I have always had the feeling that France has embraced Duke Ellington more than any other country.
It is symbolically illustrated by the wonderful cartoon by the French caricaturist Cabu (Jean Cabut), who was sadly killed in the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices last year.
Over the years, quite a number of the core members of the inner circle of Ellington experts and devotees have been French and this is still the case. But it goes further. There seems to be more widely spread knowledge of Ellington in France than elsewhere.
Do you know who Duke Ellington was, I asked the young lady sitting next to me on a train last year. Yes, of course I do, she replied. I have read all the novels of Boris Vian. And she is not the only one to have done so or learned about Ellington in other ways.
So it is logical that since October 2009, the family of Duke Ellington associations also has a French member – “La Maison du Duke”.
It is a non-profit organization with the aim to increase awareness of jazz music in general and that of Duke Ellington in particular. Its membership — after being an initial nucleus of musicologists, journalists, musicians and enlightened amateurs (among them Isabelle Marquis, Claudette de San Isidoro, Claude Carrière, Philippe Baudoin, Laurent Mignard, Christian Bonnet, Jean-François Pitet, Jean-Claude Alexandre and Bernard Villiers) – have increased to around 200 today, with around 3000 more people on its mailing list.
It offers a wide set of activities to the benefit of its members and other Ellington fans. Just to give a few examples:
Every month, it organizes a educational lecture or seminar on a Ellington theme. In a way, they can be seen as the association’s showcase.
Some 40 lectures and seminars have been organized to date (with fifteen guest speakers contributing).
Some of the recent topics are “Clark Terry”, “Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club”, “Exoticism and Ellington”, “Newport 1956” and “Ellington’s personality”.
Many of the presentations since 2009 are available as videos on the website.
La Maison du Duke also sponsors and helps to give exposure to the “Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra” founded in 2003 by the trumpeter and composer Laurent Mignard. The orchestra appears frequently at jazz festivals and other event and has produced a number of records and DVDs.
One example is the “Duke Ellington Sacred Concert” at the Madeleine church in Paris in October 2014, in which among others Mercedes Ellington participated. It was also performed in a national tour in 2015.
A third core activity of La Maison du Duke is to provide members with CDs of previously un-released Ellington music.
It does this drawing on the “Fonds Clavié” – a major Ellington sound archive, which the association acquired in 2010. The archive contains 300 hours of music on tape. The most recently issued CDs are “Welcome to the Clubs (Blue Note 1956-57, Hickory House 1957, Storyville 1959)”, “Rare Strayhorn 1941-1965”, “Elvin chez Duke (Paris, January 1966)”; and “The Almost Complete Violin Session February 1966”.
Of course, the association also has a website – http://maison-du-duke.com – and there one can find a full list of the activities of La Maison du Duke. It has one open part and one only for members. On the website, there is also information on how to become a member of “La Maison du Duke”.