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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.