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Brian Priestly on BB&B

In 1974, Brian Priestly – jazz writer and pianist among other things – and the arranger and composer Alan Cohen wrote what Mark Tucker has labelled ”the first serious analytical article on Black, Brown and Beige”.

In the early 1970’s, they spent considerable time listening to and transcribing several recordings of the suite and they also studied a score published by Tempo Music.

Their work was the basis for the recording of BB&B, which Alan Cohen did with his orchestra in 1972.

Having acquired a very detailed knowledge of the suite, they were able to write an article which Tucker has characterized as a ”densely detailed, section-by section discussion” with ”special attention to Ellington’s thematic treatment and unifying techniques”.

The article was originally commissioned by the British ”Jazz & Blues” magazine but finally published in ”Composer” – the bulletin of the Composers Guild of Great Britain. A reprint of it is included in The Duke Ellington Reader.

At the Ellington ’88 conference in Oldham, Brian Priestly revisited Black, Brown and Beige.

The Ellington Orchestra ended its ”Extended Ellington” concert on the third day of the conference with a performance of the work. For the occasion, Alan Cohen took over as guest conductor and he brought in Brian Priestly to play the piano as he had done when Cohen  recorded the suite in 1972.

In the afternoon before the concert, Priestly shared his analysis of and view on the work with the conference participants. It is a presentation not to be missed.

The performance of the BB&B at Ellington ’88 will be available on the website on September 28.

Ellington at Gröna Lund June 1963 (2)

There was hardly any reviews of Ellington’s week at Gröna Lund. I remember one in Dagens Nyheter, which I read at the time. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find it for this article.

The DESS member Sven Tollin was working as a journalist at Svenska Dagbladet – the other main morning paper in Stockholm -and he offered an article to cultural section of the newspaper. Unfortunately, the cultural editor was not interested.

So the only main article about the event is the one written by Leif Andersson and published in the June 1963 issue of Orkesterjournalen.

And it is obvious that he liked a lot what he heard during Duke’s week at Gröna Lund. ”The nights at Dans In were musical thrills beyond word”, he wrote, ”and the band demonstrated a relaxed attitude, which showed that ‘the kids in the band’ love their work”.  LA also thought that ”a large benefit hearing Ellington’s orchestra play for dance is that during the span of a night one gets the opportunity to hear many numbers that the band rarely or never plays at concerts.”

The full article is here.

Leif Wigh went into Dans In ready to take more portrait photos of band members. Here are some of his shots.

Also Jim Björk had his camera with him at Dans In and he says that he took a full roll of pictures there. Here are some of them.

Furthermore, Jim brought a new autograph book with him one of the nights and during the breaks, he managed to get the autographs of all the members of the band.

Jim was also present at the informal jamsession at the Arena Theater (Arenateatern), which took place one night after the end of the performance at Dans In. As he remembers it, it was Roffe Ericson, Eddie Preston and Paul Gonsalves from the Ellington band,  who took part in the jamsession together with some Swedish muscians, and possibly also Ernie Shepherd and Sam Woodyard.

”In the early morning Paul played an absolutely fantastic version of ”I Cover the Waterfront” wearing a hat he had found in the storage room of the theatre. Someone taped it and it was included in a radio program a couple of weeks later.”

Bo Ahnegård was also one of the DESS-members, who went to Gröna Lund to enjoy Ellington. ”I got the chance to dance to the band at Dans In”, he says, ”and also to enjoy Alice Babs, who was there the same night. Duke invited her on stage and she sung a couple of songs with the orchestra.”

Thanks to Benny Åslund, Ellington’s performances at Gröna Lund were recorded. ”I was permitted to record all the outdoor performances, and also, only two days left, the whole evening of 8Jun63.”

So on Saturday June 8, he set up his Tandberg tape recorder on a table next to the stage, gathered some friends around it and started to record when the band kicked-off.

Benny had a good stock of empty tape reels next to him and when one run out, he quickly put in a new one. Unavoidably, this caused some gaps in the recordings but they seems to be quite short and are a very minor nuisance.

As always, Duke’s condition for allowing this was that the recordings would not be issued commercially and for many years copies of the recordings circulated only among Ellington collectors and specialist. However, in 2014 Storyville issued the Dans Inn recordings on a two CD set and included one of the outdoor concerts in the 7 CD box ”The Duke Box 2”.


Ellington at Gröna Lund June 1963 (1)

Duke Ellington spent the whole month of June 1963 in Sweden. He arrived at the Stockholm-Arlanda airport on May 31, where Swedish Radio made a short interview with him.

Ellington started his Swedish tour with gigs in the towns of Västerås, Örebro and Karlstad on June 1, 2 and 3.

Then on June 4, Ellington begun his week-long dance date engagement at the Gröna Lund amusement park in the center of Stockholm.

In his book ”Gröna Lund – Stora scenen kl. 20.00”, Ove Hahn – the artistic director at the time – says that it was a dream come true to have Ellington to play for dance at the park.

Every night, the Duke and his orchestra, started the evening by playing a half an hour concert at 8 pm on the main outdoor stage in  the middle of the park in front of a big audience.

The full outdoor concert on June 8 is available in the ”Goodie of the Month” section of the website

Many had brought their photo cameras to the concert. One of them was the photographer and photo historian Leif Wigh. Here are his close-up photos of Duke, Russell Procope and Harry Carney on the outdoor stage.


Also DESS member Jim Björk was in the audience and clicked with his camera. ”I was there every night”, he says. ”I first listened to the concert on Stora scenen, which was about 30 minutes long. Then I went to Dans In to be able to sit close to the orchestra and enjoy the music.”

At the Ellington conference in Stockholm in May 1994, Ove Hahn talked about Ellington’s week at Gröna Lund.

He said that when it was announced that Ellington and his orchestra was going to play for dance at Gröna Lund, there was a lot of articles in the newspapers saying that it was wrong to use art as dance music. Therefore, Hahn was very happy when he already on the first night discovered that the band loved to play for dance.

He had of course a lot of contacts not only with Ellington, but also with the members of the band. He got to know most of them by their first names, but learned quickly that Johnny Hodges should be addressed as Mr. Hodges.

He liked Paul Gonsalves a lot – ”the most wonderful man I ever met” – but did not go along with Sam Woodyard. ”I found him most arrogant. We never quarreled but we simply did not like each other.”

In his presentation, Hahn also claims that Ellington approached him at the end of the week and asked if the engagement could be prolonged. Possibly he did this but it is a little bit surprising since Ellington was contracted to play in many places all over Sweden after the week at Gröna Lund.

At the end of the presentation, Hahn played some of the music recorded by Benny Åslund at Dans In during Ellington’s engagement.


Smått och gott / Bits and Pieces

Next DESS meeting

It takes place on Monday September 17 at Franska Skolan in Stockholm. The doors open at 17:00.

Bo Lindström, well-known international author and specialist on early jazz, will talk about the background to his acclaimed book about Tommy Ladnier (co-written with Dan Vernhettes)  and his new book on the early Fletcher Henderson trombone player George Brashear.

Bo and Dan Vernhettes have written several other books together like Jazz Puzzles with biographies of early New Orleans jazz muscians (vol 1) and about the riverboat jazz history (vol 2).

They and other books can be ordered from the JazzEdit website (http://www.jazzedit.org).

Next Ellington Study Group conference

It seems likely that it will take place in Washington D.C. in March 2020. Anna Celenza, Professor of Music at the Georgetown University, is the driving force behind this initiative to keep the Ellington conferences going. It will be the fourth such conference in Washington D.C. since the series started.

Ellington OKeh recordings

In a follow-up to his article in ”Smått och gott published on May 30, Bo Lindqvist has taken a closer look at the LP-album ”The Ellington Era” (Columbia C3L-27).

He writes to the website: ”According to Rust’s Jazz Records (at least the editions 4 and 6) and the  album booklet, three previously ’unknown’ takes, Black And Tan Fantasy (81776-A), Old Man Blues (404521-D) are Mood Indigo (400023-A) are included

However, after having listened to the three takes, it seems to me”, says Bo, ”that they all are identical to take B of the recording, which was issued on 78s long before the Columbia LP album appeared.”

DESS Bulletin 2016-3

With the publication of the DESS Bulletin 2018-3, the third Bulletin from 2016 is now available to the general public. It can be found under the Bulletinen tab at the top of the front page.

The main focus in this issue is Willie Cook but there are of course much more to read about.

New pods at Ellington Reflections

The excellent Ellington blog (https://ellingtonreflections.com/) has published three new pods since the start of the summerbreak of the DESS website.

They are:

Piano in The Foreground II (28 July 2018)

Portrait of Al Hibbler (14 July 2018)

Beyond the Valley of The Usual Suspects (30 June 2018)

They can be listened to at the website and downloaded from iTunes (https://t.co/2yKFpLm0jF).

Birmingham 2018

The website published a first short report on the Ellington 2018 conference in a Bits and Pieces article on May 30. This month we will publish some more snapshots. The new issue of the Bulletin has a full and detailed article about the conference.

The Ellington Orchestra had a central role in the conference. This band composed of students from the Jazz Department of the Royal Conservatory and led by Jeremyn Price played concerts every day.

There was even an afternoon jamsessions with members of the band and conference participants. Here Brian Priestly is sitting in at the piano.

In the first evening’s concert, the orchestra played among other Ellington standards Black and Tan Fantasy.

The first concert in the second evening was titled ”Live at the Chicago Blue Note 1959”.

Here is most of this concert.

DESS Bulletin 2018-3

The DESS members got the autumn issue of the Bulletin already in mid-August and have most likely read and digested by now.

For those that have not done so yet, here is a short summary of the content.

Rolf Ericson is the key feature in this issue.

Göran Wallén, who knew Ericson very well and had many talks with him over the years, has contributed a five-page detailed article about Ericson’s long and varied career in Sweden, USA and Germany from the 1930’s to 1990s. It gives a perspective much beyond “the Ellington trumpeter” and makes one hope that Göran will find time and enthusiasm to go deeper into Roffes years with Stan Kenton and his years in Germany in another article.

The article is supplemented by a reprint from the May 1994 issue of Orkesterjournalen of an interview that Martin Westin and Lars Westin did with Ericson at the time. It was originally published in Swedish but now it has been translated into English. The original article also appeared in the Bulletin 1999:3

The photo on the cover was shot in 1967 by Lars Westin in the small town of Kramfors.

The interview provides some further glimpses into Ericsons time with Ellington like the story on the 70th birthday party for Ellington in Paris. He also tells the two Westins about what happened when the Ellington band played at dances with a black audience.

”On such nights I almost cried because it was so good. It was the most fantastic thing I have ever experienced.”

Now one only has to hope that a recording of such a dance will surface.

The new issue also has an article by Bo Haufman on ”Trumpet in Spades” – the concerto that Ellington wrote for Rex Stewart in 1937 – and three on new CDs with Ellington connections. In particular, don’t miss Anders Asplund’s review of vol. 25 in Storyville’s DETS series. It is full of valuable information.


Toronto Stockpile Session 1972 – updated information

Following the publication on June 26 of Jack Chamber’s article on Duke Ellington’s stockpile session in Toronto in 1972, two people, who attended that recording session, has contacted him and provided some additional information. Jack likes to share this information with the readers of the DESS website.

”In my DESS entry for June, I quoted an excerpt from Bill King’s interview with the late engineer George Semkiw, where he recalled setting up the studio for (what George called) “a secret session” with Ellington.

I inferred that the recording session must have taken place at RCA Studio Toronto, which was George’s main workplace.

However, Ted O’Reilly, the Toronto broadcaster who attended that session as Ellington’s guest, told me after he had read my article that he swears to the gods of jazz that the Collier stuff was done at Thunder with Phil. I am not putting down George’s recollection: he may have been Sheridan’s assistant, doing the setup at that session, as he would have done at others, but it was not at RCA.” Bill Smith, co-editor of Coda, who also attended the recording session, emphatically agrees.

Also George Semkiw thought the session took place on a Saturday or Sunday. But Ellington and the orchestra were playing in Seekonk, Massachusetts on Saturday June 24 and in Endicott, New York on Sunday June 25).

The Toronto recording sessions took place on Thursday June 22, the day before the orchestra performed at O’Keefe Centre in Toronto, and on Tuesday June 27, the day before they played a dance date in the town of West Lorne, Ontario, 150 miles west of Toronto (as in Stratemann, Ellington Day By Day and Film By Film).

So the venue for the sessions is Thunder Sound Studio, Toronto (not Toronto Sound Studio, as in most discographies, and also not RCA Studios Toronto, as I suggested in the previous article). The dates are June 22 and June 27 1972.

Ted O’Reilly and Bill Smith may be the only survivors of the many guests who attended the session. They also agree on a detail that partly explains the lack of contemporary documentation about it.

Bill Smith brought his camera, as always, but, he says, “I was asked not to take photographs of Duke as he was too scruffy.” O’Reilly also recalls “the unshaven and disheveled Ellington saying to [Smith], ‘No pictures – Duke doesn’t feel pretty today’, so he put his camera down.” As a result, the session is not documented in Coda magazine.”

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