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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”
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.
A highlight of the second day was another nightly concert.
This time it was Bob Wilber and the Ellington ’88 Orchestra that took the stage and they did so to honor Billy Strayhorn.
The Ellington alumnies Bill Berry, Buster Cooper, Jimmy Woode and Sam Woodyard were part of the band on and off during the evening. They appeared particularily in the rendition of the small group band “The Coronets” known from recordings on the Mercer label.
A recurring feature in the conference program was to let the Ellington alumnies share their memories of Ellington and their time with him in different panels.
The first one took place on the second day when the doyen of British jazz critics and the author of important books on jazz in the 1950’s and 1960’s interviewed Bill Berry and Buster Cooper “about their times with the maestro”.
It was followed up later in the day when Herb Jeffries and Sjef Hoefsmit sat down together to talk about Ellington and the orchestra in the early 1940’s and about “Ellington the man”. Don’t miss the end of this video! It got the conference crowd on its feet.
More from Ellington ’88 will follow! But in between comes Ellington ’18 in Birmingham from which the website also will report.
When one looks at the program for the conference, which has got a very nice and clear design, it is easy to understand why it is considered as one of the best in the series of Ellington Study Group Conferences.
The presentation part is very strong both on paper and when one listens to them in Sjef Hoefsmit’s videos from the conference.
It is supplemented by a excellent concert program including three concerts – “A Nite at the Cotton Club”, “A Portrait of See’ Pea” and “The Extended Ellington”.
The presence of Ellington alumnies like Alice Babs, Bill Berry, Buster Cooper, Herb Jeffries and Jimmy Woode at the conference and their active participation in it gave a special dimension to the event.
The DESS website will this time give more of thematic rather than chronological snapshots of the conference. This article gives some of the presentations on early Ellington.
But first we will let John E. Hasse talk about Mercer Ellington’s donation of Duke Ellington’s papers to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. It was Hasse’s first appearance at an Ellington Conference but there would be many more.
At Ellington ’89 in Washington D.C. a full day was devoted to the Ellington Archive and the presentations on that occasion can be viewed here.
We have chosen two presentations on early Ellington for this article. The first is by Jerry Valburn – one of the instigators of the Ellington Study Group conferences and leading authority on Duke Ellington. He had chosen to talk about Ellington’s recording career 1923-1929.
The second presentation is by the noted jazz researcher and jazz journalist Frank Dutton. He had chosen Ellington’s Cotton Club period, on which he was a respected authority, as his topic.
All these three presentations were given at the first day of the conference and in the evening of it, the conference participants were invited to “A Nite at the Cotton Club”. The English band Harlem provided the music and Herb Jeffries guided the audience through the night.
Here is a short excerp from the start of it. We will return to it in a later article.
The Ellington Study Group Conference in Oldham, England in 1985 was apparently very special. Roger Boyes was there and he says that “the spirit it generated was quite magical”.
As a result, the organizers took the decision “there and then” to do it again. However, planning for Newark ’86 was already well in hand by then, and Toronto was penciled in for ’87. So 1988 was the next year available.
Once the conference was announced, the registrations for participation started to come in quickly and Roger Boyes was one who registered early.
Also Bo Haufman, Deputy Chair of DESS and the editor of the DESS Bulletin, took part in the conference and he remembers it very well.
“It was my first Ellington Study Group Conference and it was a very good experience, which triggered me to go to many more, including Birmingham 2018 in two weeks. It took place in the same venue as the 1985 conference – Birch Hall in Oldham – and was run in a very capable way by Mike Hazeldine after the sad passing away of Eddie Lambert about a year before the conference.
Almost all of the presentations were very interesting. I remember in particular the ones by Loren Schoenberg, who talked about “Midriff”, and by Bob Wilber, who made a very knowledgeable presentation of Johnny Hodges and his development over the years.
Jerry Valburn talked about both common and odd 78 rpm Ellington records in his extensive collection of records and Klaus Stratemann about his “Day by Day” project.
In the many panels, that discussed various aspects of Duke Ellington and his music, we could hear Sjef Hoefsmit, Patricia Willard, Andrew Homzy, Jack Towers, Alice Babs, Herb Jeffries and several others.
The evening concerts were presented by a fantastic band put together and led by Bob Wilber. Guest performer was Bill Berry and of course Herb Jeffries and Alice Babs appeared with the band. In it were such names as Jimmie Woode, Buster Cooper, Danny Moss and Anti Sarpila. Afterwards Herb Jeffries gave us a wonderful show ending with “Flamingo”.
The Swedes, who attended the Conference, were Carl-Erik Carlsson, Peter Lee and myself and then of coursefor Alice Babs and Nils Sjöblom.”
The organizing committee had worked hard for almost two years to get everything in place and the day before the conference some of its members made sure that the conference attendees would easily find their way to the conference venue.
Bob Wilber followed in their steps and brought together the band for an two and a half hour rehearsal before the start of the conference.
And then finally, in the morning of May 26, 1988, it was time to open the conference.
The opening ceremony ended with Hazeldine inviting Herb Jeffries to the podium to say a few words. “It is all for the love of Duke” was Jeffries credo.