1956 is no doubt a very pivotal year in Ellington’s career. After years of struggle and many prophesies on the demise of the orchestra, a number of events brought him back into the limelight and relaunched his career. If they had not taken place, it is difficult to imagine how the full Ellington operation could have gone on for another almost 20 years.
He started in 1956 with a band in good shape mixing old and new voices and styles. Billy Strayhorn was back with him in full force. Ellington was also out of the straitjacketing contract with Capitol Records.
Ellington ended 1955 with a two-week engagement at the Blue Note club in Chicago, which seems to have finished on 3 January.
On the same day, Ellington brought the orchestra into the Universal Studio for a “stockpile” recording session. 9 songs were recorded and there were several takes of most of them. Some of the takes have been issued in the Private Collection series but can also be heard in the Danish Radio broadcasts of the first half of the 80’s.
Whether Ellington and the band remained in Chicago for a couple more days or started back to New York with engagement in other cities has not yet been established except in one case. On 9 January they performedat the Museum of Modern Art in Toledo, Ohio.
Back in New York, Johnny Hodges did a two day recording session on 11 and 12 January for the Norman Granz label Norgran with a small group of Ellingtonians.
On 12 January Ellington started a two and a half week engagement at Cafe Society Downtown. Possibly this was the new incarnation of the famous club, which had gone bankrupt in 1949. Ellington never performed at the original club for which John Hammond acted as an informal artistic director.
Two broadcasts from the Cafe Society stay are known to exist -from 22 January and 28 January respectively.
During the period of the engagement at Cafe Society, Ellington did two studio sessions for Columbia- one on 22 and the other on 27 January – recording the music for what was to become the Blue Rose album. The vocals of Rosemary Clooney were added later. By this time, Ellington did not have a contract with Columbia but worked on a freelance basis.
This post is written using information from http://www.tdwaw.ca and http://www.ellingtonia.com – two absolutely invaluable sources of information on Ellington’s whereabouts and activities – and the book Duke Ellington: A Listeners Guide by Eddie Lambert.