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A Birthday Party with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1)

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Bob Udkoff was born in Chicago but moved later to California and settled in Los Angeles. He was a lifelong friend and associate of Duke Ellington, Joe Williams, Kenny Burrell and many others in the jazz world. He had a successful career as a founder of Blue Haven Pools.

Duke and Udkoff had been friends since 1934 when Udkoff worked for a dry cleaner and dropped off Duke’s clothes at the Dunbar Hotel in Los Angeles where Duke was staying.

When Bob Udkoff celebrated his 50th birthday on April 17, 1968 at Cabellero Country Club in Los Angeles, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra provided the music and took part in the celebrations.

Udkoff recorded privately about  four hours of music by Duke and his men, and also by other guests.

A few years ago these tapes found their way to Sjef Hoefsmit with the stated purpose that he could make them available to Ellington fans on a non-commercial basis. The material fills 3 CD records and today we are happy to offer the content of the first one to the DESS-members for listening and downloading in the Goodies Room. This is possible thanks to the generosity of Mark Cantor – the jazz film specialist with his website http://jazz-on-film.com/ – who has provided us with the files.

Duke played a lot of piano solos, with the band joining in now and then. No charts were used by the band members, but this of course was familiar ground to all of them. Duke starts with Salute To Morgan State and I Can’t Get Started. There is sometimes a rather loud chatter from the birthday guests, which is one reason why these performances were not judged feasible for commercial issue.

Duke at the piano
(the top picture is not from this session)

The band joins in on I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore where Johnny Hodges is heard soloing. Next, Jimmy Jones takes over as piano player with Cat Anderson as the soloist in Satin Doll. Lawrence Brown is the trombone player heard on I Left My Heart In San Fransisco whereafter The Twitch is played by Duke and the full band.

Mood Indigo is played in usual fashion after a few different introductions and after a short interlude. Cootie Williams is the soloist in Fly Me To The Moon. Next is a new performance of Satin Doll with Duke at the piano and with Paul Gonsalves playing tenor. This is followed by Duke playing solo piano on  Dance No 3 from the Liberian Suite after which we can hear Clark Terry playing in Stompin’ At The Savoy. At the end of this CD, Duke again is at the piano playing Blue Belles of Harlem, Meditation and New World A-Comin’.

No attempt has been made at editing this recording, which means that the listener has to accept some interruptions and guest chatter. Nevertheless, listening to this recording could be of interest to the DESS members. We hope you’ll enjoy it!


After Paris – Sacred Concerts

After the Reprise recordings in Paris, it took four years before Ellington and Alice Babs worked together again and it was only by chance.

In early 1967, Ellington did a European tour together with Ella Fitzgerald. A concert was scheduled for Malmö in the south of Sweden on January 26 but for some reason Fitzgerald had been booked to be also in Berlin that night. So Ellington called Babs and asked if she could step in.

She said yes and arranged to have a piano and a tape recorder available for a rehearsal with Duke when he was in Stockholm some days before. However, in the final end he did not have time so Babs arrived in Malmö totally unprepared.

She remembers: ”When I arrived i Malmö, the Ellington band was not there. The first concert was to start at 19:00 o’clock but the full band was not in place until 19:15. So I had to do two full concerts in front of sold-out houses without any rehearsals.” But Babs managed by getting the band to improvise with her. ”It was actually two quite good performance”, she has said afterwards.

Almost a year later, they got in touch again. ”One night in December he called me from Las Vegas and asked if he could write something for me in the ”Second Sacred Concert”, which he was preparing.” Babs said yes and arrived in New York in early January for rehearsals. But nothing was ready yet.

”I almost had a nervous breakdown”, she had said. ”I had to be some kind of co-composer because time was short and the last song was ready only two days before the concert.”


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