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Ellington ’89 in Washington D.C. (2)

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

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