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Dick Buckley was a well-known radio presenter in Chicago, who for many years hosted ”Jazz With Dick Buckley”. One day in May 1981, he started his program by saying:
What Buckley refers to is a lunch meeting with a small group of eminent American Ellington specialists that took place on a Saturday in May 1981.
It was organized by Donald (Don) Miller – a leading figure on the Ellington scene in Chicago and the founder of the Ray Nance Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society.
He was well connected in the American and international network of Ellington specialists and was very focused on how to preserve the Ellington legacy.
In a report from the meeting published in the DEMS Bulletin 1982/1, Miller sketched the task(s) ahead for what he saw as an Ellington Study Group.
“We are a privileged generation for having personally known and experienced Ellington. This provides us with the opportunity to maximize the record for posterity’s experience of Ellington.”
The guest speaker at the four-hour lunch was the musicologist, composer and author Gunther Schuller.
He was just on his way to start to write the second volume of his work on the history of jazz and it was one of the topics he talked about at the lunch. But he covered many more. Here is one example of what he (and others) said during the lunch.
Miller taped the lunch meeting and in total there are three and a half hour of talks and conversation to listen to. Unfortunately, the recording was not done in the best of ways and the tapes have deteriorated with time. As a result, the sound quality of the tapes varies quite a lot.
However, another 21 minutes of what Schuller and others had to say have been edited together and the result is available in the Ellington Archive.
Last year, the 24th Duke Ellington Study Group conference took place and this time in New York City. And in May this year, DESUK organized a one day mini-conference using a format similar to the Study Group ones.
The Study Group Conferences have had a tremendously important role in building an international network of Ellington scholars and aficionados and a solid knowledge base of Ellington’s work, life and music.
The network of Ellington clubs and societies has been crucial for the conferences. Without them, they would never have taken place. The first one – “The Duke Ellington Jazz Society (DEJS)” – was founded in Los Angeles, California with Bill Ross as President and Patricia Willard as Vice-President. It not only wanted to bring together Ellington fans locally but also build an international network of Ellington clubs.
Unfortunately, DEJS disappeared in the early 1960s but by that time The New York Chapter had been formed. It started in 1959 and with its large membership, it soon had a leading role among Ellington fans. It change its name to The Duke Ellington Society (TDES) at the request of Duke Ellington himself in the 1960s and later it became TDES only.
In 1993, the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden was formed.
Another key factor behind the conferences was the existence of a network of Ellington experts, who worked together to increase the knowledge about Ellington’s work and life.