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Another Ellington Birthday Celebration
Today is the Maestro’s 121st birthday and the members of the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden join members of other Ellington societies and Ellington fans in general in paying tribute to the memory of one of the most extraordinary personalities of jazz and music in the 20th century . The DESS Bulletin, the DESS website and the quarterly meetings is our way to keep the memory alive and to get new generations interested in Ellington’s music and achievements.
The Ellington community celebrated Ellington’s 100th birthday with the 17th Ellington Study Group Conference in Washington D.C. so today might be the proper moment to start revisiting this conference.
As part of this, we give our readers the opportunity to hear Mark Tucker’s presentation Ellington, Washington and the Music of Memory, which was the first of the presentations at the conference. It is available at the end of the article.
But first a little bit about the conference itself.
It seems that it was organized fairly late. There was no announcement about it at the Ellington ’98 conference in Chicago the year before and when Göran Wallén – the Chairman of DESS at the time – brought it up with Theodore (Ted) Hudson – Vice President of the Washington D.C. Ellington Society – , the answer was: “We have not thought about it.”
But Göran Wallén’s question must have triggered some action because in the Sep.-Nov. 1998 issue of the DEMS Bulletin, it was announced that “Ellington ’99 – the 17th Annual Ellington Conference” was to take place in Washington D.C. “April 28 through May 2, 199” and that the conference was sponsored by the Washington D.C. Duke Ellington Society.
When asked about what he remembers from the ’99 conference, Göran Wallén says: “There was a lot of travelling by to Smithsonian, Library of Congress for study visits and music events and to schools and addresses with an Ellington connection. Unfortunately, there was less time for presentations than at earlier conferences like the ones in Oldham in 1988 and in Chicago in 1989.
Asked the same question, Bjarne Busk answers: “As I remember the conference, part of it was about Duke’s growing up in Washington D.C. and his association with the city. One highlight was the bus tour in Ellington’s Washington – his birth place, where he lived as a boy and young man, places where he played, the commorative statue etc.
Among other things, we stopped at the bar where Duke had played pool in his youth. I wanted to go in and play a little bit but I was firmly told that if I did that I would not come out in one piece.”
Ted Hudson, who played an important role in organizing the conference, has very kindly donated a copy of the official conference program to the website. There are all the details of the conference, including the greetings from President Bill Clinton. Thank you, Ted!
There was a strong element of Ellington’s religious side in the conference. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra provided a concert of Ellington’s sacred music drawn from the three major recorded sacred concerts. Rev. Mark S. Harvey talked about The Sacred Concerts and Duke Ellington’s Religious Vision and Annie Kuebler lectured on The Spiritual Works of Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams: Singing His Praise or Seeking Redemption.
Another group of presentations focused on Ellington’s music and his orchestra.
A panel led by Patricia Willard included among others the Ellington singers June Norton and Yvonne Duke, who talked about their memories of Duke. Claire Gordon “recalled her years as an Ellington enthusiast and employee” in her presentation Me ‘n Duke.
In this category was also Peter MacHare’s presentation Duke Ellington and the Classics, Peter Townsend’s Ellington ’42: A Year In The Life and Jeff Lindberg’s Transcription Crises. Will We Allow Corporate Publishers to Suppress Ellington/Strayhorn’s Creativity In the 21st Century?
In addition, Steven Lasker shared some new discoveries with the audience and Phil Schaap ended the two days of presentation by talking about Duke Ellington’s World Music: Jazz an International Jazz Form.
Ellington ’99 was also the moment when two long-awaited major publications about Duke Ellington’s work and music was unveiled.
Elaine Norsworthy and Peter MacHare presented Eddie Lambert’s Duke Ellington: A Listener’s Guide and Luciano Massagli and Giovanni M. Volonté were present to introduce The New DESOR – the result of many years of incredible work.
The conference had some 170 registered participants and 14 of them were Swedes.
Among the attendees was also Lois Moody, chairperson of Ellington ’90 in Ottawa. After the conference, she wrote a long and detailed report for the Ottawa chapter of Duke Ellington Society. It was also published in the DEMS Bulletin 1999/3.
Now back to Mark Tucker’s presentation. We quote from Lois Moody’s report: “Through examples performed at the piano, Tucker traced the influences of Washington life on Ellington’s and stated his belief that conscious use of memories in composition is more important than technique.”
Here is Tucker’s presentation. Due to technical problems when it was delivered, the file has been edited to improve the sound quality.
Phil Schaap on 6 Ellington Sidemen
Phil Schaap was a frequent contributor to the Ellington conferences.
We have already published his presentations at the Stockholm ’94 conference and here is the one he gave in Copenhagen in 1992.
The topic for Schaap’s presentation was “After Duke: Six Ellington Sidement in Their Years After Leaving The Band”.
The six sidemen selected for the presentation had left the Ellington orchestra in different decades and covers together the full lifespan of the band.
The sidement are Louis Metcalfe (1920’s), Freddie Jenkins (1930’s), Al Sears (1940’s), Francis Williams (1950’s), Sam Woodyard (1960’s) and Russell Procope (1970’s).
Schaap had interviewed them at one point or the other and use selections from the interviews in his presentation.
Wolfram Knauer on BB&B
Wolfram Knauer, Director of the Jazzinstutut Darmstadt, did his first appearance at an Ellington Study Group Conference in Copenhagen in 1992.
He had chosen to talk about Simulated Improvisation in Black, Brown and Beige. The presentation built on an article Dr. Knauer had published in the journal The Black Perspective in Music in 1990.
In a 1986 article, André Hodier used the term “simulated improvisation” to described an element in his compositions from the 1950s and Knauer considers that Ellington’s Black Brown and Beige is an early example of a comparable technique.
He gives several examples of this from the first part of the suite but starts his talk with some background on BB&B.
To help the audience to follow the presentation, Dr. Knauer had prepared a two-page handout, which is available here.
It is very good to have it at hand when listening to the talk.
The Duke and The Tiger
Duke Ellington recorded Tiger Rag for the first time on January 8, 1929 for Brunswick. It was an extended version, which was issued on a 12 inch 78 (Brunswick 6510)
At the Ellington ’92 conference in Copenhagen, Dan Morgenstein – Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University for more than 30 years – spoke about Ellington’s performances of Tiger Rag and how he used the Tiger Rag themes in many imagitative ways.
He had spoken on this topic already at the Ellington ’83 conference in Washington D.C. but only a very short excerpt of that presentation has been preserved.
Brian Priestly on Duke – The Pianist
Brian Priestly was also one of the speakers at the Ellington ’92 conference in Copenhagen.
Photo Bjarne Busk
He talked about “Ellington The Pianist”.
During the 45 minutes presentation, Priestly played eight Ellington recordings with the piano at the centre and used them to highlight different aspects of Ellington’s piano playing. From time to time, he also sat down at the piano to give emphasis to his comments.
The music played in the program was Rockin’ in Rhythm (1937), Melancholia (1953), See See Rider (1972), (I’m Riding On the Moon and) Dancing on the Stars (1938), Band Call (1954), The Clothed Woman(1947), Bang Up Blues(1950) and Body and Soul (1961)
Ellington ’92 in Copenhagen (3)
Another theme of the Copenhagen conference was “Remembering Duke”, which allowed speakers to share the memories of Duke and experiences from working with him.
The first speaker on this theme was Leonard Feather, who of course had a lot to tell about his memories of Duke but also about himself.
Feather’s presentation also gave those, who has never heard Ellington sing, the opportunity to do so and also to hear Cootie Williams play trombone.
After his presentation, Feather called Clark Terry and Rolf Ericson onto stage to be interviewed about their times in the Ellington orchestra. It is a relaxed interview which gave the audience many laughs.
The presentation of the Ellington biographer Austin H. Lawrence on Ellington’s England 1933 tour also falls in the category of “remembering”.
At one point Luis Russell – the small big band leader – had told him that one of the most important things that happened to Duke was when he went to England. “He was a different man when he came back”, Russel said.
So for Lawrence “the trip to England helped Ellington grow” and this is the focus of his presentation.
Ellington ’92 in Copenhagen (2)
The Danish bass player and radioman Erik Moseholm was another speaker on this theme. His topic was the Danish bass tradition and the inspiration of Ellington’s basists on it. He talked about the guitarist/basist Niels Foss the first major Danish bass player, Oscar Pettiford, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and of course about himself. The classical bass teacher Oscar Hegner and his 4-finger-technique features also prominently in the presentation.
Moseholm’s presentation was followed by a live demonstration by two – at that time – young Danish bass players, Jesper Lundgaard and Mads Vinding. Unfortunately, the performance was not recorded, presumably for copyright reasons.
Another major theme for the conference was “The Passing on of The Ellington Tradition“.
Stanley Crouch was the first speaker on this theme. In his presentation “The Temporary Significance of Duke Ellington” he talked a lot about the early roots of jazz and placed Ellington in this context.
It was followed by a panel discussion, in which Crouch participated together with Andrew Homzy, Peter Watrous and Erik Wiedeman. The topic of the panel was Recreating Ellington – Problems and Rewards.
The chairman of the panel, Dan Morgenstern, asked it to focus on “to what extent is it possible to create/recreate Ellington’s music”. He also brought in the issue: “How can Ellington’s legacy best be used in today’s jazz”.
This led to an interesting discussion with comments with relevance also today.
Ellington ’92 in Copenhagen (1)
The 10th Ellington Study Group Conference took place in Copenhagen May 28-31, 1992.
The lead organisers of the conference were Arnvid Meyer, Niels Toft and Karl Emil Knudsen – three leading figures in the Danish jazz and Ellington community. They organised the conference together with the recently founded “The Scandinavian Duke Ellington Society – Danish Chapter”.
It followed in the path of previous Ellington conferences and offered an ambitious program mixing musical events and presentations.
Unfortunately only recordings of the presentations are available and they are sound recording made by the organisers. It seems as if Benny Åslund, who attended the conference, did some filming but the videos have not been found so far.
Photo Bjarne Busk
Bjarne Busk was one of the participants in the conference. He remembers it as “a serious one, with a lot of information, and a lot of music”.
“On the first day of the conference, nine jazzclubs in Copenhagen had organized concerts and sessions linked to the conference and the conference participants had got 2 tickets to use how they liked.
At one of the places Mercer Ellington conducted a fine Danish big band. I also remember the closing dance with groups of musicians, including Buster Cooper and Clark Terry, and some with the great swedes Rolf Billberg, Arne Domnerus and Rolf Ericson.”
Bo Haufman was another participants. He was one of the first to register for the conference. “I was actually the third one to do so”, he says. “The Falconer Center in Copenhagen was the conference venue and it was absolutely perfect for this.
Leonard Feather is one of the presenters Bo remembers particularly well. “He started his presentation by saying “Duke is not dead”
“It was also very interesting to hear Erik Moseholm presentation about the inspiration of Ellington’s bass player to the Danish Bass Tradition bearing in mind that Denmark is known for its excellent bass player.”
“Among the many musical events, I remember in particular a concert by Arne Domnérus och Bengt Hallberg, says Bo also. “They had composed a special number called ”Jazz Å Du”.
Arnvid Meyer chaired the first session of the conference.
One angle in the program was Ellington in Denmark. Erik Wiedemann – Mr. Jazz in Denmark – was the first presenter on this theme. He talked about four Danish jazz recording with a strong Ellington influence.
The first one was Copenhagen Rhapsody played by the leading Danish big band in the early 30’s led by Erik Tuxen. Then Wiedemann gave the audience first a recording by a piano-bass combo with Borge Roger Henrichsen and Niels Foss, which played Preludium in C followed by Donkey Party played by a band led by Leo Mathisen. Both of them from the early 1940’s when Denmark was under occupation.
Wiedeman’s last example was actually a 1990 recording of an Ellington composition – The Mooche – but played in avant-guard way by Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra.
Extended Ellington (2)
On June 24 – just before the summer break – we published the first part of “The Extended Ellington” concert, which ended the third day of the Ellington ’88 conference.
The second part of the concert starts with what is the “world premiere performance” of The Queen’s Suite. It refers to the fact that this is the first public performance ever of the suite.
It took another 14 years before there was a second public performance took place. In 2012 during the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Elisabeth II, the Echoes of Harlem orchestra played it at the Marlborough International Jazz Festival.
At the fourth day of Ellington ’88, Roger Boyes talked about the Duke meeting the Queens in Leeds in 1958 and his memories from Ellington’s performances there. It can be heard here.
After a break, the orchestra continues with “Black, Brown and Beige”. Alan Cohen steps in as guest conductor and June Norton is vocalist.
The concert ends with a swinging Stompy Jones with Bill Berry, Buster Cooper, Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard, Alice Babs, Herb Jeffries and others joining in. A good way to end another succesful Ellington conference!
And it also marks the end of the series of articles on Ellington ’88 in Oldham.
Brian Priestly on BB&B
In 1974, Brian Priestly – jazz writer and pianist among other things – and the arranger and composer Alan Cohen wrote what Mark Tucker has labelled “the first serious analytical article on Black, Brown and Beige”.
In the early 1970’s, they spent considerable time listening to and transcribing several recordings of the suite and they also studied a score published by Tempo Music.
Their work was the basis for the recording of BB&B, which Alan Cohen did with his orchestra in 1972.
Having acquired a very detailed knowledge of the suite, they were able to write an article which Tucker has characterized as a “densely detailed, section-by section discussion” with “special attention to Ellington’s thematic treatment and unifying techniques”.
The article was originally commissioned by the British “Jazz & Blues” magazine but finally published in “Composer” – the bulletin of the Composers Guild of Great Britain. A reprint of it is included in The Duke Ellington Reader.
At the Ellington ’88 conference in Oldham, Brian Priestly revisited Black, Brown and Beige.
The Ellington Orchestra ended its “Extended Ellington” concert on the third day of the conference with a performance of the work. For the occasion, Alan Cohen took over as guest conductor and he brought in Brian Priestly to play the piano as he had done when Cohen recorded the suite in 1972.
In the afternoon before the concert, Priestly shared his analysis of and view on the work with the conference participants. It is a presentation not to be missed.
The performance of the BB&B at Ellington ’88 will be available on the website on September 28.