Hem » Billy Strayhorn
Category Archives: Billy Strayhorn
Chelsea Bridge was one of the songs Billy Strayhorn wrote in 1940 when he and Mercer Ellington were called upon by Ellington to write new material for the band following the boycott by the radio stations of songs licensed by ASCAP.
In his biography on Strayhorn, David Hajdu describes “Chelsea Bridge” as “more Debussy than Ellington. It is classical’ in its integration of melody and harmony as an organic whole.
Strayhorn himself has said that “Chelsea Bridge” was “an impressionistic miniature composed with a painting by James McNeill Whistler in mind.
The first appearance of “Chelsea Bridge” in the Ellington discography is the dance date at Casa Manana in Culver City, California on February 16, 1941 but probably it was performed several times during the engagement there from Jan. 3 to Feb 20 1941.
Chelsea Bridge, Febr. 16, 1941
Chelsea Bridge was recorded for Standard Transcriptions on September 17, 1941 and for RCA-Victor on September 26 and December 2, 1941.
In his quite wonderful book “ Something to Live For, The Music of Billy Strayhorn”, Walter van de Leur laments that there is no readily available recording of the Ellington band playing the full score of Chelsea Bridge.
In a note on page 207 of his book, he mentions that an “unissued broadcast from the Casa Manana, Culver City” is “the only known full recording of Chelsea Bridge by the Ellington Orchestra.
Later recordings … use different parts of the manuscript. The recording of June 30, 1945 (“Your Saturday Date with the Duke” broadcast issued on Duke Ellington Treasury Series 12) moves after the bridge of the third chorus into Something to Live For.”
Chelsea Bridge June 30, 1945
Since I didn’t have the unissued recording, I decided to listen to the DETS recording. I went to my cd collection and pulled out the Storyville DETS Vol. 12.
Indeed there is a version of Chelsea Bridge as part of a “group of three Billy Strayhorn compositions” wherein the band does go from Chelsea Bridge to Something to Live For but with a bond promo in between. However, Chelsea Bridge is quite long. It lasts 5 minutes and sounds a lot like van de Leur’s description of the complete composition.
Chelsea Bridge Sep. 8 1945
I then realized that I had been listening to a different version of “Chelsea Bridge” than the one van de Leur was referring to in his note. When he said “DETS Series 12”, he meant LP no. 12 in the original LP series, not Vol. 12 in the Storyville series. The one Walter was referring to is on Vol. 7 in this series and is much shorter than the one on Vol 12.
So I decided to contact him and ask for his comment. Here is what he replied.
“Thanks for this. Indeed, the full score, fantastic. Duke opens, but Strays takes over from the first chorus. It confirms that he had some composed piano parts as I had figured.”
So small misunderstandings can sometimes lead to something interesting.
Author: Joe Medjuck
The 2017 autumn issue of Blue Light has been distributed to DESUK members.
Following in the steps of the previous issue, it basically has one major article and some more house-keeping ones about DESUK activities and information on concerts with Ellington music in the U.K.
Possibly, this is because of the length of the article on Irving Mills’ Publicity Operation in the 1930s contributed by Steven Lasker. This very interesting and detailed article is highly recommended.
It discusses the four advertising manuals / press books that the Irving Mills organization produced in the 1930s of which the first two were entirely dedicated to promoting Ellington. The article includes a 20 pages facsimile of the 1931 advertising manual for Ellington. It was republished in 1933 together with additionally 26 pages.
Those pages will apparently be published in the next issue of Blue Light together with an article by Carl Woideck, who gave a presentation on the advertising manuals at the 2016 Ellington Study Group Conference in New York.
”Strange Visitor” is one of the songs in the ”Serenade To Sweden” album. It is a song that Alice Babs herself wrote (”possibly already in the early 50’s”, she have said) and Babs used it, among others, for improvising at the piano when she had her first rehearsal with Duke after arriving in Paris.
Apparently, Ellington liked it a lot and he insisted that it should be included in the recording and that Babs should not only sing it but also play the piano.
However, both Ellington and Strayhorn gave it a try before the final take with Alice alone with the piano was recorded.
At one point, Duke asks ”You are tired. Wanna go home?” Yes, Babs was tired but she wanted to finish the job and gave us a wonderful rendition of the song.
The visitors of the website now get the opportunity to listen to the different takes of ”Strange Visitor” recorded in the early morning of March 2, 1963 in the Hoche Studio in Paris.
In the first one, Duke plays the piano and it is as if he tries out the piece; then comes two takes with Billy Strayhorn at the piano accompanied by Gilbert Rovere (b) and Peter Giger or Kenny Clarke (dr). He plays it in a more elaborate way than Duke.
Finally, there is the take with Alice alone. This is the one included in the LP.
In-between the full takes, there are some incomplete ones. This is why the discographies list a total of seven takes – two with Ellington and Babs, four with Strayhorn and Babs and one with Babs alone.
The heritage of radio broadcasts from the late 1930s and early 1940s by Ellington and other black bands is quite small. So whatever there is, it is very valuable and we should be deeply grateful to those who have made at least a part of them available to us.
One example is the one that survives from Ellington’s engagement at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston in July-August 1939.
Ellington scholar Ken Steiner has given a very detailed account of this engagement it in the DEMS Bulletin 2003:2 and it has been used for this article.
The surviving broadcast is from July 27, 1939 and it has been issued on both LP and CD (see below).
However, recently it also became available online in mp3 format thanks to the Star-Spangled Radio Hour (SSRH) radio program. It featured it in its July 16, 2016 program together with two broadcasts by Woody Herman from Glen Island Casino in August and September 1939.
The program can be downloaded here: http://www.cruisin1430.com/media/audio-channel/star-spangled-radio-hour-71616. (mer…)