On November 10 last year, the website published an article by Joe Medjuck on an unabridged version of Chelsea Bridge issued on vol. 12 in the Storyville DETS series.
The website followed it up by publishing a broadcast from Casa Mañana in Culver City, CA on Feb. 20, 1941.
These two articles, the audio material that came with them, plus an upcoming big band project of Strayhorn music that he will direct, prompted DESS member Hans Doerrscheidt, to do a little research of his own. Here is the result.
“As it turns out, not only one, or two, or three, but actually four complete recordings of Chelsea Bridge have survived! How so?
First there is the one from Casa Mañana on Feb. 16, 1941 [i]
The broadcast announcer says: “And now, as our dancing continues, we hear another Billy Strayhorn number: The Duke’s [sic] distinctive arrangement of ‘Chelsea Bridge’.”
With that mis-attribution starts what appears to be the first ever documented performance of the song. Regrettably, the audio quality is not quite what one would wish for. But – it is a copy of a historic broadcast, so why complain. Until we hear…
the broadcast recording from Casa Mañana on Feb. 20 1941 [ii]
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is music by Duke Elligton and his orchestra, via the Mutual Network […] And now, as the dancing continues, the Duke features ‘Chelsea Bridge’…Duke?”
Talk about ‘fidelity’! The audio quality is pristine; every last instrument is audible like you are dancing right in front of the bandstand. Wonderful! Now, fast forward 4 years to…
Radio City, New York City, Sep. 8 1945 [iii]
The announcer says: “Next, Duke Ellington features a group of three Billy Strayhorn compositions, beginning with ‘Chelsea Bridge’.”
This is the “second” full recording that Joe Medjuck pointed out in his article last year. As shown above, in chronology it is actually the third. Fidelity is good, and by now the irritating wrong last note played by Tizol and Carney in 1941 at the end of their respective middle sections (a.k.a bridge) appears to have been corrected in the parts (it’s G natural, not G flat).
Then another 7 years go by, and we hear a familiar voice back in the band: It is Juan Tizol, who plays the unannounced pickup notes to…
the fourth unabridged version performed at a dance date at an unidentified location in Northwestern U.S.A. in March 1952 [iv]
This is a personal sleeper, as I have had this 3-CD set ever since it came out about five years ago; not until now did I realize that it contains this rarity. The sound quality is quite acceptable for what appears to be a private tape; we hear Tizol repeating his original role, Paul Gonsalves paying tribute to his mentor Ben Webster, and my favorite rhythm team Marshall/Bellson providing a solid beat.
The three studio recordings from 1941 all have one thing in common: 32 bars of music were cut to make the original 5-minute arrangement fit one side of a 78. However, what is cut is different on all three takes. See my structural analysis below for more details.
Chelsea Bridge Structural Analysis
More recently (i.e. about 20 years ago), the Dutch Jazz Orchestra [v] recorded its version of the unabridged arrangement, based on Walter van de Leur’s research.
And a last note, for all you jazz ensemble directors out there: Alfred Music has two versions of this arrangement published: The transcription of the 1941 RCA master take as well as the unabridged version.
Both editions have their pros and cons; neither one can be taken without a grain of salt, unfortunately. So if you think your band should play as many right notes as possible on this one, feel free to get in touch for my view on things….”
The different versions of Chelsea Bridge mentioned in the article can be found on
[i] Moon Records (It)MCD084-2 [CD] titled “Jive Rhapsody”.
[ii] RCA Bluebird 60090-2 [CD] titled “Duke Ellington – The Centennial Collection”
[iii] DETS (Dan)9039012 [CD]titled “Duke Ellington Treasury Shows, Vol. 12”
[iv] Acrobat (E)ACTRCD9033 [CD] titled “Rare ‘Live’ Recordings 1952-3”
[v] Challenge (Du)CHR70092 [CD]titled “Something to Live For – The Music of Billy Strayhorn”
Author: Hans Doerrscheidt (firstname.lastname@example.org)