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In their conference folders, the participants in Ellington ’89 found an invitation to a very special event.
The Washington jazz broadcaster and Ellington aficionado Felix Grant had spent a lot of time and energy to find Ellington’s birthplace in Washington D.C. Once he had found it, he lobbied hard the U.S. Congress and local authorities to have a memorial plaque installed on the site.
Finally, he got what he had strived for and on the last day of the conference, the plaque was unveiled.
Despite some cancellations, the conference participants could also enjoy presentations and music during the last day of the conference.
The first speaker of the day was Dr. Jerome Sashen, who provided a “Psychoanalysis of Ellington’s Music”.
In the afternoon, Sjef Hoefsmit did a presentation on “Ellington’s Train” A soundfile of the presentation was included in the first article on the conference. Here is the video version.
He was followed by Don Miller, President of the Chicago Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society and one of the instagators of the Ellington conferences. He gave a brief presentation on what was available at that time of Ellington’s music on CD. He had found that some 75 CDs of this kind had been issued at the time!
The Danish jazz researcher and jazz critic Erik Wiedeman was the last speaker at the conference. His topic was “Ellington in Denmark” and the presentation included a lot of musical examples.
Part of the afternoon was also a concert – “Program of Ellington’s Music” – with Ronnie Wells and her students from the University of Maryland.
The DESS member Peter Lee was the only Swedish participant at the conference. Also Alice Babs and her husband Nils were there but they were considered as Spanish.
Peter remembers that he thought that the organization of the conference could have been better since almost a quater of the scheduled speakers never appeared. But there were a lot of good things and Peter remembers particularily
- The day at the Smithsonian. Besides the presentations, he was happy to be able to see the documentation on Ellington’s Honorary Membership of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.
- Among the presentations, Peter rembers the one by Sjef Hoefsmit’s on ”Ellington´s Trains” as the best. “It was very well structed and very thourough”, he says.
- The unveiling of the Memorial Plaque on the site where Ellington was also “quite special” and so was the “lunch afterwards with only me and Alice Babs. She wanted to have the opportunity to speak some Swedish”.
- The big band concert with Jimmy Hamilton and Herb Jeffries.
The full text of Peter’s comments in Swedish is in the Washington 1989 part of the Ellington Archive.
This is the last article in the Ellington ’89 series. The DESS website likes to thank in particular Ted Hudson and Peter Lee for help with photos and Ted and Bob Reny for help with contacts in Washington D.C.
The second day of the conference ended with a concert by Doug Richard’s Great American Music Ensemble. It provided the audience with “A Panorama of Ellington’s Music From The Late 20’s To The Late 50’s”. As an extra bonus, Jimmy Hamilton and Herb Jeffries appeared as guest artists and made the concert a very special and memorable event of the conference.
The orchestra, also known under its acronym GAME, was formed in the mid-80s when Richards was director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. It made a recording of standards from the Great American Songbook in 2001 but it was only released in 2016 on the Jazzed Media label.
Here is the full two-and-a-half hour concert (except for the very end, which will be published on April 29).
Besides the presentations included in the previous article on the conference, there were two more on the second day.
Dr. Ted Hudson – active member of Chapter 90 and much more – gave a presentation on “Literary Sources For Ellington’s Music”.
It ends with a filmed performance of a song – “Heart of Harlem” – that Ellington and Langston Hughes apparently wrote together. Ellington copyrighted it in 1945.
And Dr. Joseph McLaren talked about “Ellington’s Afro-American Heritage”.
The second day of the conference also had a very full program.
and the President of Chapter 90 of the Ellington Society, Terrell Allen, guided the audience through it with firm hands but also with a lot of jokes.
It started with the handing over of the Eddie Lambert gavel and some welcoming words.
Then Jerry Valburn asked Sjef Hoefsmit, Klaus Strateman, Gordon Ewing and “the young man” Steven Lasker to join him at the podium for a discussion on ongoing research about Ellington.
The full video of the panel discussion is in Ellington Archive
Kurt Dietrich from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin then took the floor. He came to the conference to tell about his PhD work on Lawrence Brown and to get some feed-back from the Ellington specialists gathered at the conference.
Follwing his doctoral dissertation and a number of journal articles, he published in 1999 his book, Duke’s ’Bones: Ellington’s Great Trombonists. It was follwed 10 years later by another book on a similar topic Jazz ’Bones: The World of Jazz Trombone. Both are highly recommended!
Another speaker during the second day was Andrew Homzy from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada – musicologist, arranger, big band leader, Duke Ellington as well as Charlie Mingus specialist and much more. He was a well-known profile at many Ellington Study Group conferences and is still an important part of the international network of Ellington aficionados and specialists.
This time he talked about Ellington’s La Plus Belle Africane.
Two other speakers during the second day were Bruce Kennan, member of the New York Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society, and Martin Williams.
The topic for Kennan’s presentation was “Spoken Ellington” and he let the the audience listen to excerpts from a number of Ellington interviews.
Martin Williams spoke about “Stealing from the Duke” and made his point with musical examples.
The other presentations from the second day of the Washington ’89 conference will be included in a later article together with some from the third day.
The day ended with a concert by Doug Richard’s The Great Americ Music Ensemble, which gave a panorama of Ellington’s music from the late 20’s to the late 50’s. Here is a tidbit from the concert. The full one will be included in the next article.
The report from Ellington ’89 that appeared in the 1989-3 issue of the DEMS Bulletin, says “that visitors from abroad appreciated the Smithsonian all-day as ideal”.
For most of them, it was the first visit to the Smithsonian Institution and its National Museum of American History and they got treated to a full day of presentations on the Ellington Collection established the year before.
The Director of the National Museum of American history, Robert G. Kennedy, welcomed the conference participants to the museum and introduced the Ellington Collection together with John E. Hasse, Curator of American Music since 1984.
Hasse also spoke about the museum’s collection on “Development of Jazz” more generally.
Mark Tucker, who had been among the first to make use of the Ellington Collection for his research, followed Hasse and spoke about the music in the Collection
In the afternoon session, there were presentations by, among others, Martin Williams and Patricia Willard.
Williams, the author of many book on jazz, presented his work for the Smithsonian on an upcoming book-and-record-set to be called “Duke Ellington: Masterpieces 1926-1968“.
Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, the album never appeared.
However, in 1994 John E. Hasse produced for the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings a two-CD set with a 28-page booklet. Slightly paraphrasing the title of his book on Ellington published the year before, It was called “Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington“.
The topic for Willard’s presentation was “Billy Strayhorn and the Ellington Collection”. She really foreshadows the importance of the Ellington Collection to ensure Strayhorn’s proper place in the Ellington legacy.
Other presentations on the Ellington Collection during the day – like the one by Marcia Greenlee on “The Smithsonian’s Oral History Project On Duke Ellington” – can be found in the Ellington Archive.
Congressman John Conyers, who had been instrumental in securing Congressional funding for the Ellington Collection, and Mercer Ellington were honored guests at the opening. Their speeches are also in the website’s Ellington Archive.
Finally, after a long day, it was time to summarize and thank everybody. John Hasse did this.
Following the very successful and almost legendary Ellington ’88 conference in Oldham, England, the Ellington Study Group Conference returned to Washington D.C. for its 7th edition. It took place on April 28-29, 1989 and was proceeded by a full day symposium at The Smithsonian and its National Museum of American History.
The Duke Ellington Society Chapter 90 was responsible for the conference. Its long-standing President Terrell Allan was chairman of the organizing committee and Ann Ledgister the conference coordinator.
The full Ellington ’89 program can be read and downloaded here.
Bob Reny, who was part of the organizing committee, has generously shared his recollection of the preparation of the conference with the DESS website.
“To begin with, The Duke Ellington Society, Washington DC was a relatively small organization and we didn’t think we could mount a Conference recognizing Duke’s 90th Birthday in light of our few members and limited funds. But we began, chipping away at one obstacle after another, feeding off the material supplied by other Societies.
We had great cooperation from the Mayflower Hotel for the two day event.
The major challenge – the music – was solved when we engaged the Doug Richard’s Orchestra from Richmond, VA which had a solid reputation of playing Ellington’s music with unbridled passion. Then through the friendships of some of our key members with Ellington sidemen, we were able to secure the talents of vocalist Herb Jefferies and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton and those two luminaries, supported by the Richard’s Orchestra, helped swell our paid reservations list.
We still, however, didn’t have the level of funding to complete the conference and an angel in the form of famed recording engineer, Jack Towers, a member of our Society, came to our rescue with a no interest loan. Jack, who was loved by all of us, passed in 2010 at age 96 but not before becoming an “audio magician” for restoring, remastering and producing jazz vintage recordings for a myriad of jazz labels world-wide. He will also be remembered always for his role in recording the Ellington Orchestra live at Fargo, North Dakota in 1940, an album that became a best seller and received a Grammy Award.
Another key contributor to our Conference was Washington’s jazz radio giant Felix Grant (WMAL & WDCU), who painstakingly unearthed the birth certificate of Ellington and then worked for fifteen years to have a commemorative plaque placed at his birth place, 2129 Ward Place, NW, Washington, DC which is now a bulk mail postal facility – the bronze plaque is mounted on the outside brick wall near the entrance.
Grant commented that “Ellington has been a name in music for about six decades of the century. The only other person I can say that is true of is Irving Berlin.” The plaque was unveiled by son Mercer Ellington on the birthday of his father in the afternoon of the second day of our Conference, April 29; the ceremony was well attended by conference participants.”
This far Bob Reny.
Doug Richard and his orchestra was not the only one performed Ellington music at the conference. Another one was the late Ellington scholar and author of the book “Ellington: The Early Years” Dr. Mark Tucker.
Replacing the originally announced orchestra “The Army Blues”, Tucker thrilled the conference participants, which had gathered for an evening reception at the Flag Hall of the National Museum of American History, with a concert with Ellington’s piano music.
The concert is also available as a soundfile in the Ellington Archive’s Washington D.C. 1989 folder