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Ritz-Carlton Hotel Boston 27 July 1939

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The heritage of radio broadcasts from the late 1930s and early 1940s by Ellington and other black bands is quite small. So whatever there is, it is very valuable and we should be deeply grateful to those who have made at least a part of them available to us.

One example is the one that survives from Ellington’s engagement at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston in July-August 1939.

Ellington scholar Ken Steiner has given a very detailed account of this engagement it in the DEMS Bulletin 2003:2 and it has been used for this article.

Ritz Roof

The surviving broadcast is from July 27, 1939 and it has been issued on both LP and CD (see below).

However, recently it also  became available online in mp3 format thanks to the Star-Spangled Radio Hour (SSRH) radio program. It featured it in its July 16, 2016 program together with two broadcasts by Woody Herman from Glen Island Casino in August and September 1939.

The program can be downloaded here: http://www.cruisin1430.com/media/audio-channel/star-spangled-radio-hour-71616.

Ritz-Carlton was Ellington’s first major engagement outside New York after his return from Europe in early May 1939. It was also his only engagement at the hotel.

Billy Strayhorn was brought along and in an interview in 1964 he recalls it as a “wonderful, wonderful engagement”. For Strayhorn, it was something of a milestone. He got the opportunity to substitute Ellington at the piano and wrote his first vocal arrangement (for Ivie Anderson).

The stay at Ritz-Carlton, where he played for dancing at the Open Terrace at the top of the hotel, gave Ellington some good exposure on radio.

The local station WBZ broadcasted from the Open Terrace at least five times a week and five of the broadcasts with Ellington were fed into the NBC Blue Network for national broadcasting.

The surviving broadcast is the NBC one from July 27.

The three LP releases of the July 27 are from the 1970s and has fairly poor sound.

However, tCD release on the Jazz Unlimited label from 2004 has excellent sound. It was mastered by Jack Towers from tapes provided by Jerry Valburn. Unfortunately, it has been out of stock for a long time and costs at least 50 USD secondhand on Amazon and Discogs.

SSRH is an invaluable program from the Cruisin’1430 AM radio station in Denver, Colorado. It is produced in collaboration with the Glenn Miller Archive (GMA) at the University of Colorado

It features radio broadcasts and big band shows from basically the 1938-1946 period. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby appears very often but also many others (like Duke Ellington and Woody Herman in the July 27 2016 program.)

Rick Crandall is the host of the program and senior adviser Dennis M. Spragg of the Glenn Miller Archive a driving force to provide the music.

All the podcasts of SSRH can be found here: http://www.cruisin1430.com/podcast/996/rss.xml


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