The 1949 band
Harlem Air Shaft
Due to the 1948 recording ban in USA, there is not much of recorded material by Ellington and his orchestra from 1948. In fact, Ellington did not go into a recording studio until September 1, 1949.
Fortunately, some concerts and broadcasts have survived allowing us to hear how the Ellington band sounded in 1948 and early 1949.
In late November 1948, the band played at the Click Restaurant in Philadelphia and material from six different NBC broadcasts from there has survived.
At the end of January 1949, Ellington started to tour the West Coast where he had a three-week engagement from February 1 at The Hollywood Empire located at 1539 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Gene Norman, well-known disc-jockey and impresario, had opened it in December 1948. One reason seems to have been that “the Woody Herman band had no place to work”. Herman was followed by Billy Eckstine at the club
The Hollywood Empire was in an area that in the 1930s and 1940s was known as Radio City due to all the radio studios and radio-themed bars and restaurants located there.
During Ellington’s stay at The Hollywood Empire, American Field Radio Service (AFRS) recorded nine broadcasts from club. Some of them were aired in the Jubilee series and others in the Just Jazz series.
In the Ellington discographies, three of broadcasts have specific recording dates while the others are identified as having been recorded in February. Seven of the broadcasts were originally issued on AFRS records but two have remained unissued. Approximately 50% of the surviving material has been issued commercially, albeit on rather unusual labels.
This time, DESS members is given the opportunity to listen to one of the unissued broadcasts in the Goodies section of the website.
It is the one identified as DE4909 in NDESOR. (Since the main part of these broadcasts were dated February 1949, the NDESOR number is a perhaps the best way to distinguish them from each other).
The 1949 Ellington band was indeed an impressive one with many fine soloists.
The trumpet section included Shelton Hemphill, Al Killian, Francis Williams, Harold Baker and Ray Nance and it was matched by a trombone section with Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson and Tyree Glenn. The reed selection with Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Ben Webster and Harry Carney was equally talented. Ellington, Wendell Marshall and Sonny Greer in the rhythm section, and singers Kay Davis and Al Hibbler completed the setup.
Most of comments between numbers have been edited out, and the sound quality of the recording isn’t the best, which could be the reason that this broadcast has not been issued.
The programme starts with Beale Street Blues with solos by Harold Baker, Ben Webster, Tyree Glenn and Jimmy Hamilton..
Next is Tootin’ Through The Roof, a 1938 tune revived. Originally Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart were duelling on trumpets, but here it is Harold Baker and Al Killian trying to outdo each other. Harlem Air Shaft, which follows is a solo vehicle for Harold Baker’s fine and efficient trumpet playing.
On the next three numbers, Blue Lou, Three Cent Stomp and C-Jam Blues, Ben Webster can be heard playing tenor sax in his unimitable way.
On C-Jam Blues Ray Nace plays his violin, followed by Harold Baker, Ben Webster, Tyree Glenn and Johnny Hodges. The latter comes back with On The Sunny Side Of The Street, which also features Lawrence Brown on trombone. Cottontail belongs to Ben Wesbster, but also Ray Nance and Harry Carney are heard in shorter solos. The broadcast ends with Things Ain’t What They Used To Be with Hodges and Brown as main soloists.