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Andrew Homzy on Idiom ’59

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.




Nytt nummer av Bulletinen

Årets andra nummer av Bulletinen är nu på väg till medlemmarna.

Se fram mot en högtidsstund med mycket av god Ellington-läsning när den dimper ner i brevlådan.

Det här numret handlar mycket om Lawrence Brown – inte mindre än fem artiklar finns att läsa om honom. Steve Voce bidrar med en översiktsartikel – ursprungligen publicerad i engelska Jazz Journal för ett par år sedan – och Bo Haufman filosoferar om Browns personlighet utifrån allt han har läst om honom.

Utifrån vad Bo har att säga är det intressant att gå tillbaka till Leif Jönssons bilder från Cirkus 1966, som vi publicerade den 28 februari. På en av dem ler han och på alla ger han ett mjuk intryck.

Leifs Andersons intervju av Lawrence Brown i samband med TV-inspelningen på Cirkus 1963 finns också med i det nya numret liksom ett omtryck av en artikel av Roger Boyes i Blue Light 2015-4 om ryktena att Ellington slagit ut två av Browns framtänder vid ett slagsmål 1970. Hans slutsats? Läs själv!

Och hoppa inte över brevet från Lawrence Brown till Herb Jeffries från någon gång av början på 1980-talet. Det berättar mycket.

Utöver allt om Lawrence Brown innehåller den nya Bulletinen en intervju av Göran Wallén om Willie Cook, en intervju av Jan Bruér av Harry Carney (hämtad från Orkesterjournalen 1970) samt en tresidig artikel av John Tumpak om Willie Smith plus Anders Asplunds skivrecensioner och ordförandes ord om tillståndet i Sällskapet.

Varmt tack till redaktionen för all denna läsning.

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