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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.
The report from Ellington ’89 that appeared in the 1989-3 issue of the DEMS Bulletin, says “that visitors from abroad appreciated the Smithsonian all-day as ideal”.
For most of them, it was the first visit to the Smithsonian Institution and its National Museum of American History and they got treated to a full day of presentations on the Ellington Collection established the year before.
The Director of the National Museum of American history, Robert G. Kennedy, welcomed the conference participants to the museum and introduced the Ellington Collection together with John E. Hasse, Curator of American Music since 1984.
Hasse also spoke about the museum’s collection on “Development of Jazz” more generally.
Mark Tucker, who had been among the first to make use of the Ellington Collection for his research, followed Hasse and spoke about the music in the Collection
In the afternoon session, there were presentations by, among others, Martin Williams and Patricia Willard.
Williams, the author of many book on jazz, presented his work for the Smithsonian on an upcoming book-and-record-set to be called “Duke Ellington: Masterpieces 1926-1968“.
Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, the album never appeared.
However, in 1994 John E. Hasse produced for the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings a two-CD set with a 28-page booklet. Slightly paraphrasing the title of his book on Ellington published the year before, It was called “Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington“.
The topic for Willard’s presentation was “Billy Strayhorn and the Ellington Collection”. She really foreshadows the importance of the Ellington Collection to ensure Strayhorn’s proper place in the Ellington legacy.
Other presentations on the Ellington Collection during the day – like the one by Marcia Greenlee on “The Smithsonian’s Oral History Project On Duke Ellington” – can be found in the Ellington Archive.
Congressman John Conyers, who had been instrumental in securing Congressional funding for the Ellington Collection, and Mercer Ellington were honored guests at the opening. Their speeches are also in the website’s Ellington Archive.
Finally, after a long day, it was time to summarize and thank everybody. John Hasse did this.
Following the very successful and almost legendary Ellington ’88 conference in Oldham, England, the Ellington Study Group Conference returned to Washington D.C. for its 7th edition. It took place on April 28-29, 1989 and was proceeded by a full day symposium at The Smithsonian and its National Museum of American History.
The Duke Ellington Society Chapter 90 was responsible for the conference. Its long-standing President Terrell Allan was chairman of the organizing committee and Ann Ledgister the conference coordinator.
The full Ellington ’89 program can be read and downloaded here.
Bob Reny, who was part of the organizing committee, has generously shared his recollection of the preparation of the conference with the DESS website.
“To begin with, The Duke Ellington Society, Washington DC was a relatively small organization and we didn’t think we could mount a Conference recognizing Duke’s 90th Birthday in light of our few members and limited funds. But we began, chipping away at one obstacle after another, feeding off the material supplied by other Societies.
We had great cooperation from the Mayflower Hotel for the two day event.
The major challenge – the music – was solved when we engaged the Doug Richard’s Orchestra from Richmond, VA which had a solid reputation of playing Ellington’s music with unbridled passion. Then through the friendships of some of our key members with Ellington sidemen, we were able to secure the talents of vocalist Herb Jefferies and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton and those two luminaries, supported by the Richard’s Orchestra, helped swell our paid reservations list.
We still, however, didn’t have the level of funding to complete the conference and an angel in the form of famed recording engineer, Jack Towers, a member of our Society, came to our rescue with a no interest loan. Jack, who was loved by all of us, passed in 2010 at age 96 but not before becoming an “audio magician” for restoring, remastering and producing jazz vintage recordings for a myriad of jazz labels world-wide. He will also be remembered always for his role in recording the Ellington Orchestra live at Fargo, North Dakota in 1940, an album that became a best seller and received a Grammy Award.
Another key contributor to our Conference was Washington’s jazz radio giant Felix Grant (WMAL & WDCU), who painstakingly unearthed the birth certificate of Ellington and then worked for fifteen years to have a commemorative plaque placed at his birth place, 2129 Ward Place, NW, Washington, DC which is now a bulk mail postal facility – the bronze plaque is mounted on the outside brick wall near the entrance.
Grant commented that “Ellington has been a name in music for about six decades of the century. The only other person I can say that is true of is Irving Berlin.” The plaque was unveiled by son Mercer Ellington on the birthday of his father in the afternoon of the second day of our Conference, April 29; the ceremony was well attended by conference participants.”
This far Bob Reny.
Doug Richard and his orchestra was not the only one performed Ellington music at the conference. Another one was the late Ellington scholar and author of the book “Ellington: The Early Years” Dr. Mark Tucker.
Replacing the originally announced orchestra “The Army Blues”, Tucker thrilled the conference participants, which had gathered for an evening reception at the Flag Hall of the National Museum of American History, with a concert with Ellington’s piano music.
The concert is also available as a soundfile in the Ellington Archive’s Washington D.C. 1989 folder