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On June 26-27 1959, Duke Ellington appeared at a four-day jazz festival in Tamiment-In-The-Poconos, Pennsylania. Here he presented a new fourteen-minute work called Idiom ’59.
One week later, on July 4 1959, he played it again (in a slightly different version) at the Newport Jazz Festival and possibly at other festivals during the summer.
On September 8, Ellington and the band went into Columbia’s 30th Street Studios to record Idiom ’59 and other highlights of the summer tour. Ten of them – including Idiom ’59 – were issued on the Festival Session album in 1960. The original version – Columbia CL 1400 – was in mono but a stereo version was issued later in the year by CBS France.
After the Columbia recording, Idiom ’59 disappeared from the Ellington repertoire and went into a kind of shadow land. It ”attracted little critical attention” (Boyes) and did not create much enthusiasm among Ellington experts and aficionados. When Eddie Lambert wrote about the work in his Listerner’s Guide, he says that ”neglect and obscurity have been its lot” even if he considers that there is ”enough of fine music to deserve more”.
With this background, it was very welcome that the Ellington ’88 conference in Oldham allowed Idiom ’59 to have a little bit of a comeback.
The Ellington ’88 Orchestra featured it in its ”Extended Ellington” concerts and this was preceded by an outstanding presentation of the work by Andrew Homzy – Professor of Jazz Studies at Concordia University in Toronto at the time and a specialist in extended jazz works.
Before coming to Oldham, Homzy had transcribed and analyzed Idiom ’59 in detail. For this he had used three different issues of the Festival Session LP (see below). To the benefit of the conference participants (and now also the readers of this article), he had summarized his work in an eleven-page handout. It goes through the work bar-by-bar and gives a number of examples, which illustrate the work’s motifs and their development.
It is highly recommended to digest it before listening to the presentation. It can be downloaded here.
With the lecture, Homzy wanted to take the listeners through Idiom ’59 to present some of the things he had ”discovered in this piece of music to show the strength, the intelligence, the soul, the beauty of Duke Ellington’s work as a composer”.
Roger Boyes was in the audience and got very enthusiastic about Homzy’s presentation. An article he published in Blue Light in 2010 reflects this. ”A fascinating paper” he says. Boyes’ full article is available here and we are grateful to Roger to have been allowed to draw from it for this article.
Jack Chambers – member of the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society – has contributed this article about Ellington’s stockpile session in Toronto in 1972 to the DESS website.
In addition to being a distinguished Professor of Linguistics, Jack is the author of books and articles on jazz.
In 1983 and 1985 he published his two volume groundbreaking biography on Miles Davis. It is now available in a single volume paperback (Da Capo 1998). In 2008 he published a biography of the pianist Richard Twardzik called ”Bouncing with Bartok”.
Jack was a frequent contributor to the Canadian Coda magazine until it disappeared in 2009. Recent articles of him include “Ellington’s Three Steps into The River” (IAJRC 2017) and “Panther Patter: Ellington at the Piano” (Blue Light 2017).
At the Ellington conference at the Royal Conservatoire in Birmingham, England he presented “Celebration— Duke Ellington’s lost symphony”. A pdf version of his presentation is available for download at the Toronto Duke Ellington Society website in its “Archives”.
”Duke Ellington’s private recording session in Toronto in 1972 has been fraught with misinformation.
I have recently come upon a reminiscence by the recording engineer at that session that leads to a few more corrections. Bill King, the redoubtable jazz pianist and promoter, published an interview with George Simkiw, the recording engineer and producer, by way of commemorating George’s death in June 2018. I cite the excerpt from Bill’s interview involving Ellington, with Bill’s permission. The entire interview may be found at:
Following the excerpt below from Bill’s interview, I point out the ways in which this interview and other sources clarify this recording session.
Bill King: When you were there [at RCA Studio, Toronto], you did a recording with Duke Ellington.
George Simkiw: The Duke Ellington thing was like a crime mystery. I get a call during the day. It was on a Saturday or Sunday and I get a call saying, listen we need to do a session at 7 o’clock this evening. Can you be there? He said, ‘set up’ for about 25 pieces. I said give me a rough idea. He says, four trumpets – I say just give me a rough sketch, so I did a rough set up for them. Around a quarter to seven, musicians crept in. I didn’t recognize any of them. I usually know every musician in town. Then Duke Ellington walks in. They are doing this secret session. I remember Ron Rully was there. He was part of that whole thing; the jazz drummer. There were some heavyweight people there and my jaw dropped. I actually went out and talked to the Duke as he was having some problems with his music stand. I helped adjust it for him. He thanked me, broke another pencil and never used the same pencil twice. It was like surreal.
BK: What was the session all about?
GS: I never heard anything more about it.
BK: Did it sound good?
GS: I thought it did. I think the music was something Ron Rully wrote, or a local guy wrote.
Two of the charts played on that day were by Ron Collier (not Ron Rully).
Ron Collier was indeed a “local guy,” a trombone player, bandleader and composer based in Toronto. From 1969 until 1972, after Billy Strayhorn’s death, Ellington hired Collier for several projects: in 1969, Collier wrote two charts for Duke Ellington’s Reader’s Digest commission (“Mañha de carnaval,” “A Taste of Honey”); in 1970, Collier orchestrated The River, Ellington’s masterwork of his last years, premiered by the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Centre; in 1972, besides arranging for this “secret session,” he orchestrated Ellington’s symphony, Celebration, premiered that year by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.
It is not surprising that George Simkiw recognized Ron Rully. As he said, “I usually know every musician in town,” and Rully was a prominent drummer in Toronto jazz circles. He was, for instance, the drummer in Ron Collier’s quintet for the two decades of its existence, and his close friend. He was in the studio that night, beyond a doubt, at Collier’s invitation. Ellington, as is well known, enjoyed having a crowd at his recording sessions, and it would not be surprising if Collier had invited other musicians as well.
It is surprising that Simkiw did not remember Collier and confused him with Rully (though we should keep in mind that he was recalling one evening more than 45 years earlier). The phone call asking him to set up the studio must have come from Collier. In his presentation at the Duke Ellington conference in Toronto in 1996, Collier recalled, “Ellington’s sister Ruth called [from New York], ‘Book a studio and bring some charts’.” It was almost certainly Collier, who called Simkiw to book the studio and give him the set-up.
A few tracks from this Toronto session were released on a cut-rate Laserlight CD in 1992 (Cool Rock). Stanley Dance wrote the liner notes and probably selected the tracks, which come from two different stockpile recordings made in different cities. Dance is presumably the source for the discographic details. He was probably working with frugal documentation, but in any event they are mainly wrong.
The studio was originally listed as “Toronto Sound Studio” and the recording engineer Phil Sheridan; Sheridan’s studio was actually called Thunder Sound. Sheridan was the leading jazz producer in Toronto, and if you were guessing where this session took place, he would be the best guess. But it turns out that the studio was RCA Toronto, and that the engineer was George Simkiw.
Fred Stone, the Toronto flugelhorn player who was in Ellington’s orchestra in the first half of 1970, is listed with the trumpets at this session. Cootie Williams is conspicuously absent in the listing, and it may appear as if Stone was another “local guy” brought in to replace him. However, Cootie Williams was definitely there. In 1996 Collier talked about Cootie as the soloist on one of his charts played that day, “Vancouver Lights,” and remembered a mild rebuff when he started preparing for another take after Cootie announced, “That’s a take.” Collier said, “Duke gets up from the piano and he comes over, puts his arm around me, says, ‘Ron, when Cootie says that’s a take that means he’s not gonna play it any more.’ So that was it for that piece.”
If Stone was also there, that makes five trumpets though Simkiw specifically remembers the set-up called for four.
The date for the session is given as 22 June 1972. That was a Thursday, and Simkiw recalls getting the phone call “on a Saturday or Sunday… for a session at 7 o’clock this evening.” That sets the date at 24 or 25 June.
Finally, only one of Collier’s two charts was released on the Laserlight CD. It is identified as “Vancouver Lights,” but Collier pointed out that it is actually his other chart, “Relaxin’.” “Vancouver Lights” remains unissued. When Collier asked Dance about the mix-up, he said, “When we got the boxes, it was rather confusing.” In more ways than one, apparently.
The discographical listings that rely on Dance’s liner information (Timner and all others I have seen) should be revised as follows:
“Relaxin’” 3:11 RCA Studios, Toronto. 24 or 25 June 1972. George Simkiw engineer
CD: Cool Rock . Laserlight 15 782 .
Money Johnson tp, voc (on “Hello Dolly”), Cootie Williams, perhaps Fred Stone, Johnny Coles, Mercer Ellington tp; Vince Prudente, Chuck Connors, tb; Russell Procope as, clnt; Norris Turney as, fl; Harold Minerve ts cl fl; Harold Ashby ts; Harry Carney bs, cl, bass cl; Duke Ellington, p; Joe Benjamin b; Rufus Jones d, Ron Collier comp, arr;
One of the most emotional events at the Ellington ’88 conference was when Sam Woodyard was presented with a complete new drumset to replace the one that had been stolen from him in Paris.
It all begun at the start of the third day of the conference.
Woodyard did good use of his gift at the gala concert that ended the day.
In the concert, Bob Wilber and The Ellingtonian ’88 Orchestra presented a program of extended works by Ellington.
Here is the first part of the concert. It starts with a longer version of Daybreak Express using the scores from the Cotton Club movie. Then follows Creole Rhapsody transcribed by Brian Priestly and Idiom ’59.
Next a smaller group of the orchestra – The Rugcutters – plays a selection of small band Ellingtonia before the full orchestra is back to give the audience Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.
The second part of the concert will be published in September.
Bob Wilber was not only the musical director of the Ellington ’88 and leader of The Ellington ’88 Orchestra but also one of the presenters. In the first session of the third day of the conference, he presented his perception of Johnny Hodges of which he was a great fan. Wilber writes a lot about him in his autobiography ”Music was not enough”
The third ”goodie” in June is program 25 in the Duke Ellington series broadcasted by the Danish Radio in the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The broadcast is available in the ”Goodies” section of the website.
The program was broadcasted on July 12, 1985 and the announcer is Bjarne Busk.
Ellington’s My People is the focus of the broadcast. Busk gives the listerners 11 selections from the musical recorded either on August 20, 1963 or August 21 and August 27 plus a short interview with Mercer Ellington about ”My People”.
The program starts with a ”Piano Blues Ouverture”. It is the non-vocal version of ”Jail Blues” which is not included in the program.
Next comes ”Blues at Sundown”, a long-term feature for Jimmy Grissom.
Joya Sherrill sung ”My Heritage (aka My Mother, My Father and Love)” in the original performance of the musical. Bjarne Busk let us hear it in the broadcast (including the narration) but also a short retake of the ending of the song.
Then follows an incomplete take (-1) ”King” (”aka King Fit The Battle Of Alabam) and the full take-2 of the piece. In the show it was apparently preceeded by a slower version of the same song. The latter is unfortunately not included in the broadcast but available on CD.
The broadcast continues with a rendition of ”The Blues Ain’t” sung by Lee Greenwood. In the show this song was performed by Joya Sherrill just before ”Blues At Sundown”.
A non-complete version of ”Walking And Singin’ The Blues” sung by Lee Greenwood comes next.
Following a short interview with Mercer Ellington, the broadcast ends with ”Strange Feeling” from ”Perfume Suite”sung by Jimmy Grissom and ”After Bird Jungle” with Rudy Powell as clarinet soloist.
From a discographical point of view, it is not easy to decode the broadcast but it seems to be a fair presumption that the dates and takes of the different songs are basically identical to what is included in the Storyville issue of the complete show (Storyville 1018430).
Take C of Black and Tan Fantasy
During the last ten years DESS member Bo Lindqvist has tried to add all the original versions of Ellington’s recording for OKeh to his collection.
He seems to have got them all including Take C of Black And Tan Fantasy recorded on November 3, 1927 on Okeh 8521. However, many discographic sources says that it also was issued on OKeh 40955 but Bo has not managed to find a copy of this record with take C but only records with this number with take B.
So he has started to doubt that an Okeh 40955 with take C exists and would like to have the help of DESS members to sort out if this is the case or not.
Bo can be contacted at Lindqvist_50@hotmail.com.
The 25th Ellington Study Group Conference took place in Birmingham last weekend. It was organized in cooperation between The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham City University with the moral support of DESUK.
In many ways it confirmed that the Ellington conferences now is firmly in the hands of the academic musicologists, which means that a younger generation is taking over the responsibility to keep the Ellington legacy alive.
As a result of the poor selling of the conference, only some forty persons took part in it. The majority were members of DESUK and other Ellington societies like DESS, which was represented by Bo Haufman, Peter Lee, Jan-Olov Isaksson and the web editor. Only one participant came from the U.S.A. and one of the presenters from Canada.
Here is Peter Lee together with John Grover och Leland Farley med hustru (foto Bo Haufman).
The program of the conference included two keynote presentation and 12 shorter presentations in thematic workshops. The themes were:
– Ellington in the Midlands
– Collaboration and Process
– Sonic Reverberations
– Instrumental approaches
– Technology and Mediation
The website will give more details in a later article.
Thanks to the Ellington Orchestra composed of students of the Jazz Department of the Conservatoire, the conference participants could enjoy four full concerts with Ellington music and also an afternoon jamsession.
Here is an example of what we heard. The clip starts ”Tourist Point of View” and ends with ”Blue Bird of Delhi”.
The Director of the Jazz Department, Jeremy Price, has done a very nice job bringing this orchestra together.
New Issue of Blue Light
The summer issue of Blue Light was published just in time for the Birmingham conference. It was actually hand-delivered to the conference participants. The reason for this was that this issue of Blue Light has the full program of the conference, including abstracts of the presentations.
But the new issue also have some major articles. One is by Blue Light editor Ian Bradley on ”Ellington in Academia”. It deals with Ellington appearances at universities and his relationships with some of the major American universities.
There is also a lengthy article by Ethan Hine titled ”Duke Ellington, Percy Grainger and the Status of Jazz in the Academy. Highly recommended reading!
The Ellington Orchestra of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire played a concert with Ellington’s Sacred Music in the Lincoln Cathedral on May 12, 2018 and Ian Bradley also provides the readers with a review of this concert.
A highlight of the second day was another nightly concert.
This time it was Bob Wilber and the Ellington ’88 Orchestra that took the stage and they did so to honor Billy Strayhorn.
The Ellington alumnies Bill Berry, Buster Cooper, Jimmy Woode and Sam Woodyard were part of the band on and off during the evening. They appeared particularily in the rendition of the small group band ”The Coronets” known from recordings on the Mercer label.
A recurring feature in the conference program was to let the Ellington alumnies share their memories of Ellington and their time with him in different panels.
The first one took place on the second day when the doyen of British jazz critics and the author of important books on jazz in the 1950’s and 1960’s interviewed Bill Berry and Buster Cooper ”about their times with the maestro”.
It was followed up later in the day when Herb Jeffries and Sjef Hoefsmit sat down together to talk about Ellington and the orchestra in the early 1940’s and about ”Ellington the man”. Don’t miss the end of this video! It got the conference crowd on its feet.
More from Ellington ’88 will follow! But in between comes Ellington ’18 in Birmingham from which the website also will report.
When one looks at the program for the conference, which has got a very nice and clear design, it is easy to understand why it is considered as one of the best in the series of Ellington Study Group Conferences.
The presentation part is very strong both on paper and when one listens to them in Sjef Hoefsmit’s videos from the conference.
It is supplemented by a excellent concert program including three concerts – ”A Nite at the Cotton Club”, ”A Portrait of See’ Pea” and ”The Extended Ellington”.
The presence of Ellington alumnies like Alice Babs, Bill Berry, Buster Cooper, Herb Jeffries and Jimmy Woode at the conference and their active participation in it gave a special dimension to the event.
The DESS website will this time give more of thematic rather than chronological snapshots of the conference. This article gives some of the presentations on early Ellington.
But first we will let John E. Hasse talk about Mercer Ellington’s donation of Duke Ellington’s papers to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. It was Hasse’s first appearance at an Ellington Conference but there would be many more.
At Ellington ’89 in Washington D.C. a full day was devoted to the Ellington Archive and the presentations on that occasion can be viewed here.
We have chosen two presentations on early Ellington for this article. The first is by Jerry Valburn – one of the instigators of the Ellington Study Group conferences and leading authority on Duke Ellington. He had chosen to talk about Ellington’s recording career 1923-1929.
The second presentation is by the noted jazz researcher and jazz journalist Frank Dutton. He had chosen Ellington’s Cotton Club period, on which he was a respected authority, as his topic.
All these three presentations were given at the first day of the conference and in the evening of it, the conference participants were invited to ”A Nite at the Cotton Club”. The English band Harlem provided the music and Herb Jeffries guided the audience through the night.
Here is a short excerp from the start of it. We will return to it in a later article.