Essentially Ellington 2023

The 28th edition of the Essentially Ellington Competition for High School Jazz Band took place May 11-13 at Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City. A jury had selected 15 bands out of the 100 which had entered the competion.

Most of the events during the three days were streamed giving Duke Ellington and big band fans a unique opportunity to learn and enjoy another young generations approach to this music and be impressed by their skills and talents.

The website will only provide a couple of snapshot from the event but more can easily be found on YouTube and other social media and local websites.

Here is what we have chosen from what we recorded in the attic of the house.


DESS Bulletin 2023-2

The new issue of the DESS Bulletin is on its way to the subscribers=DESS members or has just reached them.

The cover artist is this time Sam Woodyard, Ellington’s First Chair Percussionist as Bo Haufman calls him.

As usual, Bo has done an incredible job and written most of the major articles. The international Ellington community and not only DESS members should be grateful to him for this.

In a four-page , Haufman provides a detailed portrait of Woodyard – his background, his career with Ellington, the years thereafter and views on him as a drummer and person. At the end of the article, Bo reminds us of the ten-page interview of Woodyard in Stanley Dance’s The World of Duke Ellington.

The second article by Bo is about Herb Jeffries and his career as a film actor before and after his time as vocalist with Ellington from January 1940 to mid 1942. The focus of the article is of of course Jeffries film career in the 1930’s. While touring with Earl Hines in the early 1930’s, Jeffries learned that the cinema audience liked cowboy westerns and decided to make that kind of movies for an Afro-American public.

His first movie was called Harlem on the Prairie (1937) and was apparently quite successful financially. It was followed Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938) and The Bronze Buckaroo (1939). In both films, Jeffries sings with The Four Tones.  They also do it in Jeffries last film Harlem Rides the Range before he joined Ellington.


Jantzen Beach Ballroom, Nov. 13, 1954, part 4

Long Time Ago In Portland!

Duke Ellington, Scurlock Photographic Collection, National Museum of American History

Our Piano Player

plays a medley of a couple of his most popular songs –  Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me and Prelude To Kiss -and Jimmy Grissom gives a vocal version of Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.

After the Medley (where Duke steals most of the show and which is regrettably subject to a bit of distortion), Honeysuckle Rose is played with the  usual piano introduction by Duke, before the field is opened for Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet.

Next comes Isle Of Capri in an arrangement of Gerald Wilson, who has given it a Latin touch. Harry Carney and Quentin Jackson  are featured soloists. It is followed by Give Me The Right sung by Jimmy Grissom, who also is  heard on  Love You Madly, in which Rick Henderson is the soloist on alto sax.

Part 4 of this dance date ends with some well known  Ellington creations, namely Creole Love Call, Monologue and Mood Indigo (nc).

In the Goodies Room, you’ll find this last part of the dance date from the Jantzen Beach Ballroom.


Jantzen Beach Ballroom, Nov. 13, 1954, part 3

Big Dipper in Jantzen Beach Amusement Park

Rick Henderson plays All The Things You Are

Welcome back to the Jantzen Beach dance date on Nov. 13, 1954!

This part of the dance date starts with an Ellington original named Chili Bowl a song that remained in the band book for a year or so, to fade away into obscurity and never recorded again after 1954. Ellington is active at the piano and Ray Nance plays a solo on trumpet. The next number,Mood Indigo, is one of the most frequently played Ellington tunes. At this time the trio introducing it consisted of Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson and Harry Carney, followed by Russell Procope and Willia Cook, before the trio comes back with the main theme. Just Squeeze (more…)

Jantzen Beach Ballroom, Nov. 13, 1954, part 2

Advert for Jantzen Beach Amusement Park

It’s time for the second visit to the Jantzen Beach Ball Room in Portland, Oregon. First a tidbit as to what you can find in the Goodies Room.

Harry Carney

Harry Carney in Serious Serenade

In addition to this song, DESS members will be able to hear and download the following numbers in the Goodies Room.

*Smada*In The Mood*If I Give My Heart To You*Sophisticated Lady*Serious Serenade*Perdiso*Caravan*

This session starts with a Strayhorn composition named Smada with Jimmy Hamilton soloing on calarinet. The next item that we present is a tune attributed to Joe Garland, called In The Mood. Everybody of course knows that this was a number made popular by Glenn Miller’s orchestra in 1939 and Ellington made a studio recording of it in 1954. After Duke’s piano introduction, we hear Peck Morrison in a couple of breaks and Clark Terry, Russel Procope,Jimmy Hamilton and Ray Nance  soloing. In If I GiveMy Heart To You, a popular song at the time, Ellington and Harry Carney share the solos, and in Sophisticated Lady we hear Harry Carney’s impressive bass clarinet playing. (more…)

Jantzen Beach Ballroom, Nov. 13, 1954

The period 1951-1955 is an interesting Ellington period. As was discussed in the first article in the Premiered by Ellington  series last month, it was a transitional period for Ellington and the orchestra both in terms of band members and repertoire but also as regards jobs particularly in New York with the fierce competition with new styles of jazz.

During these years, Ellington was on the road almost constantly and he played a lot at clubs and venues on the West Coast and in the mid-West. In the invaluable, The Duke Where and When (tdwaw.ca), David Palmquist has put together a special section called Ellington’s Marathon 1951-1952 (http://tdwaw.ellingtonweb.ca/1951-1952Marathon.html), which illustrates this.

The touring continued in more or less the same way in 1953-1954 with a lot of dance dates and concerts for Ellington in the West and Northwest of the country.

Much from the tours has been issued on LPs and CDs but there is a lot of unissued material from appearances in Chicago to the North Western states,, which the website will try to make available to DESS members in the coming months.

We start with a complete recording of Ellington’s dance date at Jantzen Beach Ballroom on Nov. 13, 1954. Due to its length it will be published in four parts.

The Jantzen Beach Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon, was during the years 1928-1970 one of the biggest of its kind and was sometimes called “the Coney Island in the West”. It had everything that could be expected in an amusement park. It also had restaurants and a well-known venue for dancing named Jantzen Beach Ballroom.

Jantzen Beach Ballroom in the 40’s

In 1954-1955, Duke Ellington and his orchestra performed there at least three times. NDESOR and TDWAW gives the dates as May 1 1954, Nov. 13, 1954 and Nov. 6 1955.

At the time of the dance on Nov. 13, 1954, Peck Morrison had replaced Wendell Marshall on bass and Frank Butler replaced Dave Black on drums and that Rick Henderson played alto sax. Frank Butler was not very well known, but he had played with Dave Brubeck, Edgar Hayes and Perez Prado. Peck Morrison was an experienced bass player who had worked with Lucky Thompson, Gerry Mulligan Art Framer and Jay & Kai. Rick Henderson was of the Charlie Parker school and he played with the orchestra for a couple of years, replacing Hilton Jefferson.

Here is a tidbit from the dance. It is Smile, composed by Charlie Chaplin

The program starts with Dick Vance’s fine arrangement of Stompin’ At The Savoy with the following soloists: Jimmy Hamilton, Clark Terry, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Frank Butler (a few bars) and Rick Henderson. The next number is a joint venture by Ellington and Strayhorn (John LaTouche wrote lyrics  which are not used here) called Maybe I Should Change My Ways, written for the ill-fated Beggar’s Opera and we hear Britt Woodman and Ray Nance soloing. From the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times comes Smile, which did not stay in the band book for long despite  Gonsalves, Nance and Carney doing their best. Cocktails For Two is a tune that Ellington had recorded already in 1934 and in this 1954 version Ellington, Nance and Hamilton are heard. Time On My Hands and Summertime follow and they are solo vehicles for Jimmy Hamilton and Cat Anderson, respectively, before we finally hear two versions of Take The A Train, with Ray Nance and Paul Gonsalves in the main roles.

Here we take a break, but will be back with more from Jantzen Beach Ballroom next week.

This first part of the dance is available for DESS members in the Goodies Room.

We hope you’ll enjoy the music!






Bullen and Blue Light

It is rare that new issues of the DESS Bulletin and DESUK’s Blue Light are published just a few days apart but at the end of January and early February it happened. Thanks to that, subscribers to the two journals have gotten a substantial set of articles with good Ellington reading in one go. Amazing! The Duke is certainly alive! Thank you Bo Haufman and Gareth Evans!

DESS Bulletin 2023-1

The cover story of the new DESS Bulletin is about Ozzie Bailey.

It is the result of creative biographical research by the DESS member and author of the article Sven-Erik Baun Christensen. In his seven page article, he gives the family history of the “elusive” singer and his career.

Bailey was of West Indian origin (Trinidad) and his father arrived in Nerw York in June 1917. Bailey was born there on 6 November 1925 and spent his whole life in New York. He was drafted into military service in March 1944 and discharged in October 1947. “It seems  that Bailey had an interest in and ability to sing as a young man”, says Baun Christensen. Luther Henderson took him under his wings quite early on and in 1956 Henderson used him for recording an LP for MGM which was issued in 1957.

Bailey was also a good friend of Billy Strayhorn and this might have contributed to that Ellington recruited him for A Drum Is A Woman. In the show, he is CarribeeJoe and sings What Else Can You Do With A Drum, You Better Know It and Pomegranate.

In the spring of 1957, Bailey started to sing with the Ellington band on tour and for a while in parallel with Jimmie Grissom. The best known Bailey recording during his time with Ellingtonton is most likely Autumn Leaves which was included in the Ellington Indigos album. He also recorded Hand Me Down Love, Duke’s Place and a couple of others.

Bailey left Ellington in February 1960 and more or less got out of the limelight. However, in July 1965 he recorded with Billy Strayhorn and in February 1969 with the Ellington band.

The last public appearance of Bailey seems to have been a tribute concert to Duke Ellington on 26 April 1974. Ozzie passed away a little bit more than a year thereafter.

Bo Haufman contributes an article about George Wein and what he has to say about Duke Ellington in his autobiography. He also give a portrait of the talented pianist Brooks Kerr, who was a living encyclopedia of Ellington’s compositions and solos and a close friend of his. A third article from Bo Haufman’s pen is about the banjo player Russell Conoway, who was the one who brought Sonny Greer to Washington D.C.. In 1920, he played in a trio with Ellington and Sonny Greer at a club called Louis Thomas’s Dreamland Café in D.C.. He is mentioned by Ellington in Music Is My Mistres. The three articles are in Swedish.

Another article in Swedish is by the distinguished discographer Björn Englund. He tells about Victor’s policy instituted in 1931 for marking recordings and gives examples from the recording sessions ) 9 and 10 January 1934. A longer version of this article was published in Vintage Jazz Mart issue 171.

In the new Bulletin, there is also a reprint of the article on the DESS website about when Sidney Bechet played with Duke Ellington.

Blue Light 29-3

The Blue Light editor Gareth Evans himself has contributed one of the major articles in the new issues. It is about Duke Ellington and Bob Dylan – In Duplicate: Duke and Dylan. Once again Evans uses his knowledge about Duke Ellington and of 1960’s pop music scene to open up new perspectives. The article is really , as Evans says “a list of similarities (or rather points of comparison) between two musical giants”. Read it and agree or disagree. The second part of the article will appear in the next issue of Blue Light.

Another major article is another installment in Roger Boyes‘ long series about Duke Ellington in the 1940’s. This time it is about Ellington’s activities in the summer and autumn of 1944. It takes the reader from Ellington’s departure from Toronto in late June to his return to Carnegie Hall in December 1944.

Among the topics in the article are Cat Anderson‘s arrival in the Ellington band in September 1944, Ellington’s return to the Victor studios as soon as the recording ban was over and the 19 December Carnegie Hall Concert.

Three articles from Fred Glueckstein‘s pen is also included in the new BL issue. One is a three page article about Ellington’s meetings with Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 and 1973, another is part three of his article about Queenie Pie and the third about the ballett Pas de Duke  choreographed by the founder of American Dance Theatre Alvin Ailey to music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in 1976.

Another set of three articles is about the Ellington legacy and how to keep it alive. Frank Griffith writes about recent and not so recent recordings of Ellington music by English bands available on CD in his article Now!

It is followed up with an article by Adam Brazell, who discuss “Will Ellington’s lasting legacy rest primarily on the recordings of his famous bands, or the reinterpretation of his composition by future performers. The third article is a reprint of Gunther Schuller’s The Case for Ellington’s Music as Living Repertory.



Premiered by Ellington part 4

Premiered by Ellington part 4

This is the last article in the series about Premiered by Ellington. The little known album recorded in April 1953 for Capitol Records. The recordings from this period is not appreciated very much. Ellington was challenged in terms of popularity and finances, and it is therefore assumed that the music was nothing special either.

Ellington always had an open ear for new trends in music. The idea about revisiting film and show tunes from the 20s and 30s was one of them, and this is exactly what we get here. And if you listen to live recordings from the period, there are many more of these standard tunes, as we call them today. Another thing was the mambo craze, and of cause he had to try that too.

In all periods of his career he recorded pop music. Some more than others, but he always made art music as well. They go hand in hand, and it’s not possible to draw a straight line between the two.

And now to the three last songs…

 #6: Stardust is composed by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. It was first performed at the Cotton Club in 1927 by Ellington, but curiously enough not recorded at the time. It doesn’t show up in Duke’s discography until 1940 in two concert performances. In 1950 a studio recording by The Ellingtonians with Al Hibbler was made, however, Ellington left the piano to Billy Strayhorn on this particular recording. The 1953 version is the only studio recording by the Ellington band, and I’m pretty sure Strayhorn played piano on this one too.

The first version of Stardust recorded at Hotel Sherman in Chicago in 1940 (released on CD by DESS) features Herb Jeffries on vocal and solos by Barney Bigard on clarinet and Johnny Hodges on alto sax. The recording is unfortunately incomplete, but the almost 3 minutes we get is worth listening to. After Jeffries vocal, there is an orchestral interlude and when Bigard plays the verse. The use of the whole tone scale, in a similar way to Don Redman’s Chant of the Weed, at the beginning and in the transition between Bigard and Hodges solo, is interesting. Also worth noting is Ellington’s Gershwin-esque piano intro.

Stardust Hotel Sherman 1940

The second recording, done just a month or two later at The Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, is totally different. This version, unfortunately also incomplete, features Ben Webster and the rhythm section with a simple accompaniment from the orchestra. Not very interesting from an arrangement point of view, but Webster manages very well without a lot of background scoring!

The third version, recorded at Carnegie Hall in December 1943, features Shorty Baker on trumpet as the only soloist. The first chorus is with the rhythm section only. From the second chorus on, the band plays an accompaniment to Baker’s solo scored by his wife Mary Lou Williams. Much of it consist of a repeated figure, but there are some chromatic passages added for variation. From an arrangement point of view this version certainly is more interesting than Fargo, although it get’s a little stiff at times. But from a solo perspective, it’s just the opposite. Here it is Webster who throws himself into an over 4 minute long improvisation where he only hints at the melody. Baker, on the other hand, stays close to the melody most of the time.

The 1953 version, the actual subject of this article, is once again a completely new arrangement. This time the soloist is trumpeter Clark Terry. The 12 bar intro, arranged by Ellington, is based on the A section and played by the saxes in parallel harmonies. The first 8 bars sounds exactly like the first A of the song, but when we get to bar 9 (0:25), we discover that it was actually the intro we listened to. Then Clark Terry enters and plays the whole 32 bar ABAC song, accompanied by beautiful sustained chords from the orchestra. This part of the arrangement is written by Billy Strayhorn. Notice how he switches from chords to unison just at the right moments. And thats all, 12 bars of intro and 1 chorus of the song.

In 1957 the same arrangement was captured live on tape, and later released on the album All Star Road Band. On this occasion, the solo responsibility was left to Shorty Baker instead of Clark Terry who was still in the trumpet section. The arrangement was also expanded with an extra chorus. Baker plays beautifully, and I must admit that I prefer his interpretation to Terry’s. Notice his quote from the verse at the end. This once again shows that an Ellington arrangement was never set in stone, and that he constantly worked on improving his music.

 #7: Stormy Weather is composed Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, and was premiered by Ellington at The Cotton Club in 1933 with Ethel Waters on vocal. The same year the band recorded an instrumental version. The song also appeared in the film Bundle of Blues with Ivie Anderson on vocal, and in 1940 she recorded it on disc. Here i will focus on the 1933 instrumental version and compare it to 1953.

Like most of the songs on the album, Stormy Weather is also in AABA form, but with a slight difference. The 2nd and 3rd A is expanded to 10 bars, instead of the usual 8.

Stormy Weather 1933, 1st chorus

Intro(6 bars) (0:00) A1(8) (0:15) A2(10) (0:38) B(8) (1:06) A3(10) (1:28)

Solo piano


Solo: Whetsel

Accompaniment: Saxes

Solo: Williams

Acc: Saxes

Solo: Brown

Acc: Saxes

Solo: Brown

Acc: Saxes

The 1933 version starts with a short fanfare based on the first phrase of the tune, and then trumpeter Arthur Whetsel enters, playing the melody with solo tone mute. On A2  trumpeter Cootie Williams is playing the melody with plunger mute, and then trombonist Lawrence Brown takes over on B and A3. The second chorus, Ellington skips the first two A’s and jumps straight to B.

Stormy Weather 1933, 2nd chorus

B(8) (1:56) A(13) (2:19)
Solo: Carney

Acc: Brass

Solo: Bigard

Acc: Brass and saxes.

Harry Carney is the baritone sax soloist on B, and on the last A Barney Bigard takes over on clarinet. At the end, the last phrase repeats while the tempo gradually slows down. Sonny Greer’s vibraphone ends the track.

On the first chorus, the soloists are accompanied by the saxophone group throughout, and on the second (half) chorus the accompaniment is by the brass, except for the ending where the saxophones returns. A bit monotonous you could say, but by doing so, Ellington puts the focus on the soloists. What makes the record interesting to listen to, are the soloists and the different variations and colours they add to the song. The contrast between Whetsel’s sweet tone playing and Williams growl trumpet for example, or Carney’s playing on the top of his horn followed by Bigard in the lowest register of the clarinet is huge. I also find it interesting that Ellington chose to have Brown play two sections of the song instead of one like the other soloists. By doing so he avoids monotony just at the right moment. Another more subtle variation is that bassist Wellman Braud switches to 4 beat on the B sections.

Stormy Weather 1953, 1st chorus

Intro(2bars)  (0:00) A1(8) (0:06) A2(10) (0:29) B(8) (0:59) A3(8) (1:24)
Rhythm section Solo: Carney

Sustained chords

Solo: Cook (cup)

+unison saxes

Solo: Nance (plunger)

Repeated fig.

Solo: Carney


The 1953 version, arranged by Billy Strayhorn, takes a similar approach. After the intro, Harry Carney plays the melody on baritone sax. A2 is Willie Cook on cup muted trumpet, and trumpeter Ray Nance plays B with the plunger. Then Carney returns for A3.

Comparing this to the 1933 version, we see that the approach is similar in many ways. The idea of having multiple soloists presenting the tune is the same. Carney is still at the top of his horn, but this time playing the A section. Cook has taken over Arthur Whelsel’s sweet tone role, and Nance is now doing the plunger work, but on the B section instead.

The accompaniment, on the other hand, is quite different. The harmonies are more advanced, and the instrumentation is more varied. It starts with some mysterious sounding chords that grab your attention right away. B is saxes with clarinet lead doing a repeated rhythmic figure behind Nance, and then the trombones takes over on A3. It is also worth noting the transitions from A1 to A2 played by the saxes, and from A2 to B played by Ellington.

Stormy Weather 1953, 2nd chorus

C(12 bars) (1:49) A(12) (2:27)
Solo: Anderson


Solo: Anderson


 But what follows now really makes the arrangement stand out from the 1933 version. Here Strayhorn breaks away from the AABA form by introducing a new 12 bar section. It has Cat Anderson playing first in the normal range of the trumpet, and then, on the A section that follows, playing in the extreme high register that he mastered so well. This new section is actually taken from Ethel Waters 1933 recording of the song and appears to be unique for her (to my knowledge at least). Anderson does a great job with the solo, and the accompaniment fits like a glove. The A section that follows is the climax. After that they bring it down, and it all ends with a mysterious Ellington piano solo.


#8: Cocktails for Two is written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow and debuted in the film Murder at the Vanities in 1934. Ellington appeared in several films around that time, including the previous mentioned Belle of the Nineties. Coslow was a songwriter at Paramount Pictures, and it was due to him that the Ellington band appeared in Murder at the Vanities. While in Los Angeles they also found time to make commercial recordings of many of the hit songs from the movies, including Cocktails for Two. Here I will focus on that recording and compare it to the 1953 version.

This is yet another AABA song, and Ellington’s 1934 treatment is similar in many ways to the other 30s recordings mentioned in these articles. The song is played 3 times with a 4 bar piano intro, and the melody is present all the time, and played by many different soloists. When studied a little closer, there are of cause some interesting details worth pointing out.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:08) A2 (0:23) B (0:38) A3 (0:54)
Solo piano Solo: Carney

Accompaniment: Muted tpt’s and open trombones

Solo: Whetsel (cup)

Acc: Trombones

Saxes and Whetsel Carney and saxes

As can be seen from above, the melody is distributed between Harry Carney on baritone sax, Arthur Whetsel on cup muted trumpet and the saxophone section. The accompaniment, on the other hand, is more varied than usual. On A1 Carney is answered by the muted trumpets, but after 4 bars the trombones takes over. On B the melody switches back and forth between the sax section and Whetsel, and on A3 Carney is back with the tune for 4 bars, and then the sax section takes over.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 2nd chorus

A1 (1:09) A2 (1:25) B (1:41) A3 (1:57)
Solo: Brown

Acc: Saxes

Brown and saxes Brass Brown and saxes

On the second chorus, trombonist Lawrence Brown is introduced as a new soloist. On A1 he is accompanied by the saxes, and A2 is a dialogue between the two. Then the brass takes over on B, and on A3 we are back to the saxes and Brown’s solo trombone.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 3rd chorus

A1 (2:13) A2 (2:29) B (2:45) A3 (7 bars) (3:01) Ending (3:15)
Solo: Bigard

Acc: Brass

Sim. Solo: Hodges

Sustained brass chords

Solo: Brown

Tutti acc.


On the third chorus, clarinettist Barney Bigard is the new soloist. He plays the first two A’s accompanied by the brass section playing a repeated staccato figure. Johnny Hodges, alto sax, picks up the melody on B, but now accompanied by sustained chords. Brown is back on A3 accompanied by the full band.

On the 1953 version the harmonies are much more advanced, and the soloists depart much further from the melody. The tempo is also slower and the bass has switched from two to four. But the idea of having many soloists adding their personal touch to the song is the same. Walter van de Leur doesn’t list this arrangement in his book, but I don’t think there is much doubt that this is a Billy Strayhorn arrangement.

Cocktails for Two 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:11) A2 (0:32) B (0:54) A3 (1:16)
Rhythm section Solo: Tizol

Acc: Tutti

Sim. Solo: Nance

Acc: Saxes

Solo: Nance

Acc: Tutti

 Juan Tizol is the main soloist on his C valve trombone, pitched one tone higher than a standard trombone. He plays the melody in legit style, and is answered by some curious double time figures played by the rest of the horns. The juxtaposition between the sentimental melody and the mysterious harmonies is very unusual, but also very enjoyable. On B, trumpeter Ray Nance is the soloist accompanied by sustained saxophones chords. This accompaniment gives him plenty of freedom to play with the song, which he takes good advantage of. On A3 the accompaniment becomes more active again.

Cocktails for Two 1953, 2nd chorus

A2 (1:38) B (2:00) A3(6 bars) (2:22) Ending (2:39)
Solo: Hamilton

Acc: Saxes and trombones

Solo: Gonsalves

Acc: Bass and drums

Solos: Gonsalves, Tizol

Acc: Saxes and trombones?

Rhythm section

 It is common practice to skip the first two A’s on the last chorus, especially on ballads. We heard that in My Old Flame and Stormy Weather. But on Cocktails For Two, Strayhorn/Ellington only skips A1, witch is very unusual. We have two new soloists here, Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax. On B he is backed only by bass and drums as a contrast to all intricate harmonies. Gonsalves plays B and the first 4 bars of A3, and then Tizol gently enters with the melody again, and the record ends with Ellington’s piano like it all started.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

 Film versions:

My old flame, Belle of the Nineties (1934): https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xull29

Three little words, Check and Double Check (1930): https://youtu.be/nZJB_jdAW7o?t=115

Three little words, The lady refuses (1931): https://youtu.be/bk0qKWEn88M?t=829

Flamingo, Soundies (1941): https://youtu.be/9ZJYAO3ouDg

Story Weather, Bundle of Blues (1933): https://youtu.be/XgPIdTMHN0o?t=99

Cocktails for Two, Murder at the Vanities (1934): https://youtu.be/PGE0VTWkwIM


YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgxyvAJ7ufD9QWR9pn0Tc-67mH6uEdDq2

Deezer: https://deezer.page.link/APEb37oFhzoGQeav5


Uncredited liner notes from Premiered By Ellington (Capitol H440)

Liner notes by Stanley Dance from The Complete Capitol Recordings (Mosaic CD box)


Ted Gioia: Did Duke Ellington and George Gershwin Have a Secret Rivalry?


Walter van de Leur: Something To Live For (Oxford University Press)

John Edward Hasse: Beyound Category (Omnibus Press)

Fred Glueckstein: Murder at the Vanities (DESS Bulletin nr 3, September 2016)

Fred Glueckstein: Belle of the Nineties (DESS Bulletin nr 3, September 2017)

Thanks to Sven-Erik Baun Christensen for helping identifying the soloists.

Premiered by Ellington part 3

Premiered by Ellington part 3

 In the third article in the series about the album Premiered by Ellington, we will take a closer look at three more songs.

 #3: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love is composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was first played by Ellington from a simple lead sheet in 1928, and later that year it appeared in the Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928. Ellington recorded the song several times from 1928 and on, and it stayed in the repertoire till the end of his career. Here I will focus on the second recording from November 10 1928, The Blackbird Medley from 1933, and of cause the 1953 version.

The song is written in 32 bar ABAC form. The 1928 version has 4 choruses and a 4 bar intro. It all starts with an introduction very similar to Black Beauty, recorded 7 months earlier. On the first chorus, trumpeter Arthur Whetsel is featured along with the sax section. Both plays fine variations on the song. On the 2nd chorus, Irving Mills vocal is in the spotlight, with Freddie Jenkins doing an improvised obbligato on muted trumpet. The 3rd chorus is split between Tricky Sam Nanton playing the melody and Baby Cox’s scat singing. The last chorus features Johnny Hodges with Barney Bigard ad libbing on top, and a simple repeated accompaniment from the rest of the horns. With the exception of a slightly shaky ending, this is a good and swinging version of the song.

Blackbird Medley from 1933 takes up two sides of a 10″ record, and contains 6 songs total. The first song is I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. Only one chorus is played here plus a half at the end of the medley. The tempo is much slower than the 1928 version, and the harmonies are more advanced. The trumpet soloist, Arthur Whetsel, plays the melody accompanied by sustained chords. The idea of chords in 3 breat groupings that were used on the 1930 version of My Old Flame is also used here. On the B section the trombones takes over the melody, and after that Whetsel is back.

Now we take a look at the 1953 version. It consist of two choruses and a 4 bar intro, and features Russel Procope on clarinet, Ray Nance on trumpet and Quentin Jackson on trombone. These guys was often Ellington’s choice when an imitation of the traditional dixieland line up was needed.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:10) B (0:31) A2 (0:53) C (1:14)
Clarinet, Piano, Bass Solo: Procope (clarinet.)

Sustained chords

Melody: Trombone’s

Obbligato: Procope

Melody: Procope and Carney (clarinet + bass cl.)

Sustained chords


Solo: Hamilton (last two bars)

The cheerful interpretation from 1928 has now completely disappeared in favor of a more melancholic and pensive style, typical of the Capitol period, and the tempo is even slower than the 1933 version. Procope’s clarinet is in the spotlight right from the start. Notice the intro with only clarinet, piano and bass. On A1 he plays the melody accompanied by mysterious sounding chords played by the trumpet section. On B the trombones takes over, very similar to the 1933 version. The way the chords moves around chromatically makes it sounds like they are about to leave tonality. After that Procope and Harry Carney (bass clarinet) plays the melody in octaves in legit style, rhythmically very identical to Whetsel in 1933.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 1953, 2nd chorus

A1 (1:36) B (1:58) A2 (2:20) C (2:41)
Solo: Jackson (plunger)

Acc: Clarinets and tenor

Sim. Solo: Nance

Acc: Clarinets and tenor

Dixieland ending

Trombones plays the melody. Procope & Jackson ad lib.

 The 2nd chorus consist of two solo’s and a dixieland ending. Jackson get’s the longest solo (16 bars.) The first 4 measures he plays the melody completely straight, and then he begins to vary it both rhythmically and melodically. He uses the plunger to good effect. Nance only gets 8 bars and his solo is completely improvised. They are both accompanied, very interestingly, by a trio consisting of clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor sax. The trio plays 3-part harmony in open position with Hamilton on top, Paul Gonsalves in the middle and Carney on the bottom. It is quite impressive how well Gonsalves manages to blend with the clarinets. On C the remaining two trombone’s plays the melody in the background in legit style, with Procope and Jackson (open horn this time) ad-libbing in typical dixieland style.

#4: Liza is composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn. Ellington and the band appeared on stage in Florenz Ziegfeld’s musical Show Girl in 1929, and Liza was the shows biggest hit. Despite that, the song doesn’t appear in Ellington’s discography until 1939 in a live recording as part of a medley. The 1953 recording is the only studio version. A few live recordings from 1953-54 has also survived, but after that it wasn’t captured on tape again.

Most of the songs on Premiered by Ellington were recorded immediately after their release in film, musicals or the like, so why didn’t they record Liza? In a 1935 interview, Ellington showed dislike for Gershwin new jazz opera Porgy and Bess, and this has led to the conclusion that he didn’t like Gershwins music in general. If that is true, it is certainly not audible in the 1953-54 recordings that i have heard. At least half of the 8 tunes on Premiered by Ellington was arranged by Strayhorn, but my guess is that Liza was arranged by Ellington.

Liza 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:11) A2 (0:22) B (0:33) A3 (0:44)
Piano & bass duet Inst. 1(4 bars)

Inst. 2(4 bars)

Inst. 1(4)

Solo: Terry (4)

Solo: Gonsalves

+ background

Inst. 1(4)

Solo: Terry (4)

Liza is also in 32 bar AABA form. After the 8 bar dialog between Ellington and bassist Wendell Marshall, the tune is stated by two different types of instrument combinations. I have named them Inst.1 and 2. Inst.1 is, from what I can hear, the saxes with Ray Nance’s plunger trumpet on top. Inst. 2 is a 4 part tutti ensemble. Both Ellington and Strayhorn wrote 4 part harmony on one staff, and then the copyist distributed the notes to the individual instruments according to a specific formula. A technique that was used a lot.

The 2nd chorus is a trombone solo by Britt Woodman accompanied by the rhythm section with occasional backgrounds by the three lowest saxes. The 3rd chorus is Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax playing a bebop line in octaves. It’s one of the highlights in the arrangement, so much that they actually played it twice at a concert recorded just 3 weeks later! A similar line was also part of the arrangement of Perdido on the Ellington Uptown album.

Liza 1953, 4th chorus

A1 (2:22) A2 (2:33) B (2:44) A3 (2:55)
Solo: Carney (4) + ensemble shout.

Solo: Ellington (4)

Sim. Solo: Henderson Hamilton + Gonsalves in octaves.

Ensemble shout

As you can see above, the arranger often divides the 8 bar sections into two, thereby creating a call and response effect. Sometimes between two instrument combinations, sometimes between the band and a soloist, and also between two soloists. On B we get a rare solo from Rick Henderson. He was one of the be-bop inspired musicians that Ellington hired in the beginning of the 50s. He only stayed a couple of years and didn’t play many solos with the band. On A3 Hamilton and Gonsalves are back playing in octaves accompanied by a shouting ensemble.

#5: Flamingo is written by Ted Grouya with lyrics by Edmund Anderson, and first recorded by the Ellington band in December 1940. They recorded the tune again several times the following year, most notably for Standard Radio Transcription in September, and later that year, a film version for Soundies was made. In all instances the singer was Herb Jeffries. Flamingo was a regular part of the repertoire well into the 50s, and even shows up in the discography as late as 1972. Here I will focus on the 1940 version and compare it to 1953, both by the way, arranged by Billy Strayhorn.

First we take a look at the the 1940 version. Like most of the songs discussed here, Flamingo is also in AABA form, but Strayhorn expanded the last A to 14 bars. Here is an overview of the first chorus.

Flamingo 1940, 1st chorus

Intro(8 bars) (0:00) A1(8) (0:22) A2(8) (0:40) B(8) (0:58) A3(14) (1:16)
Rubato, Tutti.

Trb solo: Tizol

Vocal: Jeffries

Brass: off beat staccato chords.

Saxes: sustained chords

Piano: Strayhorn

Key: Db major







Saxes more active.

Sustained brass chords


Sim. to previous A’s


It all starts with Tizol playing the first three notes of the song, answered by a trumpet as an echo. After that, the whole band enters very dramatically and then brings it down to make room for Jeffries vocal. Notice, just before the vocal enters, the brass plays a few staccato chords. This is the basic idea for the brass section the whole first chorus. By introducing this idea before the chorus starts, Strayhorn creates a smooth and coherent transition into A1.

The whole song is basically two times AABA with an intro. But the transition that Strayhorn has created between the two is the work of genius. From bar 7 in A3 (1:31) Jeffries sings, technically speaking, a downward sequence of major and minor thirds with a minor seconds in between. It is no coincidence that these are the intervals that Strayhorn has chosen, because they are very prominent in the song, and that is one of the reasons why it works so well. At the same time, the arrangement is in the process of modulating to another key. It’s a slow modulation starting in Db major, going through A major and finally ending in Ab major at the start of the second chorus (1:50).

Flamingo 1940, 2nd chorus

A1(8 bars) (1:48) A2(8) (2:06) B(8) (2:24) A3(14) (2:43) Ending(2) (3:14)
Bar two and three repeated by different sections.

Trb solo: Brown

Modulation continues.

Key: Ab

Brown cont.

Key: F

Modulation continues.

Alto solo: Hodges

Key: D (or F)

Modulation continues.

Vocal: Jeffries

Key: Db


Piano: Strayhorn

Key: Db

At this point, one would expect the new key to be fixed. But Strayhorn continues to modulate. On A2 we are suddenly in F major, and shortly before the B section we are in D major. But when we get to B, we are suddenly in F major. This leads me to another point. The song itself points in many directions tonally right from the start. At the beginning (1st chorus) it is clearly in Db major, but already in measure 3 it sounds more like Db minor. On the B section it passes E major and then back to Db major (and minor) on A3. When Hodges begins his solo on B (in the 2nd chorus) we are in D major, but it sounds like F major because the song itself modulates at this point, and that was the key we were in on A2. When it modulates back to Db major on A3 where Jeffries are back on the vocal. So all the way from the 7th bar of the first A3 (1:29) until Jeffries re-enters on the second A3 (2:43), Strayhorn creates a constant flowing tonality. This is just one aspect of the arrangement that makes it so special.

The attentive reader may have noticed that Strayhorn consistently modulates in minor thirds in the second chorus. According to Walter van de Leur’s book Something To Live For, it was something he often did. I like to call this technique “the circle of minor thirds,” and he probably got this idea through studying modern classical music.

Another thing worth pointing out, is that the shape of the song, like the tonal center, is also blurred at one point. In the first chorus the saxophones clearly signal the transition from one section to the next. But the transition from A3 to A1 is different, because A3 has no clear end. The 6 extra bars that Strayhorn has added is one part of the explanation. Another is the fact that Jeffries sings “fla-min-go” on A1. But instead of singing another chorus, he sings it as an ending. Then the muted trumpets continues the melody answered by two trombone, and after that Lawrence Browns solo starts. On the 2nd bar of A2 Jeffries sings “fla-min-go” again.

The 1953 version is a very attractive one. Quite different in many ways, but there is also many similarities if we look a little closer. The main difference is, that it’s an instrumental version. The tempo is also slower and it has that melancholy, reflective sound, typical for the Capitol era.

Flamingo 1953, 1st chorus

Intro(2 bars) (0:00) A1(8) (0:05) A2(8) (0:26) B(8) (0:47) A3(14) (1:09)
Orchestra Pno. solo: Ellington

Sustained chords accompaniment.

Clarinet trio.

Key: F major

Sim. Sim. Solo: Gonsalves


In the first chorus, Ellington has taken the lead role that belonged to Jeffries. Here accompanied by sustained chords from the orchestra. A clarinet trio is heard now and then. A3 is also expanded to 14 bars and contains a slow modulation, but it’s not the same. The arranger here modulates up a forth instead of a fifth.

Flamingo 1953, 2nd chorus

A1(8 bars) (1:47) A2(8) (2:08) B(8) (2:31) A3(11) (2:53) Ending (3:24)
Solo: Nance (viol.)

Sustained chords

Key: Bb

Sim. Melody: low ensemble.

obbligato: Nance

Key: A (or C)

Solo: Gonsalves

Key: Ab

Solo pno: Ellington

Key: F

Then Ray Nance plays a beautiful violin solo based on the song with his typical dry sound. I sometimes wonder if he uses a mute to help getting’ this special sound? On B we have a very unique sounding low tutti ensemble. The key is now A major, but sounds like C for the same reason previously explained, and then Gonsalves are back on A3. It all ends with a mysterious piano solo by Ellington.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

Premiered by Ellington part 2

The second article about the little known Duke Ellington album “Premiered by Ellington,” and the following two, will focus on the music itself. Part 1, written by Ulf Lundin, is an introduction to the Capitol period in general. If you haven’t read it, it is available here: https://ellington.se/2023/01/14/premiered-by-ellington-part-1/

Premiered by Ellington consist of 8 songs, none of them written by Ellington or his associates. Instead we get new arrangements of familiar pop songs that were all introduced to the public by Ellington. It’s quite an impressive collection of tunes that is still well known today.

The following is an attempt to analyse the tracks one by one and compare them to previously recorded versions by Ellington. I do not have access to the original scores, so all is done by ear. To make it easier to follow, I have made charts that shows the overall form of the arrangements. It’s not possible, of cause, to put an Ellington recording into a simple chart, but they serve the purpose of giving you, the reader and listener, a general overview of the recording.

The music has been embedded into the articles for easy access, but is also available as playlists on YouTube and Deezer. The album itself has never been reissued on CD in it’s original form, but is available on the streaming services. Be aware that this version has the songs in the same order as the french pressing of the LP. I have decided to follow the original US release in this article. Happy listening.

#1: My Old Flame is composed by Arthur Johnston with lyrics by Sam Coslow, and was first performed by Mae West in the film Belle of the Nineties from 1934. Apart from being the main actress, she also wrote the original story that the film was based on. According to Fred Glueckstein’s article in the DESS Bulletin, it was also West who insisted on having the Ellington orchestra accompany her, instead of a white studio orchestra with colored actors faking on the screen.

In February and March that year, the band was in Los Angeles to record the music. On the same occasion, they also recorded music for Murder at the Vanities, which I will return to later. In May they were in LA again for more film recordings. On that occasion, a recording for RCA-Victor was also made, this time sung by Ivie Anderson.

Comparing the versions from 1934 with the 1953 recording, the first thing you notice is how much Ellington has developed in those 19 years! It is by no means just a simple remake of the song, but rather a completely new and much more modern interpretation. The changes that jazz went through in those years are clearly audible, both in the orchestra’s playing style and in the arrangement itself. The same can be said about all the other songs on the record, although there are also many similarities as we will discover along the way.

My Old Flame is a standard 32 bar AABA song. The Mae West version has a very simple two bar piano introduction, and then she sings one chorus, with Barney Bigard on clarinet and Lawrence Brown on trombone, either ad-libbing behind her or doubling the melody. As an ending, the orchestra plays the A section again, this time in 3/4 time and at a faster tempo.

Ivie Anderson’s version of the song is much more subtle. The introduction is based on the ending from the Mae West version, but here adapted to work in 4/4 time. After that, Ellington plays a short piano transition, and then Ivie Anderson enters. This time the ad-libbing is done by Lawrence Brown alone. Notice also that the saxes doubles the melody, while at the same time providing an interesting countermelody now and then.

The first two A sections in the 2nd chorus (1:46) is a duet between Cootie Williams on trumpet and Johnny Hodges on alto sax. On the B section and the last A the saxes plays the melody in unison accompanied by the brass. Basically this version is just the AABA form played twice with an intro on top

The 1953 version is not as straight ahead. Here is an overview of the first chorus. The arrangement is, according to Walter van de Leur’s book: Something To Live For, written by Billy Strayhorn.

My Old Flame 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (5 bars) (0:00) A1(0:16) A2 (0:42) B (1:09) A3 (1:35)
Duet between Hamilton and Carney Solo: Gonsalves

Sustained chords background.

Key: Bb major




Saxes plays countermelody


Tutti, Hamilton ad-lib (4 bars)

Gonsalves returns (last 4)

The introduction, much more harmonically advanced than in the previous versions, is a duet between Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Harry Carney on baritone sax, accompanied by the orchestra. Then tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves enters with the melody, phrasing much more freely than the singers did. The band supports him with sustained chords. Such a background could easily get boring. What makes it work in this situation, is first of all Strayhorns unique harmonic language! These mysterious sounding chords that instantly grab your attention and make you want to listen more. But also listen how he varies the instrumentation, adds a few rests at unexpected moments and varies the rhythm slightly.

On A3, the full band plays a variation on the melody, suddenly changing the dynamic from soft to very loud. Hamilton is soloing again, and then Gonsalves plays the last 4 bars.

My Old Flame 1953, 2nd chorus

B (2:02) A (2:28)
Melody: Hamilton

Tutti accompaniment (4), trombones (4)

Key: Bb


dbl. time feel

Key: Db modulating back to Bb

In the 2nd chorus, Strayhorn breaks the AABA form by going straight to the B section. This time, Hamilton is playing the melody accompanied by some very advanced harmonies! Then the trombone sections takes care of the accompaniment for the last 4 bars.

But Strayhorn has more tricks up his sleeve. After the unexpected B section, he modulates up a minor third from Bb major to Db for the last A section! This time the melody is stated by the trumpets accompanied by the orchestra. After 4 bars he goes into double time feel for the climax, and then brings it down with Hamilton and Gonsalves ad-libbing, ending in the key of Bb where it started.

It’s quite interesting that Strayhorn chose to change the texture and dynamic so radical at A3 in the first chorus. When combined with the removal of A1 and A2 in the 2nd chorus, A3 now sounds more like the first A in the 2nd chorus. In other words, it feels more like: “AAB, ABA” instead of the usual “AABA, BA” that is often used for ballads.

#2: Three Little Words is composed by Harry Ruby with lyrics by Bert Kalmar, and was premiered in the film Check and Double Check in 1930. In the movie, we see the Ellington orchestra performing with the three trumpet players doing the vocal part. According to the discography, it was actually played by a studio orchestra with The Rhythm Boys singing. Ellington did record the tune for the movie, but it ended up being used in the film The Lady Refuses (1931) instead. He also recorded the song on disc several times in 1930, but I will focus on the one from august 26 with The Rhythm Boys on vocal.

The song is also written in the standard 32 bar AABA form, but apart from My Old Flame, there are many similarities between the two versions of Three Little Words. A detail worth pointing out about the melody itself, is that the last phrase in each section is constructed in such a way, that it leads to the next section. This makes the AABA structure less clear, but instead gives the song a sense of constant momentum.

Three Little Words 1930, 1st chorus

Intro (4 bars) (0:00) A1 (0:07) A2 (0:18) B (0:29) A3 (0:41)
Solo piano Low clarinets in harmony Muted trumpets Saxes Saxes

After the piano intro, the theme is stated in legit style by the three low clarinets playing in harmony. The melody is, very interesting, in the middle voice most of the time. On A2, muted trumpets takes over, and on B and A3 the saxes takes the lead.

Three Little Words 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (8 bars) (0:00) A1 (0:12) A2 (0:25) B (0:37) A3 (0:50)
Piano and bass Muted trombones

Countermelody: Saxes

Sim. Saxes Sim. to previous A’s

 The 1953 version also begins with a piano intro, but much more harmonically advanced. Then the muted trombones states the melody on the first two A’s, also in legit style, and with the two beat feeling preserved. The saxes adds an unison countermelody, and then takes over the melody on the B section with the bass in 4.

Three Little Words 1930, 2nd chorus

A1 (0:52) A2 (1:03) B (1:14) A3 (1:25)
Muted trumpets

Bigard answers

Sim. Sim. Saxes with baritone lead.

Brass plays bell-chords

On the 1930 version, the tune is stated again for the second chorus. Muted trumpets on AAB with fills by Barney Bigard on clarinet, and then the saxes takes over on the last A. Notice the baritone sax lead, and the bell-like chords in 3 beat groupings. The third chorus is sung by The Rhythm Boys with only the rhythm section and Bigard.

On the 1953 version, we get a beautiful trumpet solo by Willie Cook on the second chorus (1:03), accompanied by the rhythm section. The third chorus (1:53) is a tenor sax solo by Paul Gonsalves, heavily backed by a shouting brass section on the first two A’s. On B, Gonsalves is alone with the rhythm section, and then the brass returns on A3 for the ending.

The 1930 version has a fourth chorus (2:20), and it is a very interesting one. It’s the climax of the arrangement with the full band doing variations on the tune. Here, Ellington finally loosens up the rather rigid rhythmic interpretation of the song he has stuck to until now. Also notice how drummer Sonny Greer prepares this final chorus using only the hi-hat.

To sum it up: The first chorus of the 1953 version is quite faithful to the 1930 version. The very simple rhythmic interpretation of the melody played in parallel harmonies is preserved, along with the two beat feeling. The countermelody by the saxes add’s a modern touch to the arrangement. Apart from this, the two versions are very different. The 1930 version sticks to the melody all the way through, and only in the last chorus does Ellington vary the rhythmic interpretation of the song. In the 1953 version, the theme is only stated in the first chorus, and instead we get two choruses of improvised solos.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

%d bloggers like this: