Last year, the 24th Duke Ellington Study Group conference took place and this time in New York City. And in May this year, DESUK organized a one day mini-conference using a format similar to the Study Group ones.
The Study Group Conferences have had a tremendously important role in building an international network of Ellington scholars and aficionados and a solid knowledge base of Ellington’s work, life and music.
The network of Ellington clubs and societies has been crucial for the conferences. Without them, they would never have taken place. The first one – “The Duke Ellington Jazz Society (DEJS)” – was founded in Los Angeles, California with Bill Ross as President and Patricia Willard as Vice-President. It not only wanted to bring together Ellington fans locally but also build an international network of Ellington clubs.
Unfortunately, DEJS disappeared in the early 1960s but by that time The New York Chapter had been formed. It started in 1959 and with its large membership, it soon had a leading role among Ellington fans. It change its name to The Duke Ellington Society (TDES) at the request of Duke Ellington himself in the 1960s and later it became TDES only.
In 1993, the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden was formed.
Another key factor behind the conferences was the existence of a network of Ellington experts, who worked together to increase the knowledge about Ellington’s work and life.
The Duke Ellington Music Society (DEMS) was important for building this network. It was founded by the Swedish Ellington expert and discographer Benny Åslund (aka Benny Aaslund) in the late 1970s. Thanks to its quarterly newsletter, it soon became a vehicle for sharing all kinds of information – not least discographic – between Ellington scholars in different countries.
After Åslund’s passing away in 1996, Sjef Hoefsmit, who had worked closely with him for many years, took over the responsibility for DEMS and the newsletter.
However, the two driving forces to get the Ellington Study Conferences off the ground was Donald (Don) Miller in Chicago and Jerry Valburn in New York. In 1981, they organized two meetings – one in Chicago in May and one in New York in the fall – with the purpose to bring Ellington experts to share information and enjoy each others’ company.
As a result, the first Study Group Conference was organized in Washington D.C. in 1982 to be followed by one in Chicago in 1983. The first conference in Europe took place in Oldham, England in 1985 and another one there in 1988.
The first Nordic host of an Ellington conference was Copenhagen in 1992 to be followed by Stockholm in 1994. Stockholm was also the host for the 2004 conference.
Inspired by Göran Wallén, who has participated in many of the conferences and organized the two in Stockholm in 1994 and 2004, the DESS website will publish a series of articles about the conferences.
They will very much benefit from more than 120 video and K7 conference recordings that the website has at its disposal. The majority was deposited by the estate of the late Sjef Hoefsmit (read article May 29, 2017 for more information) but since then some 40 K7 tapes from the early Ellington conferences in the Benny Åslund Collection have been unveiled as well.
A couple of tidbits from the 2004 conference in Stockholm was published on the website on May 30 and June 5 and we started this season with a video excerpt with Alice Babs from the 1994 conference.