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Ellington At 50
Ellington turned 50 during his three weeks engagement at the Paramount Theater at Times Square in New York 20 April to 10 May 1949.
There are no traces of a big birthday party for him. It seems to have been just a normal working day with six performances to give.
However, in the breaks between the performances, Barry Ulanov interviewed him extensively for Metronome and the result was a three-page article published in the June issue of the magazine.
Judging from the article, Ulanov and Ellington talked about many things during the interviews.
One of them was the musical Ellington was working on with producer and lyricist/composer Sid Kuller to the theme of the route of the ‘A’ Train of the Independant Subway System in New York. “Oh, yes”, Ellington said according to Ulanov, “the band must play an important part in it. That’s our gimmick. To put a new sound into a Broadway theatre”.
The musical never materialized but perhaps there traces of it in the Ellington Archive at the Smithsonian?
Another topic was bebop. “Of course, bop’s in the air and naturally some people hear a little bit of it in our music”, Ellington says in the interview, “they thought there were some bop influences in The Tatooed Bride. Anyhow, I thought we offered a new departure in it.”
Ellington also commented on Charlie Parker. “He is just a great instrumentalist who’s been put in a category and just to oblige he may make a couple of bop statements here and there. But Charlie’s an individual. That’s not bop.”
Ulanov brought up atonality and counterpoint. “You know”, Ellington said about this, “the normal trends of jazz lead you lead so far from it that you can only indulge your interest in counterpoint for your own personal kicks ….. I like to do counterpoint, like it a lot.”
They also talked about the routining of musicals. “The secret of any dramatic art is routining” Ellington says in the article. “When the first show doesn’tgo over, you haven’t got a a week in New Haven and two in Philadelphia to straighten it out. You have got four or five more to do that day and six more tough days to go and you get it right by the second or third show or you are bust.”
The full article is available to DESS members in the section Articles in the Ellington Archive.