Are Ellington and Strayhorn studying the UMMG Score?
Upper Manhattan Medical Group
In April and May 1954 Ellington and his orchestra were touring in western USA. This has been documented in a concert from Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles on April 13, and from a dance date at McElroy’s Ballroom in Portland on April 29. In addition, songs from a Capitol Recording session on April 26 have been issued on the Capitol label.
On May 1, Duke and the orchestra were performing at a dance date at Trianon Ballroom in Seattle and the first part of this is rather interesting due to the the fact that the tunes played are not so common in the band’s repertoire. DESS members can enjoy this by logging into the Goodies Room.
Billy Strayhorn’s Smada has been chosen as the starter. This is an instrumental with no improvised solos, but nevertheless a typical Strayhorn composition (We regret the somewhat low sound quality on this number). Cobb’s Tune was written by the well-known tenor saxophonist Arnette Cobb known as the ”Wild Man of the Tenor Sax”, and who was a sideman in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra in the mid-forties. Willie Cook and Paul Gonsalves are the soloists. Coffee And Kisses feature Clark Terry on trumpet and Harry Carney on baritone.
Next comes an interesting number which in discographies is referred to as Unidentified ”E”. There is quite a few numbers that have evaded identification in the Ellington repertoire, and they have been given letters from ”A” and onwards, but in this case one would not be surprised if it wasn’t a Strayhorn composition. In any event it is nice number with solos by Willie Cook, Paul Gonsalves, Quentin Jackson and Rick Henderson. The next number is for sure a genuine Strayhorn composition, Johnny Come Lately with solos by Britt Woodman and Quentin Jackson.
Next, is the earliest known recording of Upper Manhattan Medical Group (UMMG). The early performances of this tune featured Willie Cook as the trumpet soloist; later on Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry did the job, but Harry Carney always played his solo. One wouldn’t be surprised if UMMG in the late spring of 1954 was completely fresh from Strayhorn’s pen, since Ellington’s piano introduction seems a little disorientated and stuttering. Be that as it may, this is one of Strayhorn’s absolute master pieces.
The closing number is Joe Garland’s In The Mood, Apart from an alto solo by Russell Procope, you’ll also hear Clark Terry, Jimmy Hamilton and Ray Nance.