Sunday, 6 September 2009

A drum! A drum!

A member of the Duke-LYM mailing list recently posted a link to a splendid cache of photographs capturing the telecast of Duke Ellington’s A Drum is a Woman.

Kinescopes of the original broadcast survive, I believe. Short of viewing these recordings – well, these photographs, taken by Thomas Mcavoy for Life magazine, give some idea of the visuals that went with the music.

Until I saw these images, it had never quite struck me before how A Drum is a Woman must owe its lineage to those days and nights the Ellington Orchestra had been the ‘house band’ at The Cotton Club. What we have here, essentially, is a floor show - the floor, in this case, being that of a television studio.

Although one or two aspects of the lyrics may set the nerves of a modern sensibility jangling like a shop bell, the music – interwoven with Ellington’s witty, urbane narrative – is sublime.
The album has never been released on compact disc in the USA. Frustratingly two CDs worth of material (and in stereo, if memory serves) were prepared by Phil Schaap – and even assigned an issue number – ten years ago for release as part of the celebrations for Ellington’s centennial. For some reason, the release never saw the light of day. The album has been re-issued recently on CD in Europe where its copyright has lapsed but struck not, of course, from the master tapes. These beautiful prints may rekindle some interest in the project – as part of a Mosaic re-issue, perhaps?

The photographs may be viewed here.