Home » Byng Whittaker
Category Archives: Byng Whittaker
On September 2, 1964, the respected CBC announcer and journalist Bryng Whittaker made an hour-long interview with Ellington to be used for an Ellington TV special which the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was preparing. The orchestra and dance parts were recorded on September 3 and 4.
The full original interview is some 66 minutes and it is the one made available here to DESS members and other visitors of the website.
However, there are also other versions in circulation, particularly a 60 minutes version, which was broadcasted on CBC radio in 1974.
The full TV program has only been shown on two occasions. There was of course the original broadcast on March 3, 1965 and then a special showing to the participants of the Duke Ellington Study Group Conference in Toronto, Canada in 1987.
The Dutch Ellington specialist and Professor of Educational and Social Sciences Louis Tavecchio knows the interview very well and DESS has asked him to give a comment on it to the readers of the website.
It follows here.
“At the 21st Duke Ellington Study Group conference in Woking, England (23-27 May 2012), I gave a presentation on Byng Whittaker’s September 2, 1964 interview with Duke for CBC in Toronto.
CBC’s educational department in Toronto had given permission for the presentation and provided a DVD copy of the entire interview in mint condition, and the Ellington Estate gave permission for a ’onetime public exhibition in a closed setting’.
Duke talks about his past and the music, of course. He also plays a lot, accompanied by John Lamb (bass) and Sam Woodyard (drums). The interview is fascinating to watch and listen to, and it has high educational value.
The first musical performance is ‘Soda Fountain Rag’, composed by Duke at age 14 (“If you might call it composing”, he says). He tries to remember the piece, humming along, but stops after half a minute: “I can’t play it anymore, it’s too hard”.
He then continues with ‘What you gonna do when the bed breaks down’, giving a short lecture on the afterbeat, which appears not so easy to play on, as he takes some time to explain it: “Just the afterbeat!”, he tells Lamb and Woodyard. ‘My Mother, My Father’ (Heritage, from ‘My People’) receives an extended rendition with Duke at times digging hard into his memory to find the right words.
There is also a masterful trio rendition of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (the band’s first theme), an interesting illustration of the genesis of Sophisticated Lady (“It took me a month to write it”), and beautiful versions of ‘Don’t You Know I Care?’ and ‘I’m Just a Lucky So-and-so’.
Then, of course, there is the famous ‘Dreaming’ fragment. To Whittaker’s question “Where do you get your ideas from?”, Duke answers “Ideas?” (….) “This is dreaming … I’m just dreaming all the time”. He then indulges himself in magnificent piano playing, going back to his early 1932 composition ‘Blue Tune’.
But to me the most fascinating (and surprising) fragment is Duke’s reaction to Whittaker’s question: “You write the music of your people … “Would you like to expand on it a little bit?”. Duke answers “Oh, my people. What can I tell you about my people – he then plays a few chords on the piano – That’s a strange question, you know. I was afraid you were gonna do this, get me out here on this tape and expose me to my own ignorance or something”.
Question to the reader: Is Duke annoyed with Whittaker or at this specific question? To me he seems to be embarrassed, but he quickly regains his self-assured posture. “Let’s see, my people. Now, which of my people? I’m in several groups, you know. I’m in the group of the piano-players, in the group of listeners, in the groups of … (follows an enumeration of several different groups) and, oh yeah, those who appreciate Beaujolais”.
I had seen the ‘My People’ fragment earlier, but all of them were ‘edited’, leaving the ‘annoyed’ part out. In those versions, Whittaker’s question is followed immediately by Duke’s “Let’s see, my people, now which of my people?”
Reactions to: email@example.com”
Louis Tavecchio (1946) studied psychology at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where he received his PhD in Social Sciences in 1977. He has been a professor of Educational and Social Sciences at the Universities of Leiden and Amsterdam, and retired in 2011. He has been an Ellington devotee for more than 50 years. He fell in love with Duke’s music in 1965, when he heard ‘Money Jungle’ on the tape recorder of a fellow student.
This post as well as the one published on September 7 have been written using information from Dr. Klaus Stratemann’s impressive and invaluable book Duke Ellington – Day by Day and Film by Film.
Author: Louis Tavecchio / Ulf Lundin
On March 3, 1965, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired an one-hour long television program with Duke Ellington. It included sections of an interview made on September 2, 1994 and of performances of the Ellington orchestra and dancer Bunny Briggs recorded on September 3 and 4. The interview was made by Byng Whittaker – a famous CBC announcer and interviewer – and he got Ellington to relax and open up to his questions.
One of his questions were: “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?” and here is what Duke answered.
The tune on which Ellington improvises is “Blue Tune” from 1932.
Whittaker asked of course many more questions. Duke’s answers to them and the music he played to illustrate them further can be heard on a tape, which will be available on the website in a couple of days. It will be accompanied by comments by the Ellington scholar Louis Tavecchio, who presented the program and the recordings to the 21st Study Group Conference in Woking, England in 2012.