Billy Strayhorn composed Midriff in 1944. Its first appearance in the Ellington discographies (NDESOR) is Ellington’s first Carnegie Hall concert in December 1944 and was quite prominently featured in the Ellington 1945 repertoire as can be heard on for instance the Treasury broadcasts. The first recording of Midriff was also done in 1945 by World Transcription (January 2, 1945).
Then Midriff disappeared from the repertoire for a long time except for occasional appearances. It was recorded by RCA-Victor for the French Swing Label on September 3, 1946 (and issued couple with Esquire Swank recorded on the same date).
Midriff was also part of the program for the 1947 Carnegie Hall concert and performed during Ellington’s engagement at Meadowbrook and Birdland in 1951 and at a dance date (unknown location) in March 1952.
It was also recorded in 1956 (Bethlehem) and 1960 (Columbia).
However, its real return to Ellington’s repertoire was the 1965 European tour when DESS-members possibly heard it at the Stockholm Concert Hall on February 2.
The last time it was played by Ellington was the recording session on September 16, 1967 for the “And His Mother Called Him Bill” album. Making Midriff part of this special tribute to Strayhorn following his passing away on May 31, 1967 should tell us that this work was more important in the Strayhorn legacy than the number of performances of the song indicates.
Midriff is not discussed very much in the Ellington literature. Not even the Strayhorn specialists Walter van de Leur and David Hajdu give much attention to the work and neither does Eddie Lambert in his “A Listeners Guide”. One can wonder why!
But finally, it was Loren Schoenberg at the Oldham ’88 Ellington conference, who took upon himself to unveil the inner secrets of the work in a very well-structured presentation and guide the listerners through its developed over the years.
He had also taken the trouble to prepare a three-page hand-out summarizing his key points. Thanks to Roger Boyes, the visitors of the website can also follow Schoenberg’s presentation in hand.
It is available here.