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Chelsea Bridge was one of the songs Billy Strayhorn wrote in 1940 when he and Mercer Ellington were called upon by Ellington to write new material for the band following the boycott by the radio stations of songs licensed by ASCAP.
In his biography on Strayhorn, David Hajdu describes “Chelsea Bridge” as “more Debussy than Ellington. It is classical’ in its integration of melody and harmony as an organic whole.
Strayhorn himself has said that “Chelsea Bridge” was “an impressionistic miniature composed with a painting by James McNeill Whistler in mind.
The first appearance of “Chelsea Bridge” in the Ellington discography is the dance date at Casa Manana in Culver City, California on February 16, 1941 but probably it was performed several times during the engagement there from Jan. 3 to Feb 20 1941.
Chelsea Bridge, Febr. 16, 1941
Chelsea Bridge was recorded for Standard Transcriptions on September 17, 1941 and for RCA-Victor on September 26 and December 2, 1941.
In his quite wonderful book “ Something to Live For, The Music of Billy Strayhorn”, Walter van de Leur laments that there is no readily available recording of the Ellington band playing the full score of Chelsea Bridge.
In a note on page 207 of his book, he mentions that an “unissued broadcast from the Casa Manana, Culver City” is “the only known full recording of Chelsea Bridge by the Ellington Orchestra.
Later recordings … use different parts of the manuscript. The recording of June 30, 1945 (“Your Saturday Date with the Duke” broadcast issued on Duke Ellington Treasury Series 12) moves after the bridge of the third chorus into Something to Live For.”
Chelsea Bridge June 30, 1945
Since I didn’t have the unissued recording, I decided to listen to the DETS recording. I went to my cd collection and pulled out the Storyville DETS Vol. 12.
Indeed there is a version of Chelsea Bridge as part of a “group of three Billy Strayhorn compositions” wherein the band does go from Chelsea Bridge to Something to Live For but with a bond promo in between. However, Chelsea Bridge is quite long. It lasts 5 minutes and sounds a lot like van de Leur’s description of the complete composition.
Chelsea Bridge Sep. 8 1945
I then realized that I had been listening to a different version of “Chelsea Bridge” than the one van de Leur was referring to in his note. When he said “DETS Series 12”, he meant LP no. 12 in the original LP series, not Vol. 12 in the Storyville series. The one Walter was referring to is on Vol. 7 in this series and is much shorter than the one on Vol 12.
So I decided to contact him and ask for his comment. Here is what he replied.
“Thanks for this. Indeed, the full score, fantastic. Duke opens, but Strays takes over from the first chorus. It confirms that he had some composed piano parts as I had figured.”
So small misunderstandings can sometimes lead to something interesting.
Author: Joe Medjuck
Today is the 77th anniversary of the night when Ellington and his orchestra played for dancing at the Crystal Ballrom in Fargo, North Dakota.
Crystal Ballroom was the main dance hall in Fargo and located on the second floor of the Fargo City Auditorium at the corner of First Avenue South and Broadway. It featured a glass ball two feet in diameter hanging from the ceiling that reflected the lights of the dance hall.
Ellington arrived in Fargo after having toured the Mid-West and Canada.
As all Ellington friends know, waiting for him there was not only a dance audience but also two young students – Jack Towers and Richard Burris – who had managed to get the permission from both the William Morris Agency and Duke Ellington to record the dance on their portable recording equipment. So they did and the rest is legacy.
Towers has been interviewed many times about Fargo and the recordings he and Burris made. Here are three of them.
In February or March 1980, Towers spoke to the National Public Radio (NPR) engineer Jim Anderson about the process of making, then restoring his Grammy-winning recording. The interview was aired on Morning Edition on March 6, 1980.
In 1981, in conjunction with the Ellington Study Group meeting in New York, Dick Buckley interviewed Towers about Fargo. He then used it in his program ”Jazz Forum” on Nov. 7, 1981, which was commemorating the Crystal Ballroom dance.
Another interview with Jack Towers on Fargo took place in 2000 in conjuction with the 60th anniversary of the Crystal Ballroom dance.
This time, it was Rob Bamberger who interviewed him and his wife Brenda on ”Hot Jazz Saturday Night” – Bamberger’s weekly program on the public radio station WAMU in Washington D.C. The music played on the program was from a pre-release of the Storyville’s Fargo 60th Anniversary CD album.
The first release of music from Crystal Ballroom happened without the direct involvement of Jack Towers. In the interview with Dick Buckley he says that ”in the early 60s” he had a ”very poor tape” which he gave to someone who visited him in Washington.
The tape ended up in New York ”or someplace” and ”a bootleg of very bad quality came out in Europe about six months later. Palm or some label like that.”
Apparently, Towers was upset about the tape coming out, and in the early 1970s,” Towers says in the interview, ”I got interested in doing a better dub of it and helped a fellow in Sweden produce a pretty good version of it for Jazz Society.” This must be considered as the first real issue of the Crystal Ballroom dance.
According to Carl A. Hällström, who was behind Jazz Society and other labels, ”the idea for the Fargo album on JAZZ SOCIETY came from my visit with the Towers family in Washington in the summer of 1973. The music had already been out in two bad versions: two LPs in Denmark and three LPs (Palm 30) in England. I wanted to produce a legitimate version of better quality and I made a deal with Jack Towers.”
”Tape transfers from the original acetates made at the Library of Congress in the late 60 ‘s were then edited by Olle Swembel at Europa film in Stockholm in 1974”, Carl says , ”and the Jazz Society two LP-set came out in late 1975. ”
”I did not then have any general retail distribution in Sweden; It was Leif Anderson who sold it. It was some years later that I first had AMIGO as distributor and then AD LIB, which sold much more even though the price was higher. Jurgen Schildt’s review of Fargo in AFTONBLADET helped very well!”
Later the Canadian label Jazz Guild issued material from the dance supplementing the Jazz Society album
In 1978, the Book-of-the-Month Club issued a three LP-set with the same content as the Jazz Society and Jazz Guild albums combined. However, Towers had worked further on the tapes producing a new version for the issue and he was very proud that the new album won the Grammy Award for ”Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” in 1980.
The 1990 issue of the Fargo dance on the Canadian label Vintage Jazz Classics must be considered as another hallmark since it includes everything that was recorded on November 7, 1940.
However, the ultimate version in terms of sound quality must considered to be Storyville’s ”Fargo 1940 Special 60th Anniversary Edition”. For this issue, Towers had restored the tapes and improved them as much as possible.
It should also be said that the joy and value of the listed Fargo albums is not only the music but also the almost scholarly liner notes that come with them. The list of authors are impressive. Eddie Lambert, Jerry Valburn, Andrew Homzy and Annie Kuebler.
A section on Fargo 1940 with photos, documents and other material has been set up in the Ellington Archive. Contributions to it are most welcome.
The first ”goodie” for November is program 19 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 May 31 1985.
It brings the listeners excerpts from two ”stockpile” recording sessions – one on July 25, 1962 and the other on April 4, 1967. All the selections in the program was later issued in the ”Private Sessions” series.
The program starts with three tunes from the 1967 session – ”Eggo”, ”Amta” and ”Little Purple Flower” (aka ”The F.L.”). Eggo is mistakenly announced as ”KIXX” (aka ”Traffic Jam” or ”The Biggest”) but it was recorded just before ”Eggo”.
The 1962 session is the Ellington Orchestra without the trumpet section and in the second part of the session also Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney are out.
This part of the DR broadcast is a gem for fans of Paul Gonsalves. He is the featured soloist in all the numbers. We get the opportunity to hear him demonstrate his skills in different tempi but in particular in slow ones.
First we hear him in a number called ”No. 1” but known in discographies as ”Blue Too”; then comes No. 2 – aka ”Tune Up” which is followed by ”Tigress” and ”Telstar” (aka ”Tigress”).
The broadcast ends with ”Like Late” and three Ellington compositions – ”Major”, ”Minor” and ”G” (aka ”G” for Groove”).
After almost two years of preparations, the official opening of the Ellington ’94 conference in Stockholm took place on May 20, 1994. It was the 12th one in the series of Study Group Conferences.
The night before, the participants had got acquinted at a ”Get-Together-Party” and had time to read the 40 pages program provided to all.
Program 94 (pdf downloadable)
Ads about the conference had been in the Stockholm newspapers well in advance.
Almost 250 Ellington experts and aficionados from 18 countries had registered for the conference. It took place in the Scandic Crown Hotel in the center of Stockholm, where the participants could listen to a lot of presentations and music and also to mingle with each other.
Music events also took place at the Stockholm Concert Hall , The Swedish Radio Concert Hall and in many other venues in Stockholm.
In November, the website will provide a number of snapshots from the conference. They will be based on contributions by Göran Wallén, the organiser and chairman of the conference, and Sjef Hoefsmit’s video from it.
Here is Hoefsmit’s video from the opening of the conference with Göran Wallén and Alice Babs.
Storyville has now issued volume 24 in ”The Treasury Shows” series. It is the next to last in the series and it represents a jump of seven years from the broadcasts in volume 23.
It is a very different orchestra from the one heard in the 1946 broadcasts and the world has changed a lot around Ellington and big band music.
By 1953, Ellington is the only big band leader, who has not disbanded his orchestra since the start and the year before, Downboat Magazine gave the Duke a special recognition for this.
The album offers four June 1953 broadcasts from Blue Note in Chicago and an April 1, 1944 broadcast from Hurricane Restaurant in New York. The Blue Note broadcasts were originally issued as volume 47 and 48 in the DETS LP series.
They demonstrate very well the energy and skills of the rejuvenated Ellington orchestra. I hope that those who consider the early 1950s a disastrous period in Ellington’s career take time to enjoy what the newcomers to the band like Clark Terry, Willie Cook, Britt Woodman, Paul Gonsalves and others brought to it.
For the first time in the DETS series, two of the broadcasts have no U.S. Government bond promotion whatsoever. Both were apparently transmitted in the ”Music For Modern” series, which was one of NBCs programs for jazz and big band music.
By the time the broadcasts took place, Ellington had made his first recordings for Capitol. In the absence of bond promotion, he took ample time to promote them.
When Storyville’s DETS series comes to its end with volume 25, Storyville has achieved something incredible for which it must be highly lauded by the Ellington and other jazz fans.
Den 10 januari 1994 sände Sveriges Radio det första av tio program om Duke Ellington och hans musik. Idén till serien kom från Lars Westin och Jan Bruér, som också ställde samman programmen och svarade för ”pratet”.
”Det var den planerade Ellington-konferensen i Stockholm i maj 1994 som gav oss impulsen att sända programserien”, säger Jan Bruér, ”och vi var glada att Jazzradions ledning – Bosse Broberg – ställde upp på idén”.
”Som Lars Westin säger i inledningen av det första programmet hade vi ingen brist på material. Utmaningen var i stället att ställa samman det så att vi gav en så mångfacetterad bild av Ellington som möjligt och också täckte hans olika epoker.”
”Vi hade också förhoppningen att programmet skulle nå bortom den inre kretsen av hängivna Ellington-vänner och hjälpa nya generationer att upptäcka Ellingtons storhet.”
Programserien sändes varannan vecka och avslutades den 19 maj 1994.
Varje program hade sin egen profil och det första programmet är lite av ett Ellington-kalejdoskop, som introducerar olika stilar, musikaliska ansatser och Ellingtons musiker.
Precis som när programserien ursprungligen sändes kommer webbplatsen att göra ett nytt program tillgängligt varannan vecka.
Det första programmet kallat ”Kinda Dukish” finns nu tillgängligt för DESS-medlemmar i radiodelen av Ellington-arkivet.
The first full-scale Duke Ellington Study Group Conference was organized in May (5-7) 1983 by Chapter 90 of The Duke Ellington Society Washington D.C. .
Some 90 people took part in the meeting. The program was a mixture of presentations, live music and discussions as would be the case in future Ellington conferences.
The conference has been preserved on tapes. This article makes use of six K7 tapes in the Benny Åslund Collection. He most likely got it from the one who made the recordings – was it Jack Towers? – or possibly from Jerry Valburn. The sound quality is quite good but there are of course some glitches.
Among the presenters and speakers at the two and a half-day conference was Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Bruce Kennan, Patricia Willard, Willis Conover, Jerry Valburn, Eddie Lambert and Sjef Hoefsmit.
The topic of Williams’ presentation was “Ellington, The Composer” and he gave many examples to make his point(s). Apparently, the audience had sheets with the music he played but one can enjoy his talk without them.