The first full-scale Duke Ellington Study Group Conference was organized in May (5-7) 1983 by Chapter 90 of The Duke Ellington Society Washington D.C. .
Some 90 people took part in the meeting. The program was a mixture of presentations, live music and discussions as would be the case in future Ellington conferences.
The conference has been preserved on tapes. This article makes use of six K7 tapes in the Benny Åslund Collection. He most likely got it from the one who made the recordings – was it Jack Towers? – or possibly from Jerry Valburn. The sound quality is quite good but there are of course some glitches.
Among the presenters and speakers at the two and a half-day conference was Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Bruce Kennan, Patricia Willard, Willis Conover, Jerry Valburn, Eddie Lambert and Sjef Hoefsmit.
The topic of Williams’ presentation was “Ellington, The Composer” and he gave many examples to make his point(s). Apparently, the audience had sheets with the music he played but one can enjoy his talk without them.
Morgenstern’s talk was about “Duke and the Tiger Rag” – a topic he would cover at a later Ellington conference as well. Unfortunately, only the opening segment of Morgenstern’s presentation is preserved on the tapes but we still would like to share it here.
Bruce Kennan from the New Jersey Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society made a presentation filled with examples on the Ellington drummers.
Patricia Willard told the audience about her work on the Smithsonian ”Jump For Joy” album and gave insights into the musical. Her presentation is on tape but it is currently not possible to publish it here.
Willis Conover hosted a panel with broadcasters about “The Joys, Pleasures and Problems Presenting Duke’s Music on the Air”. The hour-long discussion is available in the Ellington Archive.
But there was of course much more.
Lawrence Brown was interviewed on the phone from California and a panel of other Ellington alumni – Billy Taylor Sr., June Norton and Jimmy McPhail – talked about their times with Ellington. Here is what Jimmy McPhail had to say.
Together with Joe Igo, Valburn kicked off a discussion on “Ellington Discographies” and Ellington scholars Eddie Lambert, Klaus Strateman and Sjef Hoefsmit formed a panel for an open discussion on Ellington issues. These two discussions will be available in the Ellington Archive later.
There was also a lot of live musical entertainment at the conference. The Army Blues Band kicked off the conference with a concert on its first night and on the second day the Washington D.C.-based guitarist Bill Harris played for the participants.
Brooks Kerr had formed a duo with George Duvivier to end the conference with a re-creation of the Ellington-Blanton duets from the 1940s. This concert is also available in the Ellington Archive.
Thanks to Jerry Valburn and Klaus Strateman, the conference participants also enjoyed a full evening of Ellington films.
The Washington D.C. conference was apparently a large success. Leading Ellington scholars were happy to finally have an opportunity to discuss face to face and enjoy everything about Ellington.
On the spot, it was decided that the next conference would be in Chicago in 1984.
A report from the meeting in the DEMS Bulletin 1983-4 is available in the Ellington Archive.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to have photos from the Washington event. But there must be. Possibly one can find some in the Valburn Collection at the Library of Congress?