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A Present from Steven Lasker

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24 December 2021 is the day in Sweden (and many other countries) when Santa Claus arrives with his presents. This year, Steven Lasker has joined him and given DESS and its members a present in the form of 25 minutes of Never-Issued Rarities from his collection.

It is a mixture of the rarities, which were presented at the DESS Ellington Meeting 2021 by Ken Steiner on behalf of Steven, and some new ones.

They are now available in Steven Lasker Gift in the Goodies section of the website

Track 1 is three fragments of Ebony Rhapsody, recorded in February 1934. They are never-issued alternates to the soundtrack version from Murder at the Vanities, and alternate to the alternates (PBS 79093-1, 79094-1, 79105-1 & 79106-1) first released in 2008 on Sony/BMG 88697302362 (“The Best of Duke Ellington, 1932-39”).

These fragments are sourced from 12-inch, 78 rpm exploitation discs (PCS 79193-1 & 79194) dubbed from optical soundtrack at RCA’s Hollywood studio with narration overdubbed; the first two tracks are from 79193, the last from 79194.

While Barbara Van Brunt sings Ebony Rhapsody on the film’s soundtrack, the vocalist on the second fragment here is Gertrude Michael. Fragments of other songs, performed by Paramount’s studio orchestra, have been omitted.

Track 2 is I’ve Got to Be a Rug Cutter from a spring 1937 Cotton Club broadcast.

Included among the gems from Steven is Never No Lament from a 1940 broadcast (exact date and venue of the broadcast is not known). As the Blanton specialist Matthias Heyman has observed, “Blanton is on fire!” here.

The version played at the Ellington Meeting was out of pitch and this has now been corrected.  The new verion is track 3.

Track 4 is another Ellington composition, the earliest-known version of Barzallai Lew, a fact established by the presence of Barney Bigard, who isn’t heard on any other known version.

Track 5 have two songs from early June 1946. They were recorded by Duke in the chamber music hall at Carnegie Hall.

They were found together with much more on a set of 15 discs that Steven purchased at auction in 2019. The discs contain piano/vocal demos of songs Ellington wrote for “Street Music,” the working title for the show that would be renamed “Beggar’s Opera.”

Introductions to “Brown Penny” and “No One But You” are spoken by John Latouche, who wrote lyrics for the show, although for “Brown Penny,’ he borrowed words from a poem by William Butler Yeats. Kay Davis is the vocalist on both selections.

The songs found on the set of discs include an alternate take of “No One But You” as well as many other Ellington songs, some found nowhere else.

The last tracks are both sides of  Gaye Records no. 365 (45 rpm), Perdido (mx. G3130) /Take the “A” Train (mx. G3131) by Paul Gonzalves with The Ivys [and] Billy Strayhorn Orchestra.

In his script, Steven asks, “Does this record include other members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra? I don’t hear a piano.”

Mercer Ellington owned Gaye Records, which was named after his daughter Gaye. Steven knows of only one other release on this label, no. 364 by Jimmy McPhail (mxs. G3127/28).  New York Age (March 1, 1958, p. 27) reported it was recorded “this week,” thus the two Gonzalves tracks were likely recorded in March or April 1958, following the Ellington band’s return to New York City.

The rarities made available for the DESS’ website also includes two Ellington interviews, one by Nat Hentoff and another by Leonard Feather. They will be published on the website at a later date.

The text above builds on two scripts provided by Steven for the two sets of never-issued rarities from his collection.

The tracks in the Steven Lasker Room are meant for members of DESS and are password protected. Become a DESS member and enjoy Steven’s goodies and much more!

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