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Man with Four Sides is one of Ellington’s theatrical projects.
In Music Is My Mistress, Ellington says that he wrote it in 1955 when the band played for several weeks at the 1955 version of Billy Rose’s Aquacades – a famous music, dance and swimming show – in New York.
“I had very little to do so I could go and get some work done at home”. That was when I wrote my play, Man with Four Sides“.
It was obviously meant for Broadway but like many other of his projects of this kind, it never made it there.
Man with Four Sides is a musical in three acts with a white couple Mr. and Mrs. Lane as the main characters together with “Streamline” Smith” and Moiselle.
Martha Washington Penoctbottom Lane is a prudish lady who keeps her husband Otho Lane in tight reins while Otho is fascinated by a woman in his dreams.
Smith, whose wife has left him, is a neighbor to the Lane couple and he sings the blues all day, while Moiselle is a real-life incarnation of the woman Mr. Lane sees and hears in his dreams.
John Franceschina’s book Duke Ellington’s Music for the Theatre has a detailed description of the story (pages 87-92 paper back version)
Ellington wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for the musical.
He composed six original songs:
She (aka Sensuous), Come On Home, Weatherman (aka How Does It Look For Tomorrow), She Didn’t Have Much To Say, It’s Rumour, Twilightime
and put text to the second blues theme of Happy-Go-Lucky-Local and called it Train Blues (aka Like A Train). The Blues from Black, Brown and Beige is also scripted to be sung in the musical.
In addition, lyrics for 8 songs, for which no music exists, have been found.
The play seems to have been in the making for a long time. John Franceschina says in his book that “the germ of the work began in the 1940s in the notes for a script entitled Mr. and Mrs. Lane“.
However, the Danish jazz researcher and jazz critic Erik Wiedeman, who spent two months in 1989 researching documents on the musical in the Ellington Archive at the Smithsonian and who also located recordings of music for it, considers that the real work work on the musical started in the early 1950s.
One of the key songs in the musical – She – was recorded by The Coronets for Mercer Records in April 1951 but it also exists in an earlier piano solo version. She was recorded together with three other songs for the musical in a kind of rehearsal session by Ellington, Jimmy Grissom and Wendell Marshall in July 1952.
A month earlier the full Ellington orchestra had recorded Come On Home in a session for Columbia.
Erik Wiedemann presented his research on Man with Four Sides to the Ellington ’90 conference in Ottawa. He was given only some 40 minutes to do it so he chose to focus on the music.
He let the audience listen to some of the recorded songs mentioned above but also to a NBC radio broadcast from 28 august 1955 in which Ellington gives a a synopsis of the show and Jimmy Grissom and Marion Cox accompanied by Luther Henderson (p) and Jimmy Woode (b) sing four of its songs – Like A Train, She, It’s Rumour and Twilight Time .
Wiedemann also provided a handout to accompany his presentation. It details the songs of the musical and is available here. “Thank you” to Roger Boyes for having provided it to the website.
After the conference, Wiedemann expanded his presentation into an article, which was published in the Danish journal “Musik & forskning” no. 16 1990-1991. It has an annex with detailed information about the music for Man with Four Arms.
It is is available here.
Sources for the web article:
Erik Wiedemann: Presentation at Ellington ’90
Erik Wiedemann: På sporet af Man with Four Side
John Franceschina: Duke Ellington’s Music for the Theatre