Saturday, 17 April 2010

De Paris Hot Club

I spent a very pleasant hour yesterday afternoon listening to the last of the music I have which was recorded in Stratford, Ontario 1956 as part of the Shakespeare Festival.

The music of Wilbur De Paris, Live in Canada 1956 is suited perfectly to a sunlit afternoon in early April. It is light, joyous music in the tradition of New Orleans.

The urge to preserve the music of New Orleans seems to have set in early. A delicate bloom, its most ardent admirers seemed to fear it would be flattened by the Swing Era – hence the founding of the Hot Record Society.

I must admit this kind of music is largely off my radar partly perhaps because I fear it had all but disappeared by the time recorded music began. There are no records by Buddy Bolden. Its greatest outpouring is, I suppose, in those records of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Hot Sevens – and how they were used in evidence and held against him down the years; how quickly they said Louis had ‘sold out’. Evolved, rather, I would have said – the Promethean fire of his horn setting first the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra ablaze and then on to those great big band sides of the thirties…

That’s what jazz does: moves on. And part of my resistance to the kind of music purveyed by the De Paris group is that in some ways it represents a quite deliberate step backwards. Perhaps De Paris was the Wynton Marsalis of his day.

The waters are muddied further by the music’s adoption in the ration book Britain of the fifties where it became known as ‘Trad’. In my opinion, the music of New Orleans is like fine wine – it doesn’t travel well. Transplanted across the Atlantic and played by the likes of Humphrey Lyttleton and Kenny Ball, it makes no sense whatsoever. What is the music of Louisiana doing in Luton?

I do find the music presented in this set as much about preservation as improvisation (‘jam yesterday’ as it were) and this is accentuated by De Paris’s pedantic and rather learned introductions. Omer Simeon, who played with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, is presented as much as a living museum piece as a soloist. Within twelve months of this recording, though, Simeon had perished, dying at the age of fifty six from cancer of the throat – another link to that past Wilbur DeParis cherished so much vanished.

We do still have the records to treasure, though, and I do, pearls of great price, spilled for one afternoon at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival where The play’s the thing met Oh! Play that thing

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Duke Ellington's America

My copy of Dr Harvey G Cohen 's new book, Duke Ellington's America arrived in my hot little hand the day before yesterday.

The book has been anticipated eagerly by members of the Ellington community and fifty pages in, I can see why.

In these early chapters, Dr Cohen is able deftly to sketch  Ellington's formative years and at the same time place them within the political and cultural context of the African American experience. Ellington's belief in 'commanding' rather than 'demanding' respect makes so much sense of the 'political' stance he would take throughout the rest of his life. If the reader can expect this much economically expressed insight throughout the book, it will be a rare treat.

I shall post further thoughts on the volume as I make my way through it (the day job permitting!)

Such stuff...

For our celebrations of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of 1956, I thought I would post some images from the scrapbook Miss Barbara Reid kept during the years she was associated with the Ellington in her capacity as music promoter.

When the scrapbook was put up for sale last year, its contents were described thus:

“The scrapbook comes from the estate of a Miss Barbara Reid from Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The history on Miss Reid is that she was a trained pianist as a young woman who went on to work for the Stratford Shakesperean Festival. The only reference I could get to her exact job was one that referred to her as responsible for music promotion at the festival. She worked there during the 1950's. She had direct contact with Duke Ellington and his management. The time period of the scrapbook is roughly 1956 - 1963. The scrapbook is 11 1/4" wide by 16" tall (28.5 cm by 40.5cm). It has a brown cover and manilla coloured pages. The pages are numbered 1 - 81. Pages 13/14 and 61/62 are missing. The overall condition of the scrapbook is very good with only a couple minor page rips. The covers of the scrapbook have curled corners (minor). Some of the memorabilia is loose from the album and lots are glued, stapled into the album. Not every page has something on it - the odd numbers are full and some of the even numbers.

“The connection between Miss Reid and Duke Ellington was a professional one. The Stratford Festival commissioned Duke Ellington (and his co-writer Billy Strayhorn) to compose a new score for the Festival. They came up with 'Such Sweet Thunder'. This was a big hit for Duke Ellington and he even played in the late 50's in England for the Queen. This commission led to a long relationship between the Festival and Duke.

“THE STUFF - Start off with picture #1 - An original 3" by 5" postcard photo of Duke Ellington signed 'Best Wishes Duke Ellington'. I have no reason to believe that this is anything but original. With the personal relationship Miss Reid had with Duke Ellington, I would assume she got it from him. The scrapbook has been in storage for 15 years, so that eliminates any digital highjinks. If you are not happy with it - RETURN IT - NO PROBLEM. This picture is not glued into the album.

“The scrapbook is in chronological order. Page 3 is a glued down playbill of the Festival from July 20, 1956 (pictures #10 and #11) which featured Duke and his Orchestra. Page 5 is a glued in Time Magazine (Canada Edition) with Duke on the cover and an article in the magazine. Also on page 7 is a cover shot of Duke on Down Beat magazine from Dec 26, 1956.

Page #9 - This is a glued in - fold out. It is a Merry Christmas / Happy New Year message from Duke Ellington. I can only assume these were mailed out to people. This one measures 16" by 21". The message reads - ' Music is the tonal reflection of Beauty .. and yours is such a lovely melody'. There are in total five of these different Xmas / New Years messages. Picture # 9 shows one that is glued onto page 55 and reads 'Love you, love you, love you madly Bonne Noel et Joyeux Annee'. A picture of the Effiel Tower holds a sign that says 'Duke Ellington'. This was obviously sent while he was in Paris?? Two of these messages are not glued into the scrapbook. Some show tape marks and there is a small ripped corner on the Paris one. Page 11 contains Picture #8. It is a hand drawn cartoon that says ' But Miss Reid - those jazz persons are so uncouth!'. This cartoon is not signed.

“In 1957 - Sunday Evening - April 28 - at The Town Hall in New York City, Duke Ellington premiered his Stratford Festival hit 'Such Sweet Thunder'. Included in the scrapbook are the playbill for that night - glued onto page 21. Miss Reid was in New York City for that performance and was out on the town while there. On page 18, you can see a brochure for BIRDLAND with reference to Duke on the cover and inside pictures. Check out Picture #5 for this brochure. While in New York, Miss Reid went out to the Park Sheraton Hotel to see Duke perform after his debut at the Town Hall. Picture #2 shows her sitting at the piano with Duke. This is on page 37 and is stapled/glued down. Two other 8" by 10" black and white photos of Duke sitting at a table with Miss Reid and two others are loose in the scrapbook. The photos have a credit on the back to Bill Mark - Park Sheraton Hotel and reference numbers (to the negatives??). Pages 18 to 39 are full of newspaper articles and clippings referring to her time in New York and Duke.

“Page 41 has two black and white 8" by 10" photos stapled/glued in. They are of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and another man. You can see one of these in Picture #3. Picture #4 is on page 43 and is of Duke Ellington sitting while an artist/sculptor does a bust of Duke. I don't know what this was for.

“Page 51 has a letter from John Celley?? to Miss Reid detailing set-ups for Duke and his band and asking her to detail room arrangements for them. On page 48 are three of these hand drawn band set-ups. They can be seen in Picture #6 and #7.

“Pages 55 and 57 are newspaper slippings relating to Duke Ellingtons trip to England in late 1958 to see the Queen.

“There is a telegram to Miss Reid from Mary?? on page 59. The telegram was sent from Stratford to Hotel Anderson in Ishpeming, Michigan. It says ' Entire program thrown out please try to get Jimmy Stewart to play Lear and Duke for Puck in Mid Summer Nights Dream Hitchcock already signed to direct Love. It is dated May 12/59. The telegram is picture #12.

“Throughout the scrapbook are many glued in playbills like the one on page 63. It is from October 1959 - Berliner Festwochen (Festival??). The title is 'William Shakespeare Duke Ellington Such Sweet Thunder'. There are many other articles relating to Duke Ellington and his time in the 1950's and early 1960's. Page 81 is a press release from the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, dated Feb 4/63. It is about Duke agreeing to compose the score for 'Timon of Athens' one of four plays offered that summer during the Festival's 11th season.

“There are also two 8" by 10" black and white photos of Duke Ellington - the kind given out (press, ..). They are not glued in, but one has a sticker obscuring the bottom corner. There are three booklets from the 1987, 1989 and 1990 International Conferences of the Duke Ellington Study Group. 1987 - Inn on the Park - Toronto. 1989 - Mayflower Hotel - Washington DC and 1990 - Ottawa - Chateau Laurier.

“Wilbur de Paris is featured on page 77 and 78. There is a postcard written to Miss Reid from Wilbur when he was in Africa on tour. It is signed by him. There is also a 8" by 10" black and white stapled to page 78 of Wilbur and group at the airport in Addis Ababa - Ethiopia. They were on a special tour arranged by the President's Special International Program for Cultural Presentation. This was in May of 1957.”

For our final post on this Stratford season, I am waiting for a compact disc of the music played by Wilbur de Paris. More as soon as we have it…

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The pianist

Twelve months ago in celebration of Duke Ellington's birthday, I posted here a photograph of Duke Ellington taken, I presume, at a party in Stratford, Ontario.

The lady sitting on Ellington's right is Miss Barbara Reid. She was also a pianist and worked for the Stratford Shakepearean Festival in some capacity as a publicist. Clearly, she knew Ellington and liaised with his management prior to his several appearances at the Festival. About twelve months ago, a scrapbook of Miss Reid's cuttings came up for auction on Ebay.  Here are two photographs from the volume.

Bill Mark, Photo of (left to right) Mary Jolliffe, Michael Langham, Barbara Reid and Duke Ellington at the Sheraton Park Hotel in New York, April 1957. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A noble duke, in nature...

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival at which the Oscar Peterson Trio’s performance was recorded straddled quite a few weeks. A month or so before the trio’s appearance, the Duke Ellington caravan rolled into town. In many ways, Ellington’s appearance was even more auspicious, resulting as it did in inspiration for his Shakespearean suite Such Sweet Thunder.

Forgive my quoting so extensively from Jack Chambers’ article Bardland: Shakespeare in Ellington’s World but his essay is the definitive word on the subject. In the Canadian magazine Coda in 2005, Mr Chambers wrote:

"Ellington’s inspiration for transliterating Shakespeare into jazz came from a chance encounter, as unexpected in its way as was his fixation on God in his final years. In July 1956, Ellington was booked to play two concerts at the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It did not seem special at the time. From 1956 until 1958, while Louis Applebaum was musical director, the Stratford Festival booked summer jazz and classical concerts as adjuncts to the dramatic offerings. Besides Ellington in 1956, Wilbur de Paris, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and the Modern Jazz Quartet also played evening concerts, spaced out in July and August. In the time-honoured tradition, the jazz musicians played their one- or two-night stands and then hit the road for the next one a day or two away (although Peterson’s performance left a permanent memento in a Verve recording that captured the head-banging competitiveness of his original Trio as no other record had to date). Not Ellington. He played, and then he carried with him for the rest of his days what he had seen and heard all around him in the quiet anglo-celtic town of 20,000 in southwestern Ontario.

"Ellington was often sensitive to the places he played in spite of their profusion. He arrived in Stratford from a resort ballroom in Bala, about 150 miles to the north, played non-consecutive nights on Wednesday and Friday, the 18th and 20th, with concerts on the alternate Thursday and Saturday nights at the Brant Inn in Burlington, just 70 miles east. (The Wednesday performance is preserved Live at the 1957 [sic] Stratford Festival, Music & Arts CD-616 [1989].) Tom Patterson, the soft-spoken newspaperman whose persistence had persuaded the town council to risk a top-flight professional Shakespeare festival on the basis of the coincidence of the colonial namesake (not only Stratford itself, but the River Avon running through it), met Ellington and Harry Carney on their arrival, and was flattered when the Duke asked him to show him around. Ellington stayed in Stratford three days, commuting to the Brant Inn in the middle, and it is worth speculating that he might have altered his lifelong routine by hauling himself out of bed for mid-afternoon matinee performances of Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor on the Festival’s main stage.

"The Shakespeare Festival was (and is) a highbrow spectacle in the bourgeois heartland, and none of it was lost on Ellington. Stratford’s thrust stage, modeled on the Elizabethan Globe, was new not only to Stratford but to the theatre world at large. It added to the excitement of the whole heady venture. Shakespeare had seldom been treated so well. His plays were directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Langham, costumed resplendently by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, and acted by a brilliant young company that included Lloyd Bochner, Christopher Plummer and William Shatner. Ellington loved it, so much so that he began finagling to be part of it. He opened his Stratford concerts with a new piece he called Hark the Duke’s Trumpets. The Shakespearean resonance of the title is Ellingtonian licence; it is a fanfare played by trombones, not trumpets (later recorded as Bassment). More important, Ellington told everyone he met in Stratford and in the months that followed that he and Billy Strayhorn were preparing a jazz suite based on Shakespeare for a premiere at the Festival the next summer."

Ellington’s appearance at the Festival Concert Hall, Stratford, Ontario took place, then, less than a fortnight after his barnstorming appearance at Newport.

It may be my imagination, but do I detect a new found confidence in Ellington’s work – and indeed in the entire band’s performance during the set – as a result of their being ‘born again’ just a couple of weeks earlier? Certainly, the stars are all in place that might augur such success. In particular, Billy Strayhorn had returned to his role as Ellington’s constant composing companion and Johnny Hodges, too, had returned to the fold. In his comments during the course of the concert, as a preface to Hodges’ solo on I Got It Bad… the altoist had just returned from his own "exciting adventures leading a band" or words to that effect…

Paul Gonsalves delivers here another tour-de-force along the lines of the Wailing Interval that set Newport alight on an extended version of the band’s theme. It does not have quite the incendiary effect it did at the earlier festival, however. In fact, these rollicking extended solos of Gonsalves had been brewing quite a while, since such an excursion was featured on the original studio recording of the concerto version of A Train some four or five years previously. The boppish Betty Roche vocal is aped, too, by Ray Nance – one of his several party pieces. But the concert proves to be the usual embarrassment of Ellingtonian riches as the band members each exercise their ‘solo responsibilities’. Clark Terry – who blew through the band like a zephyr in the fifties, delivers a modish extemporization on a pianissimo version of Harlem Air Shaft; Harry Carney delineates the contours of Sophisticated Lady; Cat Anderson serves up one of those searing Flamenco-tinged specialities in La Virgen De La Macarena; Jimmy Hamilton’s own composition Clarinet Melodrama (which Duke likens to a western) is delicious as are the obligatti he serves up behind Duke’s recitation of Pretty and the Wolf which he never delivered with more √©lan.

The Japanese pressing of this compact disc (to my ears, a slightly smoother ride than its US counterpart) is very difficult to come by. The re-issue is quite rare, too, but used copies can be had here.

In celebration this month of both Ellington’s and The Swan of Avon’s birthdays, I will post selections soon from a special scrapbook pertaining to Ellington’s Stratford appearances.

In the meantime, the full text of Jack Chambers' article can be read in the bulletin of the Duke Ellington Music Society  here.

A couple of fascinating links for further reading on the Ellington Shakespeare connection which I haven’t yet had time to investigate fully myself may be found here and here.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Such sweet sorrow

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is – to mis-quote Whitney Balliett – the sound of civilisation.

I was prompted to take the CD down from the shelf by the news of the recent passing of Herb Ellis. The album is often cited as the finest example of this edition of the Peterson trio on record – chiefly by Peterson himself on the liner notes to the original album.

Somewhere between a thundering tour-de-force and a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, the album is seventy-five minutes of sonic bliss. Back on home ground in his native Canada, perhaps this is what inspires Peterson to the heights the group here scales. His characteristically fractal solos are caught in a shimmering web of interplay with Ellis’s guitar and the bass of Ray Brown. As Peterson himself has said “at times, depending on where we were on the instruments, it was almost impossible to tell which instrument you were hearing.”

This is my own favourite edition of the trio, perhaps because, at times, its sound reminds me of Nat Cole’s own early jazz work with guitar and bass. Herb Ellis works the full textures of the guitar into the warp and woof of the trio’s performance: the ticking, time-keeping reminiscent of Freddie Green’s metronome tempi; those sudden cat-like springs which send notes from Peterson’s piano scattering like pigeons; and then the pure, melodic lines. I was reminded at times of Paul Desmond’s work – his solos fluttering like a bird behind the mullioned windows of Brubeck’s piano at the Oberlin concert (the first jazz album I ever bought). Perhaps that is the contrast of the melody against the fugitive stride of the piano – instant Bach; Baroque and roll, if you will…

It is entirely appropriate that the concert culminates in a piece by John Lewis dedicated to Oscar’s sister. Daisy’s Dream is an Ellingtonesque piece about a music box. The woody sound of the trio – at times like fingers running down a louvred shutter – is the ultimate music box.

The trio’s inventive use of roundelay throughout the set, the trio as, virtually, a sort of Elizabethan string section - the stuff that dreams are made on…

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is available here.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Just a -sittin' and a-rockin'

Last night I finished reading Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster by Frank Buchman-Moller.

It was a life-enhancing experience. I cannot recommend the book highly enough. What I learned there fired the imagination and will be the sauce to quite a few posts over the next couple of months. Not least, I finished the book with a long list of albums to track down and squirrel away.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Webster's career - which concluded, as everyone knows, with a lengthy sojourn on the continent of Europe - was his collaboration in 1972 with the Danish rock band Savage Rose.

Courtesy of Youtube, here is one of Ben's performances with the band. Frank Buchman-Moller's superb treatise on the tenor man's life and work can be found here.