Jack Chambers – member of the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society – has contributed this article about Ellington’s stockpile session in Toronto in 1972 to the DESS website.
In addition to being a distinguished Professor of Linguistics, Jack is the author of books and articles on jazz.
In 1983 and 1985 he published his two volume groundbreaking biography on Miles Davis. It is now available in a single volume paperback (Da Capo 1998). In 2008 he published a biography of the pianist Richard Twardzik called “Bouncing with Bartok”.
Jack was a frequent contributor to the Canadian Coda magazine until it disappeared in 2009. Recent articles of him include “Ellington’s Three Steps into The River” (IAJRC 2017) and “Panther Patter: Ellington at the Piano” (Blue Light 2017).
At the Ellington conference at the Royal Conservatoire in Birmingham, England he presented “Celebration— Duke Ellington’s lost symphony”. A pdf version of his presentation is available for download at the Toronto Duke Ellington Society website in its “Archives”.
“Duke Ellington’s private recording session in Toronto in 1972 has been fraught with misinformation.
I have recently come upon a reminiscence by the recording engineer at that session that leads to a few more corrections. Bill King, the redoubtable jazz pianist and promoter, published an interview with George Simkiw, the recording engineer and producer, by way of commemorating George’s death in June 2018. I cite the excerpt from Bill’s interview involving Ellington, with Bill’s permission. The entire interview may be found at:
Following the excerpt below from Bill’s interview, I point out the ways in which this interview and other sources clarify this recording session.
Bill King: When you were there [at RCA Studio, Toronto], you did a recording with Duke Ellington.
George Simkiw: The Duke Ellington thing was like a crime mystery. I get a call during the day. It was on a Saturday or Sunday and I get a call saying, listen we need to do a session at 7 o’clock this evening. Can you be there? He said, ‘set up’ for about 25 pieces. I said give me a rough idea. He says, four trumpets – I say just give me a rough sketch, so I did a rough set up for them. Around a quarter to seven, musicians crept in. I didn’t recognize any of them. I usually know every musician in town. Then Duke Ellington walks in. They are doing this secret session. I remember Ron Rully was there. He was part of that whole thing; the jazz drummer. There were some heavyweight people there and my jaw dropped. I actually went out and talked to the Duke as he was having some problems with his music stand. I helped adjust it for him. He thanked me, broke another pencil and never used the same pencil twice. It was like surreal.
BK: What was the session all about?
GS: I never heard anything more about it.
BK: Did it sound good?
GS: I thought it did. I think the music was something Ron Rully wrote, or a local guy wrote.
Two of the charts played on that day were by Ron Collier (not Ron Rully).
Ron Collier was indeed a “local guy,” a trombone player, bandleader and composer based in Toronto. From 1969 until 1972, after Billy Strayhorn’s death, Ellington hired Collier for several projects: in 1969, Collier wrote two charts for Duke Ellington’s Reader’s Digest commission (“Mañha de carnaval,” “A Taste of Honey”); in 1970, Collier orchestrated The River, Ellington’s masterwork of his last years, premiered by the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Centre; in 1972, besides arranging for this “secret session,” he orchestrated Ellington’s symphony, Celebration, premiered that year by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.
It is not surprising that George Simkiw recognized Ron Rully. As he said, “I usually know every musician in town,” and Rully was a prominent drummer in Toronto jazz circles. He was, for instance, the drummer in Ron Collier’s quintet for the two decades of its existence, and his close friend. He was in the studio that night, beyond a doubt, at Collier’s invitation. Ellington, as is well known, enjoyed having a crowd at his recording sessions, and it would not be surprising if Collier had invited other musicians as well.
It is surprising that Simkiw did not remember Collier and confused him with Rully (though we should keep in mind that he was recalling one evening more than 45 years earlier). The phone call asking him to set up the studio must have come from Collier. In his presentation at the Duke Ellington conference in Toronto in 1996, Collier recalled, “Ellington’s sister Ruth called [from New York], ‘Book a studio and bring some charts’.” It was almost certainly Collier, who called Simkiw to book the studio and give him the set-up.
A few tracks from this Toronto session were released on a cut-rate Laserlight CD in 1992 (Cool Rock). Stanley Dance wrote the liner notes and probably selected the tracks, which come from two different stockpile recordings made in different cities. Dance is presumably the source for the discographic details. He was probably working with frugal documentation, but in any event they are mainly wrong.
The studio was originally listed as “Toronto Sound Studio” and the recording engineer Phil Sheridan; Sheridan’s studio was actually called Thunder Sound. Sheridan was the leading jazz producer in Toronto, and if you were guessing where this session took place, he would be the best guess. But it turns out that the studio was RCA Toronto, and that the engineer was George Simkiw.
Fred Stone, the Toronto flugelhorn player who was in Ellington’s orchestra in the first half of 1970, is listed with the trumpets at this session. Cootie Williams is conspicuously absent in the listing, and it may appear as if Stone was another “local guy” brought in to replace him. However, Cootie Williams was definitely there. In 1996 Collier talked about Cootie as the soloist on one of his charts played that day, “Vancouver Lights,” and remembered a mild rebuff when he started preparing for another take after Cootie announced, “That’s a take.” Collier said, “Duke gets up from the piano and he comes over, puts his arm around me, says, ‘Ron, when Cootie says that’s a take that means he’s not gonna play it any more.’ So that was it for that piece.”
If Stone was also there, that makes five trumpets though Simkiw specifically remembers the set-up called for four.
The date for the session is given as 22 June 1972. That was a Thursday, and Simkiw recalls getting the phone call “on a Saturday or Sunday… for a session at 7 o’clock this evening.” That sets the date at 24 or 25 June.
Finally, only one of Collier’s two charts was released on the Laserlight CD. It is identified as “Vancouver Lights,” but Collier pointed out that it is actually his other chart, “Relaxin’.” “Vancouver Lights” remains unissued. When Collier asked Dance about the mix-up, he said, “When we got the boxes, it was rather confusing.” In more ways than one, apparently.
The discographical listings that rely on Dance’s liner information (Timner and all others I have seen) should be revised as follows:
“Relaxin’” 3:11 RCA Studios, Toronto. 24 or 25 June 1972. George Simkiw engineer
CD: Cool Rock . Laserlight 15 782 .
Money Johnson tp, voc (on “Hello Dolly”), Cootie Williams, perhaps Fred Stone, Johnny Coles, Mercer Ellington tp; Vince Prudente, Chuck Connors, tb; Russell Procope as, clnt; Norris Turney as, fl; Harold Minerve ts cl fl; Harold Ashby ts; Harry Carney bs, cl, bass cl; Duke Ellington, p; Joe Benjamin b; Rufus Jones d, Ron Collier comp, arr;
One of the most emotional events at the Ellington ’88 conference was when Sam Woodyard was presented with a complete new drumset to replace the one that had been stolen from him in Paris.
It all begun at the start of the third day of the conference.
Woodyard did good use of his gift at the gala concert that ended the day.
In the concert, Bob Wilber and The Ellingtonian ’88 Orchestra presented a program of extended works by Ellington.
Here is the first part of the concert. It starts with a longer version of Daybreak Express using the scores from the Cotton Club movie. Then follows Creole Rhapsody transcribed by Brian Priestly and Idiom ’59.
Next a smaller group of the orchestra – The Rugcutters – plays a selection of small band Ellingtonia before the full orchestra is back to give the audience Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.
The second part of the concert will be published in September.
Bob Wilber was not only the musical director of the Ellington ’88 and leader of The Ellington ’88 Orchestra but also one of the presenters. In the first session of the third day of the conference, he presented his perception of Johnny Hodges of which he was a great fan. Wilber writes a lot about him in his autobiography “Music was not enough”
The third ”goodie” in June is program 25 in the Duke Ellington series broadcasted by the Danish Radio in the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The broadcast is available in the “Goodies” section of the website.
The program was broadcasted on July 12, 1985 and the announcer is Bjarne Busk.
Ellington’s My People is the focus of the broadcast. Busk gives the listerners 11 selections from the musical recorded either on August 20, 1963 or August 21 and August 27 plus a short interview with Mercer Ellington about “My People”.
The program starts with a “Piano Blues Ouverture”. It is the non-vocal version of “Jail Blues” which is not included in the program.
Next comes “Blues at Sundown”, a long-term feature for Jimmy Grissom.
Joya Sherrill sung “My Heritage (aka My Mother, My Father and Love)” in the original performance of the musical. Bjarne Busk let us hear it in the broadcast (including the narration) but also a short retake of the ending of the song.
Then follows an incomplete take (-1) “King” (“aka King Fit The Battle Of Alabam) and the full take-2 of the piece. In the show it was apparently preceeded by a slower version of the same song. The latter is unfortunately not included in the broadcast but available on CD.
The broadcast continues with a rendition of “The Blues Ain’t” sung by Lee Greenwood. In the show this song was performed by Joya Sherrill just before “Blues At Sundown”.
A non-complete version of “Walking And Singin’ The Blues” sung by Lee Greenwood comes next.
Following a short interview with Mercer Ellington, the broadcast ends with “Strange Feeling” from “Perfume Suite”sung by Jimmy Grissom and “After Bird Jungle” with Rudy Powell as clarinet soloist.
From a discographical point of view, it is not easy to decode the broadcast but it seems to be a fair presumption that the dates and takes of the different songs are basically identical to what is included in the Storyville issue of the complete show (Storyville 1018430).
His most famous composition is undoubtedly Caravan, which was first recorded in 1936 by a small group, Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators, and then in early 1937 by the full Ellington orchestra.
Tizol was a very skilled player of the valve trombone with brilliant technique and a beautiful tone. On his instrument he could play passages that were more or less impossible to do on a slide trombone, and for this reason he was often used by Ellington to play with the sax section. His warm sound can be compared with that of Tommy Dorsey and is easily recognized, whether played in the Ellington orchestra or with others. He first joined the Ellington orchestra in 1929 and stayed until 1944 when he joined Harry James via a short stint with Woody Herman. In 1951 he was back with Ellington again for a two year tenure, again finding his way back to Harry James. In 1960-61 he played with Ellington temporarily. He became a very important member of the Ellington organization helping Duke with the extraction of scores and copying notes for the band members. Undoubtedly, this must have spurred his talants for arranging and writing his own material. His compositions, which in sheer numbers cannot compete with Duke and Strayhorn, are relatively numerous, and include ballads, swingers and more exotic tunes in the latin and oriental vein. Members can go to the Goodies Room and listen to some of Tizol’s finest compositions. (more…)
Den här gången är det dags för det åttonde programmet i Jan Bruérs och Lars Westins serie om Duke Ellington.
Titeln på programmet är “Black, Brown and Beige” så det är lätt att förstå vad det handlar om.
Programmet sändes första gången den 18 april 1994.
Liksom de föregåendet programmen i serien finns det här programmet tillgängligt för DESS-medlemmar i radiodelen av Elllington-arkivet.
Clark Terry and Harold “Shorty” Baker flanking Paul Gonsalves in 1958. Gonsalves did not take part in the small group we refer to below.
60 years ago, in the beginning of June, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra were playing at the famous Blue Note in Chicago.
On June 4, we find Duke and a small group in a CBS TV-studio in Chicago. He leads a small group consisting of Clark Terry and Harold Baker on trumpets, Britt Woodman on trombone, Jimmy Hamilton clarinet, Jimmy Woode, bass and Sam Woodyard drums and of course Duke himself at the piano. This instrumentation is pretty unusual for Duke Ellington, maybe the only one in existence, but nevertheless it sounds very good. The telecast title was “Jazz In The Round”. Unfortunately we don’t have access to a video copy, but the sound track is of fair quality. Our source material is coming from this telecast, which obviously also had some other contents, hence the announcer says he was going to introduce some girl singer, which does not appear on the tape.
Jimmy Hamilton in Tenderly
Members can go to the Goodies Room to listen to the complete telecast. (more…)
We start by joining the crowd in the Cotton Club to listen to the second part of the concert by Bob Wilber and the Ellington ’88 Orchestra, which ended the second day of the conference. Among other songs, the audience enjoyed Midriff, Passion Flower and Lush Life.
As said in the previous article on Ellington ’88, a feature in the conference program was to let the Ellington alumnies share their memories of Ellington and their time with him in different panels.
In line with this, the English jazz journalist and Ellington specialist Steven Voce had a spot in the conference to share with the attendees recorded interviews with musicians talking about the Ellington orchestra.
After Voce’s presentation, it was time to listen to what Sam Woodyard, Jimmy Woode and Gloria Nance (wife of Ray Nance) have to say about their time with Ellington. Patricia Willard moderated the panel and has also some words of her own to say.
Earlier in the conference, Patricia Willard had made a very interesting presentation about “Dance – The Unsung Element of Ellingtonia”.
Just before the panel started, Sam Woodyard had been given a special present. Having learnt that Woodyard’s drumset had been stolen in Paris, the participants decided give him a new one. We will return to this in another article.