (DeVonne Gardner)
Combined choirs: Ellington - Come Sunday (all soloists)
Choral Society: Ellington - Don’t get down on your knees and pray  (Shafiq Hicks)
Philadelphia Community Mass Choir: Clayton White – Psalm 150
Choral Society: Ellington - Freedom (Sweet fat and that)
Intermezzo Choir Ministry: Don’t you want to go
Choral Society: Roscoe Gill - Hallelujah! Salvation and Glory!
Combined choirs: Ellington - Praise God and Dance (Brittany Rumph)
Notes on the program:
The Choral Society first performed a program of music from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts in 2005, which was also our first program introducing original Ellington soloist DeVonne Gardner to our audiences. Fifteen years later, DeVonne voice is as lustrous as ever, and she continues a busy schedule of Ellington performances both in the US and Europe. Ellington and DeVonne have been a part of several Choral Society programs in the intervening years, and we treasure both her artistry and friendship.
A concert like ours today is exactly the environment Ellington had in mind for these autumnal works at the end of a long creative life at the center of American and world music. He conceived of this music not as a Sunday morning church service, not as a performance in a concert hall, not as a late night set in a jazz club; but as a concert in a sacred space where all are welcome, no questions asked.
Ellington wanted to write something free of the expectations of the commercial side of the music business, free of pretention, that would express his most deeply held values: love, justice, humility, and the freedom to be the person he believed God called each one of us to be. And he delivered this with a colloquial wit and self-awareness not commonly found in conversations about faith and religion.
This afternoon, we hope this music fills you with hope and renewal, regardless of your own religious or secular perspective. As much if not more than all of the great sacred masterworks we perform, Ellington’s music has a universality that speaks to the human condition in ways accessible to all.

Jay Fluellen piano
DeVonne Gardner soprano
Brittany Rumph soprano
Shafiq Hicks baritone

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Big Band Woolf

Duke Ellington's visit to the UK in 1948. Bandleader Woolf Phillips is front right, Pearl Bailey front left. others unknown.
The print magazine Jazz Journal UK has now moved entirely on line. In the latest edition is an interesting article, Save This Priceless Jazz Video Collection.

I contacted the collection's owner, expressing a particular interest in the Ellington recordings in his collection and hoping to find out their destination for future reference. In his reply, Dr John Altman sent along a scan of the photograph at the top of this post and told me:

"My uncle conducted for Duke at the Palladium in 1948 when he was only able to bring Kay Davis and Ray Nance - thereafter Duke referred to my uncle Woolf Phillips as ‘my bandleader!’ "

As Woolf's obituary in The Guardian said...

"It was... an age when British musicians were worrying about transatlantic competition and the Musicians' Union placed impossible restrictions on visits by their American counterparts - which meant no Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman orchestras. So the two men played the Palladium as "visiting artists" and the band that was to Take The 'A' Train with Ellington, and accompany Goodman's clarinet was Phillips's. A British orchestra never had such an opportunity."

Quite a connection and a fascinating bit of Ducal history. If I ever get round to writing my book Duke Ellington's Europe, the 1948 tour deserves a chapter of its own. There is a little more reference to the UK part of the tour in an earlier post here.

The video collection has found safe harbour and will be curated by Hamilton College in the USA.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

In Essence

Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington 2019 top-placing bands this year are...

1. Roosevelt High School
2. Center for the Arts
3. Foxboro High School

Congratulations to the young people involved and their teachers.

It's difficult to follow the competition from the UK - the 'live stream' is not available on this side of the herring pond.

Courtesy of the Internet's cathode ray tube, however, here is a recording from this year's competition...

Monday, 6 May 2019

26th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference: Call For Papers

26th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference 
March 11-15, 2020
Georgetown University – Washington, DC
The 26th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference will take place at Georgetown University in Washington, DC from 11 to 15 March 2020.
The theme for this year’s conference is Mapping Duke Ellington’s WorldThis theme is broadly conceived and can include presentations/performances on a range of topics, including: Ellington’s travels/tours, Ellington’s collaborators, Ellington collections/archives around the world, transcription as a form of musical mapping, musical landscapes in Ellington’s works, mapping the Ellington imagination, Ellington and film, Ellington iconography, and the reception history of Ellington’s works/performances.  Please note that adhering to this theme is not mandatory, and that in an effort to be as inclusive as possible, papers on all topics related to Ellington studies will be considered. 
This five-day multidisciplinary conference will bring together leading researchers and performers across the arts and humanities. The event will feature academic papers, panels, roundtables, and cultural walks/visits, as well as an exciting program of performances by local Washington DC performers. Paper presentations will last 20 minutes (with 10 minutes for questions). Performance presentations should adhere to a 30-minute or 50-minute length. Roundtable discussion sessions will last 40 minutes (with 20 minutes for questions).
Presentation proposals are now being accepted for the 26th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference Mapping Duke Ellington’s World.  
Please submit proposals (max. 300 words), and a short biography (max. 100 words) as a Word document or PDF file via email (subject line “Ellington Proposal”) to Prof. Anna Celenza, no later than 15 August 2019. 
Selected participants will be notified by 15 October 2019.