Table of Contents:

Detailed Table of Contents

'The Duke's In Bed'

The Ellingtonians,
as encountered by Steve Voce

STEVE VOCE writes about all the jazz eras from early New Orleans (he's just published a definitive piece on Johnny Dodds) to late Miles Davis (Miles gave him a drink out of his bottle of whiskey). But Duke Ellington and his music is at the heart of Steve's writings.

Harry Carney with Steve and anonymous fan Steve and Ben Webster Steve broadcast for BBC Radio for more than 50 years and for 35 of them presented his own 'Jazz Panorama' programme. During these broadcasts he would telephone jazz musicians in the United States and talk to them live on air for an hour at a time. Steve has been writing a monthly column in Jazz Journal for more than 50 years and keeps insisting to the Editor that it is time he was taken out and shot – so that his obituary could appear in The Independent newspaper, for whom he writes all the obituaries for jazz musicians. Oh, and he wrote a book on Woody Herman but, since a fortnight after publication everyone except his mother had forgotten about it, he fell back exhausted and decided never to write a book again.

Carl Hällström recalled that Steve delighted the participants in a Duke Ellington conference in England with his "THE DUKE'S IN BED" presentation, a collection of anecdotes about various Ellingtonians. He asked Steve if he would allow his insightful writings to be "web-published" in Ellington on the Web, and Steve kindly agreed. We're grateful to The Independent and to Jazz Journal for permission to reproduce the pieces that appear here.

These articles are reproduced with Steve's permission and should not be reproduced without his express permission as copyright holder.


A Cold from Little Eddie

Published in Jazz Journal in March 1963
added 2011-07-24

Duke Ellington, composer, pianist, band leader: born April 29, 1899, died May 24, 1974

The phone rang in Stanley Dance's home in Connecticut. The call was from London. "This is Little Eddie. Just to let you know that we arrived all right.."

Considering that they seem to live normally in a state of almost mindless fatigue, it is amazing that the Ellington band members manage to be so composed and sociable most of the time. Perhaps the most imperturbable of them all is baritone sax player Harry Carney. He has an elephantine memory that is almost supernatural. Standing outside the Empire in a Jacques Tati beret and overcoat, which made one wonder where he had left his motor bike, he recalled his first visit to Liverpool. 'In 1933 we stayed down that street. I think it was the second turning on the left, and their name was Jackson. I wonder if they still live there?'

Later he was talking to clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton. 'I was thinking of phoning home today, but after that hotel bill last night, I can't afford it. Five quid just for bed and breakfast.'

'You know why that is,' said Hamilton. 'They watch you come in through the door and they say "This here is Harry Carney. He can pay! Jack up everything."'

Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal International, had come up to Liverpool to join me for Duke Ellington's Sunday night concert at The Empire. Jimmy took me upstairs to meet trumpeter Cootie Williams. 'Harry'll be on the phone now. Wherever we are he always calls home. If he was in Hell he'd be asking for a telephone.'

Close up Cootie looks like a granite Red Indian, and his conversation, consisting mainly of grunted 'Yeah?' and 'No?' filled out the analogy. I left him cleaning his already gleaming horn, squeezed between the Rabbit and the Cat (Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson) and went to join Sinclair in the Duke's room, which had been converted into a sanatorium - Duke had the most impressive cold that I had ever been close up to. The room was littered with Kleenex tissues and Duke was selecting his underwear for the concert from a caseful held out by his dresser.

'Can you get me some fresh, unstrained grapefruit juice?' he asked me. 'A jugful?'

This presented rather a problem since the grapefruit trees in Liverpool have not even flowered yet, never mind borne fruit. However I managed to get a jugful of some kind of grapefruit juice (I suspect it was the bottled kind) and took it back to the dressing room like one of the three wise men. (Note added in 2000: the grapefruit juice resulted from a walk across Liverpool to the Adelphi Hotel. This was a Sunday and the city virtually shut down in those days of austerity. I had great difficulty in persuading the hotel people to lend me the jug. All pubs and any source of alcohol closed by 10 p.m. every night.).

Duke sipped it. 'I think they strained it by mistake,' Sinclair offered.

'They grow the grapefruit a bit sweet around here, too,' said Duke, sniffing the jug suspiciously.

The dressing room belonged during the week to Morecambe of Morecambe and Wise, who was appearing at the theatre in pantomime. Mr. Morecambe had left a pleasant note inviting Duke to help himself to a drink and to make use of the television set in the room. Duke switched on the television while the half bottle of gin on the table went round the room. The time was 7.30 p.m. and I realised with no little discomfort what was about to happen.

An unctuous and servile voice came out of the speaker: '.welcome you ladies and gentlemen once again to the Black and White Minstrel Show!'

And there they were, capering about in their patchwork suits and gollywog make-up. This, I said to myself, is going to be one of those famous moments of truth. Duke and Strayhorn watched in baleful silence. Strayhorn took off his glasses, examined them, and put them back on. Suddenly the Minstrels went into 'Caravan', and George Chisholm came on.

'Well produced show,' said Duke, and turned back to the problem of his underwear.

A mother and daughter, whose interest in jazz must have been tenuous, suddenly appeared in the room. Apparently Duke had met them somewhere and promised them tickets for the show. All the seats were sold, so I gave them my tickets.

There followed a stormy tussle between Sinclair and the stage foreman, a belligerent and disenchanted person whom I learned to avoid years ago. His attitude was almost as cold as the stage of the theatre.

'If you had wanted to borrow ten bucks and I had never met you before, these guys would show you right into my dressing room,' said Duke, 'but if you were someone important who had just come in to see the show before signing a contract or something, they'd practically come to blows keeping you out.

On stage the Ellingtonians were shivering behind the curtain. Johnny Hodges examined his alto and began calling for anti-freeze. We sat down on two stools just off-stage from the piano.

Duke didn't appear backstage until the band crackled into 'A Train'. He walked briskly to the mike, did the 'we love you madly' bit, and walked briskly off-stage to our side.

'Jesus!' he said. 'When they built this place they forgot to put the roof on.' He called out for spotlights to be placed to shine on the piano stool. Would someone mind going out there and breaking the ice between the piano keys?

The concert progressed more or less normally except that they left out 'Kinda Dukish' and 'Pretty and the Wolf' but added 'Mainstem'. The next day the Liverpool Daily Post said that 'Kinda Dukish' was one of the concert highlights. During the last tour the Liverpool Echo claimed that the trumpet solos of the alto saxophone player Johnny Hodges were very moving.

The big drawback about listening from the wings was that the normal bite of the sax section was a bit muffled. But this was more than compensated for the ability to hear the continuous battery of asides that goes on between the members of the band.

After Hodges had blandly laid down three of his masterworks, he was in the process of sitting down again when Ellington called him out for another bow. While smirking politely at the audience Rabbit was muttering all the time to his boss. 'Lay off it, Dukie. Every time I bend down I can feel the ice cracking off the back of my pants.'

At the interval 'Dukie' hustled off to his room to change into ankle length underpants. The trumpet and trombone sections, who hadn't missed the goings on in the wings, gathered around Sinclair's chair, removed his flask, and emptied it. Sinclair stood in the middle in his overcoat, looking for all the world like some football coach with his team at half time. I almost expected him to produce a plate of sliced lemons from somewhere.

The teams changed ends and crashed into the second half with a heat that had obviously come from Sinclair's flask, now lying forlornly abandoned behind the piano stool.

'Little Eddie', who kept bounding into the wings to give us a rundown on the state of the weather on-stage, had still not warmed up and was having constant trouble with his cold. The piano was by now full of abandoned Kleenex tissues.

'Tell Stray to have my ugly pills ready when we come off,' he said as the last number approached.

'Man,' said Jimmy Hamilton as they came off-stage, 'Will I be glad to get out of this freezing theatre and into that freezing coach where I can at least die in an undignified posture of my own choosing.' (The band was making the 200-mile trip back to London overnight).

In the Duke's room the Wardrobe Section were busily packing his clothes. Duke and Billy Strayhorn were discussing how best to reciprocate Mr Morecambe's gesture with the gin. The half-bottle was by now as empty as Sinclair's flask. With a little pressure Duke extracted the fact that Billy had a full bottle of gin in his bag.

'This fellow has been very gracious to us,' said Duke. 'We should try to be even more gracious in return. I think you should leave the full bottle.'

'Why not just refill the half from my bottle?' suggested Billy. 'There's going to come a moment of crisis on that train' (Stray and Duke were going back to London with Sinclair on the train) at about three o'clock in the morning when I'm going to need that gin.'

'No,' insisted Duke. 'We must be more gracious than he. The gracious thing to do is to leave the full bottle.' (Duke doesn't drink these days).

'Edward, you're being gracious as all hell with MY gin.' Stray jammed his hands in the pockets of his collarless George Melly-type corduroy suit and looked disconsolate. Harry Carney, who was going back on the coach and stood no chance with the gin either way, roared with laughter.

With Duke absorbed in his dressing, Billy cautiously refilled the half bottle and slipped his own bottle back into his bag.

We reached the Adelphi Hotel at eleven o'clock, and with customary British Railways grace (the hotel belonged to BR) the headwaiter refused to serve us. 'I have to have my staff in by seven in the morning, and I'm not keeping them back now for you.' In a second-class hotel they would have probably had the bouncer throw us out.

Duke walked past as though he didn't know that the headwaiter was there (he probably didn't) and sat down at a table. Eventually a waiter arrived and Duke ordered soup, bacon and eggs 'with the eggs cooked easy', toast and 'as many kinds of jam as you've got.'

'Give me my Ugly pill,' he said to Strayhorn, abandoning yet another tissue. Strayhorn produced two pills, one a murky white large enough to choke a big horse, the other (the Ugly pill) smaller and bright emerald green.

Duke explained when I asked him that he had to take them to get any kind of relief from his cold, which was a really remarkable one. 'They put me in an ugly mood, and I get rude, very rude, to people I have no right to be rude to. I get very nasty, and really I shouldn't. I get very ugly.'

'Come now Edward, you're not the monster you would have everyone believe you are,' said Billy.

'I'm not a monster,' retorted Duke. 'You're the monster. You're a monster among monsters.'

'I guess I must be a monster,' Billy agreed, 'because the king monster says I am.'

Edward poked into the two plates of jam in front of him - one blackcurrant and one strawberry. He stopped a passing waitress: 'What other kinds of jam have you got? And bring me more milk and grapefruit juice.' She looked at him as though he was mad, but came back with raspberry jam, milk and grapefruit juice.

Billy surveyed the remains of Duke's snack. 'The inside of your stomach will be like Chicago on St. Valentine's Day. Your germs will be tightening their hold.'

'It couldn't be much tighter. These germs have got inside my lovely, lovely body and they reckon on staying there forever. They must like my piano playing.' Duke collected a huge supply of paper napkins, and I drove them to Lime Street Station. 'You should be wearing a coat,' Duke said to me at the station.

I left them in the frozen station to face what transpired to be a night in a train without heat - too cold to stay in their sleepers, in fact. Three days later I had one of the most aggressive colds I have yet encountered. I took consolation in the thought that it had probably originally belonged to Little Eddie. I think I could do with some of those Ugly pills.

-Steve Voce

Lawrence For President

Published in Jazz Journal in January 1963.
added 2011-08-15

This was in my column ‘…And All That Jazz’ in the Jazz Journal of January 1963. Although obsessed with Duke’s music since my father introduced me to it soon after I learned to walk, I wrote some foolish criticism of the maestro half a century ago when I suggested that he was wasting his time with plagiarizing the classics. I changed my mind soon after, and have indulged myself by not including those remarks here.

Lawrence For President

The big drawback about Duke Ellington's. orchestra is that, while it hasn't quite got everything, it has almost everything. In addition to being the man who has had the largest and most effective influence on jazz, Ellington has more top flight soloists than anyone has a right to. This means that to hear the various talents of an Ellington programme effectively one should attend at least half a dozen concerts each made up from entirely different material. Personally, I would welcome a concert featuring only the single talents of any one of the following with rhythm: Lawrence Brown, Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton or of course the Duke himself.

We have heard the band before and know what to expect in the way of material and solo numbers. However, Lawrence Brown and Cootie Williams have not visited us before, and it is to be hoped that they will be heavily featured.

Lawrence is one of the most exciting of contemporary musicians, and his smooth brilliance with the trombone marks him out as probably the best man playing the instrument to-day. He swings more than almost any other instrumenalist in jazz, as a cursory listening to any piece like The Tattooed Bride, Used To Be Duke,Duke's Blues or his own Caravan will confirm. I would heartily recommend you to get hold of his Clef LP "Slide Trombone" (Columbia 33CX 10046). I have found this storming set to be the most consistently popular album with both modernists and others who attend my jazz courses. I only wish that other volumes had been made using the same line-up.

Cootie is another outstanding soloist who has been disgracefully unrepresented on our record labels of late. This has been a great loss, for in such sessions as Jazztone's "The Big Challenge" (notable also for great Lawrence Brown) and Warner Bros.' "Porgy And Bess Revisited" he has combined his aggressive and biting style with colleague Rex Stewart to produce some of the most heated trumpet heard on record since his days with the Goodman band. Our friend Mr. Dance, who has lately built himself a house in the middle of the Ellington band, shares the general enthusiasm around here for Mr. Williams, and confirms that he is playing with the same colossal impact which has always typified his work.

I have gone on about Jimmy Hamilton often enough in these columns. Suffice it to say that I hope we can hear some of that knocked out tenor as well as the most immaculate clarinet on the scene. Hodges and Carney are also modestly noted for being the best performers on their instruments. It may not be December, but by God it's Christmas when the Ellington band steps off that boat!

-Steve Voce

Rex Riled Up

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1963.
added 2011-08-15

I have always regretted missing Rex Stewart's visit to London some years ago. Those 12" 78s on French Blue Star give some idea of his great form at the time, to say nothing of the quartet of 10 titles on British Tempo. The other night, while helping the brewery share-holders out with George Webb and Pat Halcox, one of those tremendous dead-pan stories concerning the great cornettist came out of the Webb repertoire.

George was playing a club date with the Lyttelton band when Sinclair Traill suddenly appeared with Rex in tow. Rex had his horn with him and of course sat in with the band. Everyone was knocked out, particularly George, who hadn't played with an American "name" before.

After a few numbers pianist Eddie Thompson came up to the side of the stand where George was playing and muttered something to the effect that it must be marvellous to play behind such a great soloist. George, always the gentleman, immediately got down and helped Eddie onto the piano stool (Eddie was blind). Rex turned and shouted some instructions to Eddie about the next number.

"What did he say?" Eddie asked George. “He said he was going to play `Indiana',"said George.

Stewart beat the band in, and off they went into one of his weird half-valve features. After two choruses which were quite remarkable for their lack of co-ordination, Eddie bent to George : "Are you sure he said `Indiana'?" By this time both of them were quite lost.

Half a chorus later Rex turned round in mid solo, glared at Thompson, and shouted "I said NO PIANNA!"

-Steve Voce

Dance of the Infidels

Published in Jazz Journal in March 1964.
added 2011-08-16

(I don’t know what brought on my mistaken assessment of Afro Bossa. And it’s improved like a good wine over the years!)

Stanley Dance, midst a lot of strange Roman symbols which must have come off a doctor's prescription, takes a belt at all the little green men that come and run me off to strange places in little red vans (happens all the time) and my lamentable failure to choose the ten best Ellington records as the ten best records of last year.

Does my enthusiasm for Messrs. Kirk, Herman, Ledbetter, Mingus and Getz negate my membership of the mainstream club? It would seem so, for Stan invented the word and seems to have invented me out.

In fact I did, after much thought, include Afro Bossa in my ten favourites. It is a good LP, but not by any means as good as some of the Ellington output (remember Historically Speaking, Ellington Masterpieces, the Newport sets, Ellington Jazz Party, to say nothing of all the re-issues?). Judged by Ellington standards, I feel that Duke is (understandably) having a fallow period at the moment as a band-leader and, had I included re-issues in my selection, Afro-Bossa would have been one of the first to go.

I prefer the best of Ellington to the best of anyone else and, in order to get this idea across, I am not prepared to say I prefer his inferior work to exciting and excellent sets as Herman ‘56 and the American Blues Festival.

But that won't stop me being at the front of the queue to get my tickets when Sir brings his Ellingtonians over here.

-Steve Voce

Lawrence Brown And The Plastic Tooth

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1964
added 2011-08-16

Normally my ventures outside of the immediate Liverpool area are confined to the annual holiday in North Wales and the odd frenzied week-end in London. However, during February last, in company with lovely Brian Moss of Billinge, Mike Flynn (Lancs. & West Cheshire Welhe Dancing Champion) and the noted atomic scientist and brains behind the Winscale disaster, Tony Hewitt, I discovered Manchester.

We made two visits, inside the week, firstly to give the Stanley Dance Foundation Jazz Lecture at the University Students' Union, and then of course to see the Duke, who for some unaccountable reason was not being presented in Liverpool.

Ticketless and unwanted, Brian Moss and I arrived at the Free Trade Hall an hour before the concert was due to start and began to disguise ourselves as ash-trays on the third row from the front.

We were busily sprinkling ash on our heads when Duke and Billy Stravhorn walked out to the piano. Duke, heavily muffled in overcoat, hat and scarf, sat down and began to play some variations on his introduction to "E and D Blues", stomping his foot and giving all appearances of enjoying himself. Stray joined in and the empty hall was filled for fifteen minutes with some of the most sparkling piano sounds I've heard for a long time. At one point two or three choruses of perfect ragtime emerged, polished enough to convince the oldest diehard.

Finally abandoning the attempt at disguise, we tried bravado and walked through a flurry of autograph hunters to the artists' bar, where we found Lawrence Brown, who doesn't smoke or drink.

Last time we encountered Lawrence he had lost his voice and was composed to expire during that famous winter. Then he had announced that he was all washed up as a trombonist. This time he had decided not to die, but to retire.

"The music scene is sick in the States. There are more good musicians out of work than ever before, and they've cut down on studio musicians until there's only a regular handful left. I wish I had something else I could do so I could get out of music altogether. Being with Duke is one of the best jobs, but you have to like travelling. I don't.

"When I was in the CBS studio I could be at home all the time, and you only worked a few hours a day for the basic pay. You could take night jobs and overtime rates started after only a couple of hours. But that's all gone now."

Trying to cheer him up, I reminded him that at least he had his voice back so that he could play without any trouble.

"That's what you think. Last night I bit on a stale roll in a cafe and broke one of my front teeth - right behind my bottom lip. I had to go and have it drilled out and a plastic tooth screwed in temporarily. I haven't dared blow on it yet, but we'll know in half an hour."

He demonstrated this triumph, if an agonizing one, of dental engineering. From what I heard later, as with the missing voice, it made no difference whatsoever to what, for me, is the most gratifying sound in contemporary trombone.

"I don't have any feeling for this progressive sound in jazz. It leaves me cold, but then I suppose that's because it's another generation. In a few years someone will come along with something else and all these guys will be feeling like I feel now."

If anyone has progressed from Lawrence Brown, I'd like to hear him.

Billy Strayhorn walked in to collect the Duke's pot of tea. Johnny Hodges said that nobody ever talked to him about anything except Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet. So we talked about Stanley Dance.

"I think Stan will stay over there for life, now. He's got it made, what with his magazines and things." Mr. Hodges leaned on his drink.

"I hope you're right." I agreed. "Much as I miss him, I've got a nice corner on the lecture thing over here."

After renewing acquaintance with Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney (how does he remember everybody's name so precisely?) we went, by the kind machinations of Dougie Tobutt, the well-known broadcaster to some empty seats near the front, where we were joined by Danny Moss and Brian Prudence. (2011: I don’t understand this reference. Dear old Dougie Tobutt was the tour manager and not a broadcaster. )

This was Ellington in excelcis and by far the best concert I have heard from him. Add the remarkable acoustic of the Free Trade Hall, and my cup was full.

The programming, omitting the vocalist and including magnificent lengthy works, with the emphasis as much on orchestration as on the soloists, recalled what one imagined the great band of the early Fifties sounded like.

The memory was heightened by the inclusion of Tone Parallel To Harlem, possibly one of the Duke's greatest works. The picture of Cootie, horn firmly pointed at the floor, poking out his notes with supreme disdain for microphones, will stay with me forever. The beautiful clarinet parts for Hamilton and Procope and Carney's unbelievable command of his horn (surely all the other baritone players are beginners?) help to emphasise that Ellington could never be ordinary.

As the fifteen-minute work crashed to its perfect conclusion in explosive applause I heard Danny Moss mutter "Follow that, Bob Miller and the Millermen." I know how he felt.

After the first house we hung around the auditorium trying to look as though we were supporting the roof, but the man came and threw us out before the second house began.

-Steve Voce

Rex For President

Published in Jazz Journal in February, 1966
added 2011-08-19

As one who over the years has found that, no matter how far one moves away from it, one always returns eventually to mainstream as the most reliable and consistent form of jazz, it is not unnatural that the majority of my favourite musicians come into this category. It is in mainstream also that one has the best opportunity to test the lasting quality of a soloist's style. By virtue of the unturbulent nature of the music, most of the musicians develop their styles in a more coherent manner than elsewhere. To make a brief comparison, one might perhaps cite Stan Getz who, during the last two decades, has made two major changes in the direction of his playing, with Ben Webster, who has not found it necessary to interfere with the style he was using thirty years ago. Perhaps it is that a mainstreamer matures more quickly the painful manipulation undergone by some of the modernists (Coltrane and Rollins, for example) has sometimes resulted in the baby being dead at birth. Within the mainstream it is not satisfying to choose between favourites - who could, for example, choose one from Teagarden, Harris, Wells and Nanton to the exclusion of the others' - but there are musicians with particularly individual qualities which lift them out of the common run. The clear, unadulterated openness of Buck Clayton's work, perhaps unique in its order and precision of ideas, makes me think of Buck as my favourite. And then one will come across a masterpiece by Rex Stewart, basically so different, squeezing his material with all the muscle power of a boa constrictor and playing with what sounds like three hands and eight valves. Which leads me to my second subject.

The flow of cheap LPs continues unabated but, regrettably, some companies have used the inexpensive issues as an opportunity to unload a large quantity of junk upon an unsuspecting public. Again, some of the sleeves are misleading - for example the full face photograph of Duke taking up the entire cover of an album which contains only two tracks, and those mediocre, by one of the Duke's lesser bands. And the ever-reissued early works of Ray Charles, surely not meriting the obvious attraction which they must have to followers of Ray's current output.

So, it comes as a pleasure to be able to welcome an excellent and obscure album on Allegro ALL 77o. The pleasure is doubled by the fact that the fine little sextet is under the leadership of Rex Stewart, and the whole disc hides its light under a bushel with the off-putting title, The Golden Era Of Dixieland Jazz. Rex leads Buster Bailey, Vic Dickenson, Marty Napoleon, Milt Hinton and George Wettling through High Society, Yellow Dog Blues, South Rampart Street, Ja-Da, Jazz Me Blues, Marty's Blues, Weary Blues and Blues.

The music is of a high mainstream level, with good solos and well thought-out ensembles, giving an impression of good jazz played by great jazzmen, which is exactly what it is. I haven't heard Buster Bailey, one of the most accomplished jazz clarinettists, so well represented on any post-war album, and Dickenson also sounds very relaxed and at home in this group. His solo work on Ja-Da is of his best. But the record belongs to Rex, greatest cornettist in the world and probably the most consistently energetic and creative brass man that jazz has produced. His eccentric style is well displayed here, particularly on the magnificent blues solo on Yellow Dog, the nearest thing I have heard to his French recording of Mobile Bay - as far as I am concerned the greatest display of muted technique that I know of. This is certainly going to be a hard year for British trumpet men, with Rex, Bill Coleman, Buck Clayton and Red Allen all lined up for visits.

-Steve Voce

One Doesn't Snap One's Finger's On The Beat

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1966
added 2011-08-19

‘A hundred shillings for bed and breakfast!' The Ellingtonians were looking aghast at the bills which the Liverpool hotel had issued to them in advance. Lawrence Brown was fatalistic about the whole thing, and obviously regarded it as a mere extension of the ill-fortune which had made him a musician in the first place. I'm happy to report that he is still playing as well as ever, and still claiming loudly that his career is at an end, his lip is ruined, and that he could never play the trombone anyway. 'All the muted work has ruined my lip.'

'A hundred shillings!' Sam Woodyard suggested that there had been some mistake. He hadn't wanted to buy the place, just to stay there for the night.

I had just met Sinclair Traill from the London train, and quite by chance we encountered the band, which had just arrived. We joined the members who were taking afternoon tea in the lounge; Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges and Sam Woodyard. The next tables were occupied by Paul Gonsalves and the Duke himself. Paul stared in mute fascination at the Palm Court trio which was entertaining the waiters and those who waited. The conversation returned to the hotel bill. 'You pay more for the good service,' I suggested. We had already been sitting there for fifteen minutes and had not succeeded in having our order taken. Even Duke couldn't get a waiter.

The trio wailed away, and the waiters stayed away. 'That is one crazy double,' said Hodges, raising a cynical eyebrow at the gentleman who played clarinet and cello. After another ten minutes he got up and left, leaving me instructions to order a large gin and water for him, if finally a waiter was discovered. Jimmy Hamilton was hungry, and most of the band seemed to have been without food for some time. 'I'd like some sandwiches, chicken and ham, please.' A waiter had eventually arrived, looking startled. 'There's no sandwiches sir, only bridge rolls.' He suggested that they wait until six o'clock when dinner would be available. The first concert began at six-thirty. Finally it was agreed, after some discussion, that the waiter would arrange to have some sandwiches created.

Johnny returned to the gin, and began telling us about his latest albums, including one with Earl Hines made on January 18. 'I guess I could make a living just doing albums and the occasional tour with someone like Wild Bill Davis. 'It takes about three days to make an album, and pays a couple of hundred dollars and royalties. If I worked on records for other leaders as well, I could do quite nicely. I just did an album with Lawrence Welk, you know. He asked me to join the band full-time, but it'd mean me living in Hollywood. Those guys have a nice job, mainly studio work, and three months off a year when you can do what you want. I could make my albums and maybe do a few club jobs and things. But I don't know, I've been with Duke a long time now....' Sinclair left to chat Duke up about playing Carolina Shout as a piano solo (Duke did at the first house, and Sinclair scored a lot of unlooked-for points by not being there). Johnny paid for his gin, and I paid for the two cups of tea and the coffee-'That'll be ten shillings, sir,' 'Like you were saying,' said Johnny, 'you pay more for the good service.' I noticed that no one left a tip.

Band call was at five-thirty, so we left them to it, and went in search of food for ourselves. We arrived at the University just in time to be told by Johnny, with vindictive glee, that Duke had played Carolina Shout especially for Sinclair, and would doubtless be most offended that Sinclair wasn't there. A flushed Sinclair suggested that his absence should be kept a secret from the Duke.`Too late.' said Johnny with satisfied finality. 'I already told him!' 'Blast! And I thought that all we were missing was you playing that damned Magenta Haze nonsense.' I left them to score points off each other and went to introduce some of my friends to Harry Carney, who is the nicest person I know to introduce people to. I asked him about the long-note technique (he holds a note for a couple of minutes during his feature on Sophisticated Lady) and he confirmed that, like Roland Kirk, he inhales through his nose while actually playing the note.

'It's a thing I've been doing for years. It's not new by any means. Buster Bailey used to do it on clarinet - you may have heard John Kirby's record of St. Louis Blues. He does it there. I don't think Barney Bigard ever developed it. He had a natural technique which helped him to hold long notes - on the 1938 New Black And Tan Fantasy he climbs up to a very high note behind Tricky Sam as Sam begins his solo, and holds the note throughout the solo. Then, at the end of Sam's bit, Barney still has enough breath to do one of his sweeping runs down. But I think it was just breath control.' (If you watch Carney on Sophisticated Lady you can see his cheeks empty and fill again during the note).

Sean Lewis of the Students' Entertainment Committee, who was the organiser of the concert, had frightened everyone to death by not sending out the complimentary tickets until a couple of days before the concert. However, he had very kindly given Eddie Lambert and me magnificent seats on the fourth row. This generous gesture was unfortunately spoiled by the fact that Jack McNamara had pinched my seat. Sinclair and I found spare seats in the direct line of fire from Harry's baritone, which transpired to be a distinct improvement.

I only heard one concert (as I write this I should be attending two more in Manchester, but have unfortunately succumbed to horse-'flu, the disease to which we Northerners are so prone), but found it a huge improvement on the last tour. Regrettably Cootie Williams had been taken to a local hospital with severe haemerrhoids and his solos were very much missed. But the three-piece trumpet section filled out nicely, and I for one didn't miss the fourth horn here. Sinclair, who had heard Cootie earlier in the tour, said that he missed the fourth horn in the section. 'How in hell could you miss it when I didn't?' asked Russ Procope afterwards.

My good friend Eddie Lambert will be reviewing the concerts he heard elsewhere, so I will restrict myself to a few comments on the music. For me the best thing in the programme, and I hope that it will soon be recorded, was La Plus Belle Africaine, a long piece with the best solos of the night for me coming from Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney. As I mentioned before, we were sitting at the side of the band and in a position where we were bathed in the sound of Carney's baritone. There is no one in the world who can make the big sax respond so well, With that rich tone of his he is so far beyond reach of anyone else that one can't credit that he has actually been beaten on occasion by other baritone players in the popular polls. I don't know whether his solo on La Plus Belle was written for him or improvised, but it ranks with his best, being very strongly constructed and exquisitely played. Hamilton had one long solo here, a model of technical expertise and good jazz, but elsewhere, as usual, didn't have enough to do. While I thoroughly enjoyed all Gonsalves' solos, he did get more than his share, and I felt that a couple of his numbers could well have been given to Hamilton's tenor and clarinet instead. Other highlights came from the despondent Mr. Brown, some nice clarinet from Russ Procope, and there was a virtuoso evening from Cat Anderson, who triumphed both as a soloist and as a tower of strength in the section. His muted solos, 'Cootian' in concept, were perfectly orientated, and anyone who had thought of him as being lacking in taste was given a powerful awakening at this concert. Duke played Carolina Shout again for Sinclair and gave it a rough and striding treatment which brought back vivid memories of Fats and James P.

Woodyard, with whom we had earlier given it one, was in effervescent mood and made frequent ecstatic comments throughout the show, obviously not realising that he was very close to a mike. At one point he sang a very convincing blues vocal behind one of Duke's solos which could well have been used as a feature.

Carolina Shout had him laughing and shouting away merrily. As he told us afterwards, 'I love all that old-time whorehouse music!' Lawrence Brown showed what a poor job he makes of not being able to play with a mute by treading in Tricky's footsteps with much fire and bite. He also displayed the great damage which his lip has not sustained from not being able to play with a mute during various beautiful open solos, including a nice run out on Don't Get Around Much Any More as part of the Medley. The selection from Black, Brown And Beige seemed to have been re-worked slightly since the band's last visit, and was a successful editing of the original. The three-piece trumpet section did wonders with the finale.

The delightfully rejuvenated Medley and Black, Brown And Beige were a kind of bonus for a wildly enthusiastic and very youthful audience who had gone berserk when it seemed that the concert was likely to come to an end. Duke, bending to the microphone, bid them silence. ‘The band have asked me to pass on a request to you,’ he said. ‘May we please play you an encore?’

-Steve Voce

Memoirs Of A Scaffolder's Knee-Wrencher

Published in Jazz Journal in July 1966
added 2011-08-19

Since I feel that neither Buck Clayton nor Rex Stewart were given anything like the space which they merited in the dailies, Sundays or jazz publications, the rest of this column is about them.

Rex is a deep personality, proud of his record in jam. but undervaluing his contribution to the music, nonetheless. Unlike most of the established greats, he has a profound interest in jazz. its backgrounds and developments, and he speaks with great vehemence and clarity on this subject. One of the things he most wanted to do while over here and one of the things which unfortunately no one asked him to do, was to give a talk on jazz. His articles in Down Beat and in this magazine have been excellent in the way in which they have compacted so much relevant information (which only Rex has) and the writing style has been so direct and coherent that I felt they must have been ghosted. In fact this is not the case and Rex writes all his own material.

I was fortunate enough to meet him on three separate occasions and to spend several hours with him on each occasion. (Incidentally. a small, but important reflection on his character is the fact that he insists, on one occasion to the point of anger, in standing his round or on standing someone else's as well). Rex tells me that the Allegro Golden Era Of Dixieland was recorded in 1960 and that the bassist is Arvell Shaw. His playing was its own testimonial and I think that he displayed more variety of mood and dexterity than most of the visitors, we’ve had. The rumbustious half-valve features and the regrettably sparse appearance of the mutes established his claim in the development of the jazz trumpet (although he meticulously insists that he plays cornet, one feels that it would be incidental to such a great if he played) Burmese prayer horn.

One always thinks of Rex as having influenced people like Terry, Davis, Brown and Navarro and so on but, on hearing his lip-searing runs and entire application of energy to the horn, one realises that from the same fount have sprung Charlie Shavers, Cat Anderson, and, more obviously, Ray Nance and Taft Jordan.

Roy Eldridge is regarded as the prime-mover reflected in Gillespie, in modern jazz trumpet. In fact Rex has influenced far more of the younger players, and to a greater degree. But in terms of the passing years his style requires no classification for, like so many of the great Ellingtonians, it is completely timeless.

Meeting Rex gave me one of the greatest pleasures in my jazz experience, and I am looking forward with great enthusiasm to swapping tapes with him. I have already compiled one with many questions for him and hope, when the answers arrive, to write an article to complement the excellent piece by Bernard Houghton which appeared in our May issue.

Here beginneth the campaign to get Rex back again next year. If readers would affirm their wish to see him again on a postcard to me I will see that their cards are put to best effect.

-Steve Voce

Harold ‘Shorty’ Baker remembered by Clark Terry

Published in Jazz Journal in January 1967
added 2011-08-22

(Shorty had died in New York on November 8, 1966. He was only 52.)

Everybody loved Shorty, I can't start to tell you just how he will be missed around the New York scene. You see he was one of those real lovable guys; wherever Shorty was, there was laughter. He was always making jokes, even when things weren't at their best. He even made a joke when I went to see him in hospital. He had had that terrible operation, and his voice was husky and barely audible – you had to bend over to hear what he was saying. 'I'm going to beat this thing', he said. `I don't sound no worse than some of those old blues singers, now do I?'

And he did beat it, you know. When everybody had given him up for dead, Shorty made it out of that hospital. All he wanted to do, was to play his horn again. When, just recently, he knew he wasn't ever going to be able to play again, then I think he kinda gave up. But not so long ago I was playing at Embers West and in he came and asked if he could sit in. Of course we were delighted and made room for him at once. He played that night with all his old fire and that beautiful pure tone, which was his alone. No one has ever achieved a tone like that - and I should know for he was my inspiration from the beginning. We came from the same town, St. Louis, and Shorty Baker was the man I always listened to, when he was back home in between going on the road with such bands as Fate Marable, Erskine Tate and Don Redman. He played with so many good bands, for he was an excellent section man, and they all loved having him around because as I said he was such a happy, humorous man. He was with Teddy Wilson when Teddy had that big band, he played with Andy Kirk, and of course married Andy's pianist, Mary Lou Williams, and I really can't count the times he was with Duke Ellington - he was always coming and going. Duke always welcomed him `home' when he returned to the band, because he was the perfect trumpeter to give the right expression to Duke's music. A lyrical player, you know, with the clearest tone imaginable and such impeccable taste. He was certainly one of the most popular players ever to play with the Ellington band; he always kept them in good humour.

I remember once Duke's band was on one of those long, long road gigs. Up early every morning, get in that bus, travel hundreds of miles, play a dance or a concert, but mostly dances in those days, until the early hours and then drop into bed - which was often enough your seat on the bus. Musicians are apt to get a bit salty under these conditions - lack of sleep, lack of food and lack of everything else that makes life worth living. But not Shorty! He was always in there with a smile and a joke.

I remember on this particular trip, we had been on a particularly tough stretch, the places we had played had been hundreds of miles apart. One night having slept in the bus, it was discovered that the food bought at our last stop had been left behind. Everyone was dragged. No breakfast and no chance of a stop – there was no time. `Never mind' smiled Shorty, 'now's the time to open up that parcel my mother sent me. That lovely fried chicken and those luscious devilled eggs - plenty for all!' It was all a gag of course, but Shorty was able to make everyone feel just that little bit better.

Part of the reason for that personal tone of his was the fact that he always used a Hein mouthpiece. It was a very unusual mouthpiece, very deep and thin, maybe only an eighth of an inch in thickness. It was made in St. Louis and not everyone could play with one. Miles Davis had one, which he lost, and has never been able to replace. I used to have one too. Shorty always had his.

St. Louis, you know, is a town celebrated for trumpet players. Always has been from the start. Dewey Jackson, a wonderful player, whom I heard when I was a kid. Charlie Creath, the man they knew as 'The King of the Cornet', Levi Madison and Crack Stanley, two more great players. The brothers Wendell and Marvin Black, Joe Thomas and of course Miles Davis. All really great trumpet players. Well, some of them have gone now, some of the real good ones, but wherever they are I know they will welcome Shorty - because there was never a better trumpet player to come out of St. Louis, that city of trumpet players, than Harold 'Shorty' Baker.'

-Steve Voce

Clark In The Dark: Night Fast Out Of Algeria

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1967
added 2011-08-22

‘How d’you get Hawk to smile?’ the exasperated photographer asked Clark Terry. ‘I’ll make him smile.’ Said Clark. He walked over to where Hawk, looking sheepish and unhappy, stood with his arm awkwardly draped over the photographer’s friend. `Money, Hawk,’ said Clark, ‘Big, big money.’ Hawk’s face lit up.

Clark had been telling us about that infamous Mingus session at the Town Hall which had been both a recording session and a concert and yet not really either. `I felt a fool because I was the only one in evening dress, I think Charlie was wearing jeans, because he hadn’t known there would be an audience. Anyway, the whole thing fell apart musically as well, and finally Charlie called me down front and told me to play something. ‘What shall I play:’ I asked, and he said ‘I don’t know, play anything’. And that’s why one track on the LP was called Clark In The Dark. I was, too.’

This led to talk of big bands, and Dizzy Gillespie said how much he’d like to have a large group again. ‘If someone would only take the responsibilities of running it, there’s nothing I’d like better. I’d love to tour England with a big band.’ Someone suggested that it would have to be an American band. ‘Don’t kid yourself,’ said Diz. ‘You English undervalue your musicians more than anyone else. British musicians are as good as any in the world, and I’d prefer to tour with an English group.’ If Mr Higgins thought it was a proposition, Mr Tobutt could certainly do the hard work.

Meanwhile Hawk had finished being photographed and was talking about that excellent pianist, Eddie Costa. ‘That kid would have been a great piano player if he’d lived. He was kind of wild, but I always liked to work with him. He was killed in a car smash one night when he was coming home from someplace in the wrong direction from where he was supposed to have been. I made some records with him.’ (Costa plays notably on the deleted but worth looking for Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra, a quintet session on Eros ERL 50024).

Clark Terry told its about the latest Terry-Brookmeyer album, which has Hank Jones on piano. We asked how the earlier albums were selling.

‘Hell, I don’t know, and I don’t care. We don’t bother about royalties, we try to get as much as we can in a lump sum from the companies, and then they can keep the royalties. We want the money NOW!’

-Steve Voce

Buck And Ben, The Powerhouse Men

Published in Jazz Journal in March 1967
added 2011-08-22

Hearing Ben Webster on form, as we did during his recent tour of the north, is an extravagant and unique jazz experience. Ben's playing is so substantial that it is almost a food upon which one dines in splendid profusion. In this mood he disarms any criticism and displays such individual strength of character that he transcends any categorization. It is not possible to compare him with any other player since, although he might have much in common with, say, Hawk. The singular blending of Webster's component elements puts him out on his own. Whereas someone like Rollins or Coltrane might effect a purging of the listener's emotions, Ben adds to them and has a relaxing and at the same time stimulating effect. Webster is by nature an especially relaxed man, who always looks faintly surprised and who never seems to get particularly upset about anything.

After Mike Davison had presented him at Liverpool University with Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracy, Ben had a couple of hours to kill before his train for London, so we took him to the Liverpool Press Club.

Ben has now settled in Amsterdam, having been a European for three years now. He has put on a little weight but exudes an air of great fitness, probably due to the fact that he doesn't get upset and knows how to enjoy life. The extra weight is credited to the exceptional cooking of Mrs. Hartlooper, Ben's land-lady. who makes a point of seeing that he eats plenty. There is little jazz in the city and neither Ben nor Don Byas, who also lives there with his family, work locally at all.

`We're hoping that these two cats who work for Dutch radio are going to manage to start a jazz club, but apart from that, there's nothing like that, because it means you can come back off a tour, maybe with a bad hang-over, slink into Amsterdam and rest up and get well without any fuss.'

The Antibes Festival last summer seemed to have been a good place for acquiring hangovers. Ben played there with Duke, as did Ella and Ray Nance.

'The trouble was that Duke wouldn't tell me what we were going to play. I kept asking him about it, but he just kept saving 'Don't worry, baby, you got it'. Hell, I was worried because I didn't know his book, and I'm rusty on a lot of the things we used to do. Anyway, eventually I said 'Own up, Guv'nor' and he said 'Oh it's just a few simple things, like A Train in waltz time.' So I told him hell, Duke, I can't even play the thing as it's written.'

One spectacular number from Antibes was High Passage, an up-tempo feature for the tenors of Ben, Paul Gonsalves and Jimmy Hamilton. 'We were supposed to take fours at the end, but we got mixed up, and every time I got to my turn it seemed like Ray just beat me to it.'

Some of the concert was broadcast, including an extended All Too Soon featuring Ben with Lawrence Brown, and a hilarious and stomping It Don't Mean A Thing with Ray duetting with Ella and apparently at one point where she sings 'Rain, rain go away,' getting a little too close.

Ben, as is by now well known, is something of an expert on piano jazz, and a lot of his friends are pianists. 'Like Ralph Sutton. He lives up in the mountains behind San Francisco. You drive for miles up this narrow winding road. hoping to hell you don't slip over the edge, and then finally you get to this beautiful house of his. You sit out on the patio getting well on all that mountain air, and then Ralph's wife puts some Fats on the hi-fi (she knows I'm a sucker for that) and you sit in the sun listening to Fats. That's living!

'The album I did with Art Tatum? Well, really I shouldn't have been on that album. Nobody should ever have recorded with Art because he did everything himself. He could say it all better than anyone that ever played with him, and there was so much inside him that he could never be an accompanist.

'The best accompanying piano I ever had was Oscar Peterson. He's what we call a feeding pianist. He listens to the horn men and seems to know exactly what they're going to play and sets it up for them instinctively. I never saw anyone as keen on music as Oscar and Ray Brown. They were always working on something or going over something to make it better. I remember being on a JATP tour with them and, at every concert, when the curtains went down for the interval, they'd be there behind the curtain rehearsing something, right through till the concert began again. They'd be at it before the concert and after it as well. That was a great partnership. and I'm sorry it's broken up.

'They were the easiest people to record with, too. I've been on some sessions where they've had to make up to a dozen takes of a number. But not with Oscar and Ray – one was near always enough. They'd be bent together over the piano whispering away together. and then Oscar'd say 'Okay, Frog. Let's make it.' We'd do it in one. All my sessions with Oscar were very happy ones.'

In unhurried fashion we trundled down to Lime Street Station for the 12.30 (Ronnie and the band had gone by road) and got Ben nicely settled into a sleeper.

-Steve Voce

Jaws And Frog And Things

Published in Jazz Journal in June 1967
added 2011-08-22

We remember something from the mists of childhood about somebody getting brained with the jaw of an ass. And Jaws certainly blew that off everyone in sight.

It's hard to imagine that Lockjaw could ever have an off-night and, with due respect to the excellent tenors who shared the recent concert tour it's impossible to imagine a situation where Jaws could ever be carved. His playing sounds constantly inspired and one thought, at the Free Trade Hall concert, that his sound would have blistered the chrome off the mike. As far as his ballads were concerned, Moonlight In Vermont and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, extended the great tradition of the tenor balladeers. Buck Clayton reckons that, for sheer playing, Budd Johnson can blow the jawbone of an ass off anything. In such a heady league it is invidious to prefer one man to another, but I'll take Jaws. Hearing him on the same programme as Ben Webster was another remarkable thing. Ben was Jaw's idol in the early days, and Jaws has in fact developed from the Webster of the Forties, his playing being characterised by the storming approach that Ben used then. But Frog, on the other hand, has mellowed over the years and he's developed his own bag in his own way. To hear his economic and yet lyrical style is a lesson in jazz. He showed his perfection in Perdido with Bud Freeman, with Ben playing the obligatto to Bud's statement of the theme. Once again we saw from Ben the micro-second timing which only the greatest jazz men have. Each note was of perfect duration and intonation.

Freeman himself was better on this tour than at any time we have heard him, and his own high spot of the show was a fresh and rhapsodic workout on It's Wonderful, a lovely number which Hackett and Teagarden used to do. Bud was very convincing in the two and four tenor things, and the contrast of the various styles was particularly in his favour. His partnership with Webster was very satisfactory, and someone might one day make an LP of the two together. An LP of their conversation would be rewarding, because they fit each other perfectly from this angle, too. Ben never leads a conversation, he just provides the fill-ins, and I could have listened all night to the fascinating double concerto they built between them. Bud, still everyone's best friend and the greatest anglophile of all, thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and was relieved to be free of the 'guidance' of the previous one. (2011 -‘Guidance’ is presumably a reference to the way Earl Hines took to himself the leadership of the Jazz From A Swinging Era unit. This was a group of equals and some of the others, notably Roy Eldridge, were incandescent at the way Earl assumed on-stage authority over them. The only thing that stopped Roy leaving in mid-tour was the urging of Buck Clayton not to. Louis Armstrong had a similar experience with Hines. ‘I don’t give a damn,’ said Louis. ‘Hines and his ego, ego, ego! If he wanted to go, the hell with him. He’s good, sure, but we don’t need him.’).

Eddie Miller delighted the audience with his spot, and lived up to the things we said about him in last month's column.

Perhaps the happiest moment of the show was during the final blues with all the tenors up. This was a Jaws number and, at the end of the first chorus, all four stepped up simultaneously to take the first solo. The result was a quite remarkable and unintentional improvised ensemble that lasted for four bars before Jaws won and took the solo.

Afterwards we went tip to the Club 43 with Lockjaw. Ben and Phil Seamen. The Club 43 Big Band, a new organisation, was playing some Basie-slanted music when we arrived and, although there is some polishing to be done, the band is well worth listening to and has a nice swing with it. Surprisingly Ernie Garside was in the trumpet section, and he proved to be quite good, although not yet quite up to the Conrad Gozzo standard. He took a solo that allows us to tell Dizzy that he can take it easy because he's got some time yet, but the whole thing was very promising.

In search of food, we found some tinned ravioli and canned Eric Scriven in the kitchen. 'Has it got meat in it?' asked Ben. and no one knew for sure whether he meant Eric or the ravioli. I assumed he meant the ravioli and said yes. 'Then I'll eat it.' Jaws wanted a brandy, but he had to have milk with it. Eric produced a brandy bottle full of milk. Funny chap. 'Back in the Forties, all the younger guys, including me, worshipped Ben,' Lockjaw sipped the brandy. 'No one else played like that, and we all wanted to pick up on it. We'd go to hear Ben every night with whichever band he was with. I always remember that in those clubs the musicians weren't supposed to drink on the stand. The manager would tell Ben no drinking, and Ben would be good as gold and say 'Yes, I quite understand,' and then, when the guy moved away, Ben got out the sneaky bottle from under his music stand.'

By now Ben's food was as hot as a Lee Konitz solo, but he carried on eating. When he'd finished he asked if there was a billiard table in the club. There wasn't. 'After tenor, I suppose my thing is pool. My uncle back in K.C. owned a poolroom and when I was just a kid he took me in there and left me with the best players for them to teach me the game.

'Really I like billiards best, but I'm so lazy it's no good to me.' We couldn't follow the reasoning. and asked why. 'Well, with pool or snooker you've got lots of balls on the table and when you hit them into the pocket they stay there. With billiards every time you pot one you've got to walk round the table and pick it out and set it back on the cloth. Man, you can get tired that way.

'Anyway, after a lot of lessons from those guys in K.C. I got to be pretty good, and I could beat most people. But it's a game where you have to concentrate very hard. Once you lose your concentration you should give up.

'I met the Dutch champion in a bar in Amsterdam recently, and we had a few games. He beat me, only just, in the first two, and I knew I wasn't concentrating. So I said 'Right. This time I'm going to beat you', and we started off again. Sure enough I concentrated, and I got well ahead. One break was all I needed to win, and then he caught me with the oldest trick in the world. 'Let's leave the game for a minute and have a little taste.' So, always a friendly fellow, I said 'Okay,' and we had our taste. What he'd done was break my concentration, and sure enough we went back to the game and I missed the break, and he snuck up from behind and won.'

The next day we rang up Jack Higgins and suggested that, with Ben, Lockjaw and Buck in the country together,it would be a sin of omission not to make an LP. 'I've just this minute come off the phone to Fontana. We're making an album with Buck, Ben and Bill Coleman and the Welsh rhythm section.' Half a loaf is better than the jawbone of an ass ... (Unfortunately. due to his illness, Buck couldn’t make the session and it went on without him).

-Steve Voce

Rex Stewart’s Death

Published in Jazz Journal in October 1967
added 2011-08-22

Although his visits to this country were rare and in fact he spent most of his time thousands of miles away from us, Rex Stewart was a very dear close friend of at least three of us at Jazz Journal. Consequently his death in this very sad year comes as more of a shock even than the loss of Ed Hall and Willie Smith.

In recent years, because he couldn't get the chance, Rex did not play as much as he would have liked to, and consequently his contributions in musical form were not by any means as great as they had been for the twenty years up to 1948. His tour here last year was not the success he so much wanted it to be, partly because of lack of practice, but also because he was so anxious that his concerts should be successful, that he built up a nervous tension which made it impossible for him to relax. He barely slept at all throughout the tour because he worried so much. Rex could not believe that most people were familiar with his classic recordings, and felt that he had to try to compete with modern jazzmen, and consequently he concentrated on the flashy and showy aspects of his work. Only under pressure would he bring forth that eloquent mute, and even then the results were not always what he or the audience would have wished.

At the Festival Hall concert that ended his tour I begged him, during the finale, to use the mute, knowing that a chorus of his pungent and penetrating blues style would knock the audience on its ear. He agreed half-heartedly, for by this time he was convinced that no one in England wanted to hear him play. It was a case, as far as he was concerned, of what the hell, anyway. Disastrously, when his chorus came, he blew a comic and pungent note through the mike, and repeated the process each four bars until his chorus finished- he had played nothing.

Home again in the States, he became more philosophical, particularly since, with the tour and slightly more work at home, his lip was now in good shape. He badly wanted to come back here for another tour, this time with Humphrey Lyttelton, whom he admired greatly (he also at this time, wanted to set up a booking agency run by European and American musicians to ensure fair treatment and wages, and he had intended to approach Humph as a key man for such a project).

In his last year his letters revealed a deep melancholy. He felt again that, while he knew he was in good shape and had much to play, no one wanted to hear him. He was cheered momentarily by the chance, earlier this year, to play again with Barney Bigard but, having lost his job as a radio announcer last year - a job which he loved and valued, he turned to writing as his main support.

Rex, eccentric soloist, dependable sideman and, at times, creator of jazz masterpieces that will live as long as the music itself, had good human values. He was a man without pretence and, despite the fact that he lived for jazz and had given so much to it, a man who never overrated his own work.

I will always remember his account of a long car journey with three other jazz musicians, including Buck Clayton. The other two men, often vain and always garrulous about their own achievements, talked throughout the journey of what they had done, what they were about to do and how they had just had personal triumphs with the audience they had just played to.

'Buck and me,' wrote Rex, 'sat in the back and never said a word the whole trip. We just switched off our brains. I guess we don't have the “star” temperament.' Somewhere at his home in California there should be the manuscript of a near-completed book on his life in jazz. I hope that it can be found and published.

I am sure that his close friends, Dickie Wells, Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Duke Ellington, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins and all the others, will find the news of Rex's death as hard to absorb as we do. Rex means 'King'. It sounds like a fair description.

-Steve Voce

Frog And Mumbles

Published in Jazz Journal in December 1967
added 2011-08-21

Unfortunately, due to time spent getting accustomed to the new drinking laws (the early signs of a pot which I had acquired are diminishing rapidly) I missed the week which the Maynard Ferguson band had at the Club 43. By all reports this was sensational, and far superior to the touring Ferguson group. Maynard, who is a member of the Bradford branch of the M.U. (wow!) is at present living at Ernie Garside's home and coaching the Club 43 big band as well as giving Ernie trumpet lessons.

They serve an excellent glass of shandy at the 43, so I went over one night to hear Ben Webster coasting easily through a couple of sets. During the Expo thing Ben and Budd Johnson were unfortunate enough to have their hotel rooms burgled - the burglar came back a second time when Ben was still in bed and was unsuccessfully pursued by a pyjama-clad Frog down the hotel corridors. Clark Terry, in another hotel, wasn't quite sure about his role in the Thelonious Monk Big Band, since Monk had unexpectedly brought Ray Copeland over. In the event both Clark and Phil Woods had one solo each &Ndash; since I had to miss the concert, this gave me a negative pleasure. (A note, posted in London, arrived the next day from Clark, addressed to Liverpool, England, and heavily marked "AIR MAIL"). Clark brought me test pressings of some of his recent sessions. One notably outrageous one being from a session in September last featuring him with an electric trumpet (accompaniment by Don Friedman, Ron Carter and Dave Bailey). Fearing the worst, we were delighted to find that this is the most innocuous of the electronic beasts, and one hears Clark's natural tone throughout. Added effects are in held notes and in a great extension of range into previously unheard depths. On sonic tracks the instrument gives the impression of a second horn playing just behind and below the first. Only someone like Clark could have carried off such an innovation without compromising, and his remarkable jazz abilities are all shown off on these tracks.

Electric Mumbles has Terry conducting a verbal argument with his horn in an incredibly relaxed fashion, and bubbles with humour. His pungent blues singing seems to come so easily to him, and it is masterly in its inventiveness and hilarious in its sociological destruction. There's some nice piano on this track from Don Friedman. Take The A Train has even better singing, with Clark again conducting an argument between two people on a train. The other tracks are Secret Love, Grand Canyon Suite and two Terry originals, Take Me Back To Elkhart and Tee Pee Time, this latter for Tony Perry of Chicago, who is Clark's unofficial discographer. The album was produced for ABC Paramount by Bob Thiele and will be issued under the title 11), What's Happenin' - Clark Terry.

One or two American visitors hate been worried about the possibility of their work over-exposed in this country. It’s a thought that should never be considered Terry's case and I hope that, like Buck Clayton, he will fall into the habit of visits. He is without doubt one of the most consistent and rewarding of to-day's jazz soloists.

I mentioned the electrocuted Clark to Ben Webster.

‘The guy came to me about one of those things. He said it would suit my sound and I’d be able to do a whole lot of things I can't do now, which was nice of him. I just said yeah, you think so? (Benny Carter always told me to tell an idiot just what he wants to hear).

`But hell, man! You spend forty years just getting your own sound and then some guy invents a way to take it away and expects you. to jump at it.'

-Steve Voce

Part 1 (by Steve Voce and, in part 1 only, Anne Judd)

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1968
added 2011-08-23

Over recent years the changes in jazz have accelerated at a previously unknown rate, partly due to the rapid emergence (and frequent subsequent rejection) of so many young musicians and, sadly, due to the fact that so many mature musicians of great stature have died. Of the eighteen established jazz musicians who died in 1967, none had made a greater contribution to jazz nor loved it more than Rex Stewart and yet, despite his lifelong devotion to the music, he died frustrated by it – a man taken for granted rather than neglected. No one realised with more urgency than he that part of the history of jazz is lost with each man who has played and developed the music, and, during his last years, he was successfully recapturing much of that history in his writings. He was a moody person who could change from anger to gaiety in a flash and who was, despite the pride he felt (modest in the light of his achievements) much subject to self-doubt. It was his intense sensitivity that supplied him with the roots of his musical brilliance. He was also the father of a trumpet style that occasionally raced away from him in its development and had a much more profound effect on trumpeters who came afterwards than is generally acknowledged.

He died of a sudden heart attack in the Los Angeles home of his closest friend Claire Gordon on September 7, 1967. His health had not been good, but his constitution, like his will to scuffle and keep going, appeared flexibly strong. The city had just suffered through an unparalleled heat wave with temperatures over 100, polluted air, the humidity absent one day then brutally tropical the next, and it seems likely that this climate brought on the heart attack. It had been a bad year all through for Rex. He suffered innumerable disappointments: an article on the old Savoy ballroom was rejected by the magazines; he wasn't getting the newspaper assignments he'd hoped for; he wasn't able to arrange the much-wanted European tour; the radio station he had broadcast for was sold, abandoning its all-jazz policy; a benefit concert he'd played was not booked on the college circuit as he'd hoped; a barbecue jam session in August failed to make money, and then his last two teeth gave out.

Rex was not a Christian, but something of a mystic (his grandmother was a full-blooded Delaware Indian, and he believed that he had inherited a sixth sense from her) and his will specified, in lieu of funeral services 'If a few of my friends wish to join my family in a few toasts to me on my continued journey, I direct expenses for such food and drink to be paid for by my estate. And please eat, drink and be merry because we shall be together again.' Much of Rex is revealed in these two sentences: the simple eloquence, the grand gesture modestly put, is obvious, but so also is the tentativeness 'If a few…wish….' He once remarked 'I have to remember I was the third trumpeter in an important band, that's all.' Appropriately Rex's greatest achievements were with the Duke Ellington band over a period (1934-44) when Ellington was probably at the height of his powers. Consequently he is always thought of first as an Ellingtonian, remembered for classic performances like Morning Glory and his own Poor Bubber. But, had he never been an Ellingtonian, his work away from Duke, both before and after, is sufficient to mark him as one of the great individualists. He was, for instance, a member of the Fletcher and Horace Henderson bands for over four years at a time when Fletcher and Ellington dominated the big band field. It was here that he formed his life-long friendship with Coleman Hawkins and, although Rex was not the giant that Hawkins was, their partnership was to produce many memorable performances over the ensuing forty years. Although by no means complete, Stewart's work with Henderson is fairly well represented on five LPs - 'Smack' (Ace Of Hearts AH 41) and the four-volume 'A Study In Frustration' (CBS BPG 6201-4), all by the Henderson band. Four of the titles on AH 41 come from the 1926-7 period and, although Stewart had been a member of the hand by this time, he isn't present on these tracks. However, the remaining eight tracks from 1931 show him to good advantage and include the noted tribute to Beiderbecke with Stewart's re-creation of Bix's solo on Singin' The Blues. Taken at a rather more jaunty tempo than the original, Henderson's version opens with a neatly-scored chorus for the sax section which demonstrates just how mature and capable his writing was. The Beiderbecke-Trumbauer recording, admittedly with a smaller group, sounded very unprofessional by comparison. Rex enters next and it is at once obvious that he has learned the Beiderbecke solo. But here we get an immediate introduction to his methods. The end is more important than the means and the intensity with which he attacks the piece leaves little ragged edges so that, although he has copied Bix's solo more or less note for note, the faulty intonation is Rex's. This was an integral part of his playing throughout his life, and was characteristic in much the way that Harry Edison frequently plays flat and Charlie Parker frequently played sharp. Whether he had much to say or little, Rex always played with great energy, and the fact that he often pitched out of tune had little effect on the impact of what he played.

There are other differences, for Bix's lyricism was a delicate thing almost too fragile to be exposed whereas, even at his most poetic, Rex is a red-blooded soloist. His interpretation is not as poignant as Bix's, but is blended rather to suit the Henderson formula, at once rigid and yet pliable.

One of the classic versions of Sugarfoot Stomp, which Rex recorded several times, both with Henderson and under his own name, is also included in the Ace Of Hearts issue. The trumpet solo, a fiery and leaping outburst by Bobby Stark (incidentally, one of the finest of Henderson's soloists) leads into solos by Buster Bailey and a splendid passage from trombonist Benny Morton before Hawkins inevitably steals the record. Rex has to be content on this occasion to sit in the section, but is recompensed with a delightful duet-chorus with Morton on I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby with both of them at their most elegant. Rex opens with a Bubber Miley-type growl which foreshadows his later proficiency with the style. His solo is delicate and, when he returns to follow Morton, one hears once again the Beiderbecke influence in his style (the trumpet behind the vocal is probably by Stark). There is a suitably pungent pair of muted interpolations from Stewart on Low Down On The Bayou, once again incidentally with remarkable trombone from Morton, while the moody House Of David Blues has him following Hawkins with great success in a passionate and Ellington-like chorus. Rex's half-valve methods are audible in his opening solo on Just Blues, his whole conception being typical of his unflagging success as a blues player throughout his career. Once again the track has good work from Hawkins and Morton. 'A Study In Frustration' is a much more exhaustive set, with Stewart's best work on the third and fourth volumes. Unfortunately the sound quality on some of the earliest items is not good (AH 41 has been fed through an echo chamber with surprisingly good results), notably on Freeze And Melt, which, apart from jaunty Stewart solos, has him sitting next to Cootie Williams in the trumpet section – and that was in April, 1929. Benny Carter's excellent arrangement was worthy of better hearing, but it is inevitable, one supposes, that some of these rare items have to be taken from worn copies of the originals. (Cootie, incidentally, has a flaring growl solo, most effective, on Raisin' The Roof which, like Freeze, comes from Volume 3). One of Stewart's most dexterous and inventive escapades up to this time was on the breakneck tempo version of Chinatown, a flag-waver from March 1930 which coupled his exuberance to a dazzling technique – undimmable even by the Hawkins solo which followed. Sugarfoot Stomp crops up again on Volume 3, this time in a March 1931 version with solos by Claude Jones, Stewart, Henderson, Benny Morton and Hawkins. This is a very good- re-arrangement, with greatly improved reed work. Rex successfully paraphrases the Oliver solo with a neatness and respect which still doesn't prevent a transformation to purest Stewart. This short passage shows him at his most controlled and sustained with, for once, a clearly pre-conceived idea of what he is about to play. On the next track, Clarinet Marmalade, he leads the saxes through a difficult bit of scoring and then takes a wildly involved solo of his own which happily comes off. Note here also the Russell Procope solo, so much in the Bigard mould, even as far back as 1931. Volume 4 is by far the best of the four records despite the fact that Stewart solos on only two tracks - two versions of Henderson's arrangement of King Porter Stomp, with Rex, Red Allen and Stark on the second. The first opens with a punching trumpet solo from Stark, comparing nicely with Stewart's more plaintive solo that comes later. Hawkins also plays well, but perhaps the best soloists are Sandy Williams and Jay C. Higginbotham on trombones. The other track featuring Rex pairs him with Hawkins for Underneath The Harlem Moon, a tour de force which also finds room for Higginbotham.

After Henderson, Rex joined the Luis Russell Orchestra, by then much changed from the band of 1929-30 which had included Allen and Higginbotham, but still a very fine band. During Rex's stay his colleagues included Leonard Davis on trumpet, Jimmy Archey on trombone, Charlie Holmes on alto, Lee Blair on guitar and the ever-faithful Pops Foster on bass. As far as we know Stewart recorded no solos with the band, although I'm sure he would have found it impossible to resist joining the wonderful vocal choir from the band on the 1934 Ghost Of The Freaks. Should Chris Ellis succeed with his plans at Parlophone we might get a second volume of Luis Russell titles that includes the ones with Stewart present. The first titles recorded under Stewart's own name, probably in 1934, although some sources suggest 1935, were on Vocalion 2880, later issued here on Decca F 5458.. The band included George Stevenson on trombone, Rudy Powell on clarinet, Roger Ramirez on piano, Billy Taylor on bass and Jack Maisel on drums. Stingaree was the first of a long line of typically jaunty Stewart tunes and it is notable for both the good rhythm section and the careful support provided for the soloists by the rest of the front line. Rex has a free-wheeling and exuberant solo which shows a considerable development from his Henderson days. He goes with confident accuracy for a row of high notes at the end that must have represented quite a wide range for the day.

Baby, Are You Satisfied? is a nostalgic and mournful melody played over a spoken opening conversation between Rex and probably Ramirez. Rex tries a couple of pungent blues solos before embarking on the vocal - his voice was much higher in those days than later. The singing has traces of Armstrong and is most effective. There is an excellent unidentified alto on these sides.

Stewart joined the Ellington band in late 1934, and his work from this period is well-represented on 'The Ellington Era Vol. 2', the very fine three-record boxed set (CBS 66302). The previous couple of years had seen a reorientation of Ellington's direction, and the band had taken on a more sophisticated mantle following the addition of Lawrence Brown, whose suave trombone was in direct contrast to the primitive genius of Joe Nanton, and the emergence of Juan Tizol as a strong influence on the writing for the band. Unhappily, Columbia did not consider the first group of titles which Rex recorded with the band as worthy of issue, but he was featured on Margie made at their next session in March 1935. At this session two sides were made by a sextet comprising Stewart, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges (on soprano), Ellington and two bassists, Wellman Brand and Billy Taylor. The titles were Tough Truckin' and Indigo Echoes but to date we have not been able to hear them.

A few days later, in April 1935, Duke recorded the remarkable Showboat Shuffle, which ranks with his various vivid 'train' numbers in its portrayal of a steamboat. Stewart was the main soloist, and he played with great confidence and mastery of his instrument, his timing of his first break being quite remarkable (this track is in the CBS set mentioned).

Duke also found a place for Rex in his gentle Reminiscing In Tempo, with Rex at his most reflective in the fourth part (September, 1935). 'The half-valve touch comes back for Stewart's relaxed and beautifully constructed chorus on Kissing My Baby Good-night, which also has good work from Hodges, Bigard and vocalist Ivy Anderson.

Volume 1 of `The Ellington Era', on long-deleted CBS issues comprised three records available separately, and included some of Stewart's best early work, notably the second album (CBS BPG 62179) including Merry-Go-Round and the timeless In A Jam, with Rex at his most joyously pungent. On Exposition Swing (from Volume 2) Rex comes in only for the release in the final chorus, but attacks it with such delirium that one feels he must explode. By now an established Ellingtonian, Rex was honoured by Duke with Rex's Concerto (Trumpet In Spades) in July 1936. This was a tour de force of dexterity, and while it has been fairly heavily clobbered by critics, its design is obviously to show off Stewart's technical abilities, and this it does superbly with its racing cornet, triple-tongue work and nicely timed breaks. The fact that it wasn't a jazz masterwork was incidental. In December 1936 Stewart made two more titles under his own name with Lawrence Brown, Carney, Hodges, Ellington, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer and a non-Ellingtonian friend of Rex's, Ceele Burke on guitar. Issued on Vocalion 3810, the first title was a typically lively Stewart piece, Rexatious, and apart from first-class solos all round, it had Hodges on soprano and an incredibly close-to-Bigard clarinet solo from Carney (some people persist that it is Bigard, but Carney confirms that it is he). Although Carney's phrasing is almost indistinguishable from Bigard's, his tone is more reedy. By this stage, from his solo, it is obvious that Stewart had fully matured his style.

Lazy Man Shuffle, from the same session, is an effective slow piece again composed by Stewart, in the mournful groove which later produced such melancholy masterpieces as Poor Bubber. It makes good use of Ceele Burke's Hawaiian guitar and an attractive band sound, with Carney' outstanding on baritone and the leader half-valving through a tight mute.

Barney Bigard used Rex, Tizol, Carney, Billy Taylor, Greer and of course Duke for an attractive session by his small group in April 1937. Three of the four titles found their way out on Parlophone 78s, Stewart having a searing solo climaxed by some excellent high-note work on Four And One Half Street. Demi-Tasse was written by Carney and is nicely-based on a baritone figure. Tizol, Bigard and Stewart split a chorus with Duke before Bigard opens up at his most lyrical and Rex plays one of his hustling releases towards the end. The final side, Jazz A La Carte opens with Stewart tightly-muted, driving over the band riffs before Barney lightly leads into one of Carney's most satisfying solos. Ellington catches the mood and strides out with a determined chorus before the little band riffs to the end of the record.

Stewart seemed to favour an added trumpet in his small group sessions of the 'thirties. On the July 7 1937 quartet of titles (Back Room Romp, Love In My Heart, Sugar Hill Shim Sham and Tea And Trumpets) for the Variety label he used Freddy Jenkins as well as Hodges, Carney, Ellington and company, and for a 1939 session he added Louis Bacon.

Braggin' In Brass (available here at one time on ten inch HMV, DLP 1172) produced his next noted contribution to a full-band record. This was a racing and violent variation on Tiger Rag and Stewart, reversing his usual role, drains off the heat established by the frantic brass sections in the first choruses by switching to over-drive and playing the first part of his solo at half tempo. In this fairly long outing, he shows once again a remarkable poise and sense of timing. This was in March 1938, surely beginning a five-year period when he reached his greatest heights. He burrowed into a suppressed and muted solo, which made a fine opening to Dinah's In A Jam, notable also for Bigard riding a tide of riffs which would have been the envy of the most polished of the white swing bands.

-Steve Voce and Anne Judd

Part 2 (by Steve Voce)

Published in Jazz Journal in March 1968
added 2011-08-23

By the late 'thirties Rex Stewart had established himself as one of the classic big band soloists. He had come up in the shadow of King Oliver and Armstrong at his brilliant best. He had consolidated his original style whilst working alongside Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Harrison, Benny Morton and other outstanding musicians of the era. Now, with Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Harry Carney, Tricky Sam Nanton and the others, he had graduated to become an apparently inseparable part of the highest currency in jazz – the Ellington sound.

In such an ideal setting, he was able to expand his already mature style, with Ellington, as always, brilliantly able to provide the plot and the scenery for a major speech from one of his sidemen. Ellington never interfered with his soloists' characters - he catered for them. As a result almost all the key figures in the brass and reed sections developed into world-beaters. And it was in 1938 that Rex, Bigard, Nanton, Cootie Williams and Carney reached the plateau of greatness which was to produce the Ellington band of 1940, perhaps the most consistently great jazz organisation we shall ever hear.

It was a puzzling fact that Ellington, and all the stars in his band as well, did in that one year hit a peak, both as a unit and as individuals, that they were never able to climb again. Not only had Ellington apparently reached his utmost, but the individuals like Bigard, Webster, Hodges, Brown and Stewart all suffered slight decline in their work for the years after. Only Harry Carney, Sam Nanton and Jimmy Blanton remained as impervious soloists, and both Nanton and Blanton were to die within the few years that followed. Carney remains to this day one of the most stable and consistent jazz soloists - certainly the most complete baritone saxist that jazz has produced and, in his modest way, a major part of the music's history. The `stomp' philosophy found no part in the sophisticated make-up of Billy Strayhorn, Duke's alter ego, and it is conceivable that his brilliant innovations may have been unsettling to the older soloists. Certainly the effect that his scores for Hodges, plush and sometimes perhaps too rich, had on the Rabbit, are fairly obvious. On the other hand, his similar works for Ben Webster undoubtedly opened new doors as the old ones closed. Whatever the reasons may have been, Stewart's general work declined after, say, 1941. (a note in 2011 – with the benefit of hearing the Treasury broadcasts from a few years later the suggestion of Rex’s decline seems inaccurate). From then until his death, it was more a question of hit and miss, with the many triumphant hits being not quite matched by the near-misses and very definite misses.

But first, a look at the time when for more than three years, everything went right and Rex was a vital part of the most important orchestra in jazz.

In 1938 the Ellington band recorded the first of what were for Rex Stewart to be many versions of Boy Meets Horn, the definitive showcase for Stewart's pungent half-valve style. Like the earlier Trumpet In Spades it was a functional rather than an emotionally moving piece, but it did give a splendid demonstration of the eccentric dimension within which Stewart had developed his techniques. Those techniques were to reach over the next 30 years to provide new expression for thousands of trumpeters from Taft Jordan to Clark Terry and Clifford Brown, from Freddy Randall to Maynard Ferguson.

The now elusive but superb 'Ellington Sidemen' album (Philips BBL 7163) contains two of the three tracks recorded by Stewart's 52nd Street Stompers on March 20 1939 for Vocalion (the third was I'll Come Back For More) with the Ellington rhythm section plus Louis Bacon (tpt), Bigard (clt) and Tricky Sam on trombone. San Juan Hill, a typically atmospheric Stewart piece, opens with Rex half-valving over broken piano rhythms from Duke. With the intense introduction out of the way Stewart solos with a lyricism reminiscent of Bix, but with a more definite attack. Nanton is also featured to great effect, and the contrast is a potent one. Stewart introduces Bigard's flowing coda with a smeared half-valve phrase which shows him at his best. This and Fat Stuff Serenade, another of his cheerful little stomps, herald the expansive musician who was to work so sublimely with Bigard and Reinhardt later in the year, and the two tracks are as delightful as anything he ever recorded. Bigard is on devastating form before Stewart returns with a slightly muffled but penetrating final solo.

Ellington's band made its second trip to Europe in the spring of 1939, playing in Sweden, Denmark and France, omitting Britain only because of the Musician's Union ban on American musicians (partly imposed, rumour has it, because Cab Calloway had earlier graced our national anthem with a scat vocal). Just before the tour, on March 20, the band recorded Subtle Lament, with Rex featured in a simple bottom register solo (included on the deleted CBS BPG 62t8o along with Boy Meets Horn).

In Paris on April 5 of that year Rex Stewart and His Feetwarmers produced five of the most lasting classics in small group jazz. It appears that Rex and Django Reinhardt took to each other at once, and certainly the chamber jazz which made up the five titles recorded on that day shows Stewart, Bigard and Reinhardt at their best. Billy Taylor on bass completed the group (Greer had been supposed to play, but didn't turn up so happily it was decided to continue without a drummer). Montmartre, an excellent little tune, was completely typical of Stewart's more jaunty themes, and he and Reinhardt burrow right into it with the opening statement. Rex follows Reinhardt's solo, and it is particularly noticeable how the drive of the piece increases as Django drops back to rhythm playing. His explosive prodding of Rex and Barney has a powerful effect. Rex leans back against such attractive support and, once again, there are Bixian overtones to his solo. Low Cotton, although credited to Rex, sounds more like a Bigard composition, and Barney states the theme with a delicate lower register tone. Django throws out handfuls of perfectly-placed notes and then returns to give delicate support to the clarinet before embarking on a filigree single-note solo, made more atmospheric by the solitary bass backing. Rex again plays lyrical, well-lubricated phrases. The piece ends with Bigard laying delightful runs over Rex's lead. Billy Taylor wrote Finesse, a thoughtful piece which opens with a statement from Rex, toned up by some half-valve blues treatment. Bigard follows in the upper register at his most expansive, all the while over most sensitive backing from Reinhardt, who then, with Bigard switching briefly to drums, takes the record out with more pensive single-note guitar. I Know That You Know is a hustling and bustling stomp, smartly driven along by the guitar and with Bigard playing one of his greatest solos, racing backwards and forwards through the complete range of his instrument in a sparkling display that would cow any clarinettist in the world, then or now. Rex enters with a muffled and prodding urgency, soon involving himself in some complex valve work, ahead of its years in its accurate fluency. Solid Old Man returned to the slow mood which suited the quartet so well. Bigard plays drums again behind Reinhardt's opening statement, but picks up his clarinet hurriedly to join Rex in the theme statement. Stewart goes first with a deep and moving solo, graced by all his range of effects and yet remaining a simple blues assertion. Reinhardt also uses the bottom register and, sounds strangely reminiscent of Teddy Bunn. Bigard plays some heart-on-sleeve blues before the two horns, riding over powerful guitar chords, take the theme to its conclusion. The complete session is included on 'Django And His American Friends Vol. 2' (HMV CLP 1907) and is indispensable.

The highly significant switch by the Ellington band to Victor came in 1940 and the March 6 session in Chicago produced You, You Darlin', a vocal feature for Herb Jeffries, and three instrumentals, Jack The Bear, Ko-Ko and Morning Glory.Not a bad day's work. Morning Glory was all Stewart's and additionally was perhaps the finest showcase that Duke ever wrote for a trumpeter. It was also one of Ellington's most consummate uses of the three-minute form, being a perfect miniature concerto. The melody is a most satisfying and unusual one, opening with Ellington against muted brass over Blanton's bass. Stewart enters at his most lyrical and tidy, playing in the bottom of the middle register and producing a warm and mellow sound. The band backing is distant until a sonorous brass passage opens a delicate sax ensemble led by Hodges (the version on 'The Indispensable Ellington Vol. 1' on RCA RD-27258 has had echo added and the results are quite impressive). The brass heralds Rex's return, and he climbs higher over the band in a nostalgic and completely poetic manner, building to the coda over rising brass and reeds. The coda is a most delicate affair, thoroughly dependent on Rex's remarkable timing, although Ellington's device is quite simple. The final bar is subtly inconclusive and its simple grace reminds one of a much later coda, perhaps one of the most potent in all jazz, on Stan Getz's recording of Her, where a similar effect is held for a much greater time. Once again, timing rather than complexity is the key to its greatness.

At the March 15 session Rex had a tightly muted solo tucked into the rich ensemble that concluded the exotic Conga Brava (HMV DLP 1034) and then, on May 28, played one of his greatest choruses on what was one of Ellington's most effective mood performances of the era, Dusk (HMV 7EG 8153). His gentle way with the trumpet solo on this number is one of the jewels of his recorded work, and the whole piece, gilded by Ellington's rich piano, is quite masterful. The same date produced Portrait Of Bert Williams, another nostalgic classic with Rex cast in the main role, playing mournful and whimsical cornet in three chapters, spanning other fine solos from Bigard and Tricky Sam. The track is available on ‘In A Mellotone’ (RCA RD-27134).

Harlem Airshaft ('At His Very Best,' RCA RD27133) had Stewart in brassy high-note vein, tearing at his solo with some violence. It is interesting to compare this track with the more exhaustive version of the role interpreted later by Clark Terry. Rex returns towards the end for a suppressed muted solo that erupts beautifully into Bigard's final comment. The session, on July 22, this time in New York instead of Chicago, also produced At A Dixie Roadside Diner (HMV 7EG 8209) with Rex again featured along with Ivy Anderson, Bigard and Carney.

Back to Chicago on September 5 for Five O'Clock Whistle (HMV 7EG 8239), opening dramatically with Rex suspending half valve notes over Ellington's piano and Blanton's bass. Rex and Hodges state the theme and Rex's second solo, clear and crisp, introduces Ivy Anderson's vocal. Stewart has a bit of a disaster towards the end of his solo during the vocal, but returns to join Ivy and take over a powerhouse coda with more success. The sleeve of RD-27133 credits the trumpet solo on Warm Valley (October 17) to Cootie, but, although it's a difficult case, the irresistible half-valve note towards the end surely reveals it to be Stewart?

-Steve Voce

Part 3 (by Steve Voce)

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1968
added 2011-08-23

On 28th October, 1940, Ellington recorded the remarkable Across The Track Blues, a simple piece built on solos by Bigard, Stewart, Brown and Bigard, again over effective piano and bass. The band enters for the first time behind Stewart's cutting and pungent chorus, muted and plaintive, and Bigard leads the saxes in a beautifully scored chorus before Brown, his plush muted sound contrasting vividly with the previous Stewart chorus, takes over. Bigard, with a simple statement of basic bottom register notes, climbs finally to the upper register over a mocking chorus of muted trumpets and Ellington's piano returns the piece to its stark opening mood.

Stewart's last featured recordings for the year came at a session under his own name using Brown, Ben Webster, Carney and the rhythm section on November 2nd. These titles form part of 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' (RCA RD-7829).

Linger Awhile has Carney on alto and Rex in his most mellow mood. The music is of a very high level and has an excellent piano solo from Ellington and bustling Webster over a Sonny Greer back-beat. Rex comes back for another bite, this time with a Harmon mute, and again plays with great restraint and accuracy. Mobile Bay, the same piece that Cootie recorded a few years before as Mobile Blues, is Rex most of the way in a gutty blues that was to be done again in 1947 with such drama that it then became perhaps Rex's greatest recorded blues performance ever. The 1940 version remains very moving and extremely muscular, with gritty piano from Duke and a sensual chorus from Webster. Rex came back, tightly muted, to take the final chorus out.

Stewart's flair for original composition was shown at its greatest on the Hollywood session from 3rd .July, 1940, when Menelik (The Lion Of Judah) and Poor Bubber were recorded by his Ellington small group. These were both haunting themes, quite out of the run of orthodox Ellingtonian composition. Bubber is a sad portrait, with Rex growling gently over sombre riffs from Carney and Webster. After good solos by Webster and Brown, Rex comes shouting back using a shaking vibrato to good effect, and resolving neatly back into the theme. Menelik explodes like a box of fireworks with Stewart achieving what might almost be a contemporary avant garde effect with his extraordinary use of freak bass registers. Once again he appears from a barrage of brooding riffs to state the defiant theme, reflecting a gay confidence that the Lion (Haile Selassie, whom Stewart much admired) would triumph in the end. The freak bass notes return at the end, displaying the style that was later to enable him literally to talk through his instrument. The same session produced the punching Subtle Slough (Just Squeeze Me) and, backed superbly by Jimmy Blanton, Stewart's good form held out. Despite its front line (Stewart, Bigard and Lawrence Brown) the Rex Stewart Big Seven included Billy Kyle, Brick Fleagle, Wellman Brand and Dave Tough in a most un-Ellington sound. There were four tracks recorded on July 23 1940 for the HRS label, and they produced superb mainstream, with Bigard and Stewart at their very best on Diga Diga Doo (Riverside RLP 144).

Apart from a gap of a few months towards the end, Stewart stayed with Ellington until 1945. Although he never re-acquired his omniscience of 1940, he remained a prominent soloist, with powerful contributions to classics like Mainstem, Perdido and the earlier versions of Black, Brown And Beige. And of course there was the ecstatic outburst in the February 1941 John Hardy's Wife – one of the most dramatic entries he ever made. Stewart also featured on many V-Discs, including a remake of Boy Meets Horn and a similar concerto entitled Frantic Fantasy. His last three sessions under his own name with musicians drawn from Duke's band produced Keynote's I'm True To You (with Brown, Carney, Tab Smith and Johnny Guarnieri) a minor classic which reproduced the atmosphere of the 1940 Big Seven, and then, in 1945, the more studied Rexercise and Dutch Treat (Carney, Brown, Al Sears, Eddie Heywood) for the new Capitol label. These were relatively unemotional events, and it was not until the 1946 Big Four sessions (Riverside RLP 144) with Billy Kyle, John Levy and Cozy Cole, that Stewart showed again the intensity of which he was capable. Paradoxically the best track, Loopin' Lobo, is a crackling and extrovert display which sounds more like Roy Eldridge than it does Stewart.

In 1947 he formed his All Star European Tour Band, beginning a very productive association with trombonist Sandy Williams and Vernon Story, a Webster-inspired tenorist. The band recorded in New York and Stockholm, but it was in Paris, when the group had settled down, that the best of the library was preserved on Blue Star. A few of the tracks, although perhaps not the most distinguished, re-united Rex and Django Reinhardt (Night And Day and Confessin' on Realm RM 184), and the half-valved Jug Blues was to become a much-sought classic. This was the prototype for Stewart's later Conversation In Blues featured during his 1966 tour of Britain. A concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris during December 1947 produced six twelve-inch 78 sides on Blue Star, including Mobile Bay which, despite the poor recording quality, is perhaps Stewart's most effective blues of all. It has deep growl muting, and intense and dynamic attack. The other sides, mainly featuring the sidemen, are rather ordinary. During the next year Rex also recorded in Switzerland and East Germany, with the German Amiga sides being particularly rare to-day. Old Woman's Blues had him singing the vocal and repeating the Jug Blues formula. Many years ago I met a young West Indian trombonist who lived in Liverpool but who claimed that he had once recorded with Stewart. It was not until I looked the session up in Jepsen's jazz Records Vol. 7 last year that I found that Carl Riley had been telling me the truth, for it is indeed he on the Amiga sessions.

In 1949 Stewart came to London and played with the Lyttleton band at a concert. Unfortunately it seems that he was too modern for the traddies and too orthodox for the boppers, and his light was doused under a very large bushel. He recorded four tracks over there with a quartet including pianist Gerry Moore and drummer Dave Carey. One of the titles, Truckin' Down The Sinclair Traill ensures our Editor's immortality, but the best of a mediocre lot was perhaps Blue Bundles (Tempo EXA8). Continuing as a solo artist, Stewart spent the second half of 1949 in Australia, where he recorded prolifically with local groups, including Graeme Bell's band. Unfortunately most of the results were undistinguished. On his return to America he remained saddled with the Dixieland tag he had acquired, and it was not until early 1955 that he led a group old colleagues again in the recording studio. His Grand Award session (with Lawrence Brow Hilton Jefferson, Danny Banks, Milt Hints and Osie Johnson) produced six titles, including a splendid and enlarged Boy Meets Horn. The best track was a waspish muted excursion on Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Rex's pungent onslaught being delicately balanced by Jefferson's singing alto.

In 1957 came the Jazztone session that led the resurgence of interest in his work. `The Big Challenge' (Concert Hall CJ 1253) re-united him with Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Coleman Hawkins and Hank Jones, and also included J. C. Higginbotham and Bud Freeman (Freeman more than held his own, despite the merciless apeing of his style by Hawk during their exchanges – maybe Bud didn't notice). Despite the fact that the English issue used a couple of inferior masters to the original Jazztone issue, and that one track, Alphonse And Gaston, is truncated, this is superior mainstream, and Stewart shares the general high level of playing.

The fashion of the times was to dig up and to restore the jazz of the 'twenties and 'thirties and Rex was duly dug up later in the year lead the Henderson All Stars at the Great South Bay Jazz Festival. This remarkable band, which included such luminaries as Hawkins, Webster, Higginbotham, Dickie Wells, Benny Morton, Jefferson, Buster Bailey, Emmett Berry, Taft Jordan and Joe Thomas, happily has been preserved on `The Big Reunion' (Jazztone J 1285), which uses original Henderson arrangements in a most successful session. Hawkins and Stewart resume their old pairing on A Hundred Years From To-Day but, despite Stewart’s nominal leadership, this is a joint achievement.

In 1958 the band was re-assembled with different personnel for the same festival. The live recording from the time was not so successful, although the results are worth acquiring (United Artists UAL 4009). One interesting sidelight is that, as Rex embarks on his feature number, These Foolish Things, he calls to pianist Red Richards `Your key', presumably indicating that he didn't care what key Richards chose, since he was confident of handling it. (The Alex Welsh band noted and had some difficulty with Rex's penchant for difficult keys during his tour here). Other feature numbers from this session included Over The Rainbow by Dickie Wells and Willow Weep For Me by Hilton Jefferson.

Between the two festivals Stewart made one of his better mainstream albums (FAJ 7001) for Stanley Dance's Felsted series, again using some of his own compositions, and achieving a beautifully mellow and relaxed group sound on the blues, Tell Me More, which additionally included good trombone from George Stevenson, the trombonist from Rex's first records in the early 'thirties.

Late 1958 produced a rash of 'Porgy And Bess' interpretations, and managed to include one by Rex Stewart's orchestra featuring Cootie Williams. It was a strong band including Lawrence Brown, Urbie Green, Hilton Jefferson, Joe Wilder, Ernie Royal, Don Lamond and so on, but was somewhat paralysed by the encircling arrangements of Jim Timmens. However, the main soloists overcame the backgrounds in some measure and the results (on Warner Brothers WB 1260) are interesting from that point of view.

During these years Stewart was making his living the hard way, by leading the band at Eddie Condon's club in New York. Many musicians find this work like treading water while wearing heavy boots, and Stewart was no exception. He is heard at his most ordinary on many Condon albums. Perhaps the best, which incidentally includes good work from Billy Butterfield, was 'Condon Is Uptown Now' (MGM C 768).

Stewart's Big Eighteen, another 1958 venture, seems relatively unknown in this country. The two stereo LPs for Victor (LPM (S) 1921 and 1983) are once again hampered by the arranger, this time Charlie Shirley, but the 19 big band classics feature some excellent soloists. Not surprising when the band included Butterfield, Buck Clayton, Stewart, Charlie Shavers and Yank Lawson on trumpets; Peanuts Hucko (clt); Lawrence Brown, Vic Dickenson, Lou McGarity, Dickie Wells (tbn), Boomie Richman and Ernie Caceres in the sax section and a rhythm section which included Johnny Guarnieri, Milt Hinton and Jimmy Crawford or Don Lamond.

(A note, on The Big Eighteen, in 2011: we were speaking about the session years later when Buck Clayton told to me that, faced with Rex, Charlie Shavers and Billy Butterfield, Buck wanted to be at his best, but he found blowing difficult, and overall couldn’t get his playing off the ground. After the session he cleaned his trumpet and, when he took the mouthpiece out and shook the horn, a small brush, for cleaning mouthpieces, fell out of the horn. Floating loose in the case it had got into the tube and had been hampering his blowing through the instrument).

On a less ambitious scale, Rex combined with Dickie Wells and a rhythm section to produce an album called 'Platter Chatter' (Victor LPM 2024) in January 1959. This reputedly consists of muted dialogue between the two, neither of whom considered it as being amongst their best work.

Relatively easy to acquire, and presumably recorded during the late 'fifties, is Allegro 770, which had Stewart with Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, Marty Napoleon, Hinton and George Wettling in a conglomeration of Dixieland numbers under the collective title of 'The Golden Era Of Dixieland Jazz.' The two outstanding tracks are Blues and Yellow Dog Blues, the latter highlighted by a superb workout with the mute - the kind of music one had hoped for on his British tour.

The kind of music we got on that tour is more nearly represented by his work on 'The Happy Jazz Of Rex Stewart' (Prestige Swingville LP 2006), a confusing mixture of hokum and jazz recorded in 1960, and best as an example of how erratic Rex could be. Two albums were recorded during Rex's last tour: one with Henri Chaix's band (Polydor Int 623 234 reviewed in December 1967 JJ) and one with Roy Williams, Johnny Barnes, Ron Matthewson and Lennie Hastings (French Vogue CLVLX 104). Stewart was a deeply sensitive man, and consequently subject to nerves and tension which accounted for the considerable fluctuation of his work.

During his tour, one was aware of this, and it required sympathy to equate the creator of Morning Glory, Montmartre and Mobile Bay with the unhappy man singing awkward versions of Them There Eyes and Hello Dolly.

The writer wishes to thank John Chilton, Ron Clough and Alun Morgan for making certain records available. and also to acknowledge the help from the discographies of Jorgen Grunnet Jepsen, and Albert McCarthy's 'Jazz Directory’.

-Steve Voce

Rude Interlude

Published in Jazz Journal in September, 1968
added 2011-08-23

During his first visit to England in July, 1933, Duke Ellington recorded an interview with P. Matthisen Brooks (honestly), then Editor of the Melody Maker. The interview was released on Oriole 359, and I came across a copy of it the other day. After the passing of 35 years it makes interesting listening:

Duke: 'If this doesn't turn out to be an annual trip, I'll be the most disappointed man in the world.'

Brooks: 'Is that because you've discovered how well your work is known and appreciated over here?'

Duke: 'Largely, I suppose, although I must say that it's been positively embarrassing at times to be asked the most analytical questions about work that I've nearly forgotten now.'

Brooks: 'Well you'll have to write some new numbers. Have you got any in mind?'

Duke: 'Yes, I have. I want to write a 'rude' song. This was accidentally suggested by Mrs Constant Lambert, who referred to our melancholy song as Rude Indigo. All I need for the number now is the balance of the (song) to go with 'Rude'.'

Brooks: 'Do you think rhythmic music will ever become divorced from the ballroom find a permanent home in the concert hall?' Duke: 'Yes, inevitably. But perhaps not in this generation. It's the youngsters of these who'll make the audiences of to-morrow, and they have no prejudices of which they rid themselves.'

On September 26 of that year in Chicago Ellington band recorded the little-known Rude Interlude (HMV B 6449), certainly the most advanced piece of jazz orchestration to that date, and in reality one of the most important classics of Ellingtonia. Rude Interlude was as important in 1933 as the Miles Davis sessions were in 1949.

-Steve Voce

Clark Terry: Big Band, Sore Hand

Published in Jazz Journal in December 1968
added 2011-08-23

The news that Clark Terry had had three fingers of his left hand severed in a car accident made disturbing reading, particularly since the Melody Maker reported that, despite plastic surgery, it was unlikely that he would ever regain full use of them.

The Melody Maker is excellent as an up-to-date source of jazz news. In maintaining this reputation it is inevitable that it occasionally prints reports from overseas correspondents which are enthusiastic rather than accurate. Remembering the surprise with which Harry Carney, Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong greeted the news of their various near-deaths, one is a little cautious in accepting the more dramatic reports until after the post-mortem.

A quick check with Clark (air letters are apparently not affected by the Stonehouse Stone Age Post) confirmed that the accident was a bad one, but luckily not as bad as at first feared.

"I'm happy to report that I'm fine and the fingers are healing beautifully (almost like new). Last week I was working in my cousin's club Lurlean's (Lurlean Hunter the vocalist) and I had a chance to try out my left hand for the duet' (when Clark plays flugel with his right hand and trumpet with his left). 'It worked fine, so please thank all my British friends who showed concern – I'm on the mend.

"It was really bad when it happened. In case you didn't know how it happened, I pulled on the hub cap of my car, and the inside of the cap was as sharp as a razor blade and it literally cut the tops of my fingers off. Just the flesh part where the fingerprints are – the only thing left were the fingernails. Sure was painful. Fortunately I had a good hand surgeon and he fixed me up good.

"Good news! Ernie Wilkins is now musical director for our firm Etoile Music Productions, and he's going to stylize the big band (Note in 2011: this was Clark Terry’s Big Bad Band). He's a fantastic writer, as I'm sure you're aware from his work for Basie, Harry James and Dizzy. By the time I come to Europe for the big band tour in January or February I hope to have a tape of the band made for you, but I want to wait now until Ernie re-vamps the sound.' (At the last report the personnel of Clark's surprisingly all-star band was: Terry, Lloyd Michaels, Steve Fertado, Ziggy Harrell, Jimmy Owens, Randy Brecker (tpt); Wayne Andre, Julian Priester, Jack Jeffers, Jimmy Cleveland (tbn); Frank Wess, Bobby Donovan (alt); Zoot Sims, Lou Tabackin (ten); Danny Bank (bari); Don Friedman (pno); Joe Benjamin (bs); Grady Tate (dm).)

"I haven't done much recording lately. We did, however, tape the concert at the Museum of Modern Art by my quartet with Zoot Sims. It was a nice night and everybody played well. We've been trying to sell it to a record company, but so far no luck.

"I'm now sporting a beard (all grey) which I started while I was confined from the accident. Because it's grey most people say it makes me look old – but then I am old (I'll be 48 on December 14). I don't know how long I'll keep it, but I kind of dig it. I hate to shave, anyhow!"

-Steve Voce

Barney Bigard: Step Steps Up Again

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1969
added 2011-08-23

In the November issue I mentioned that there were `perhaps 20 or so jazz LPs that are worth having at almost any price'. I was writing with particular reference to the magnificent Miles Davis-Cannonball Adderley 'Somethin' Else' set which had been lying available but dormant on the Blue Note label. Blue Note tell me that, as a result of my article, they sold 25 copies of the album during that month. While not earthshattering, this is good news and I'm sure that 25 people feel that their collections have been enriched. However, what with one man's meat and that, critical assessments are by no means all as obviously easy as in the case of 'Somethin' Else'.

Mr. T. Francis of Cheadle Hulme asks in the December issue if I would list the other 19 (the figure is in fact a ridiculously conservative one). Since I have carried out such an exercise twice in previous columns it wouldn't be relevant to list those albums again, and it wouldn't be fair to list the 40 or so others that come to mind. However, one to be mentioned in passing is the unfortunately unavailable 'Saturday Night Function' by the Ellington band of the late twenties (HMV DLP 1094). Throughout its glorious history the Ellington orchestra has produced a multitude of brilliant and uniquely outstanding soloists. Apart from the unapproachable writing of Ellington and Strayhorn and the high standard of section work, the soloists alone would maintain the band in its eminence.

It seems invidious to rummage around in such a collection to find the most potent men – with names like Hodges, Carney, Hamilton, Jenkins, Jackson and Miley running through one's fingers the bravest critic would quail at such a task.

But not, as you may have guessed, the most foolhardy. All of my favourites were to be found in the 1940 band, although they were all long-service men. They all have, in addition to highly individual and effective jazz styles, a peculiar sense of drama which, on the right occasion, can produce both euphoria and goose pimples in the listener – Tricky Sam Nanton, Rex Stewart, Ben Webster and Barney Bigard. Although Hamilton, Shaw and Goodman are all in the same league as Barney in terms of technique, none of them have ever approached his expressive tone and instinctive feeling for jazz creation. One of the music's most delicate embellishers, Bigard also has the knack of knowing when to understate, and some of his simplest solos – Harlem Flat Blues, Big House Blues, Across The Track Blues and A Lull At Dawn, are as powerful as the more elaborate essays on Saturday Night Function, his own band's Stompy Jones and the Stewart-Reinhardt collaboration on I Know That You Know.

When I was 14, my heroes were Bigard and Jack Teagarden, and that I year I wrote to both of them. Now, 20 years later, I have received my first reply in the form of a Christmas card from Barney and his wife Dorothe.

Although, on the evidence of tapes over the last two years, the maestro is playing more effectively than for some years, he and Dorothe are living in elegant semi-retirement in Los Angeles, helped by a useful income from ASCAP for his composer-share in Mood Indigo. (Whether he wrote it or not, the 81-year-old Kid Ory lives in similar retirement in Honolulu on the earnings from Muskrat Ramble.) Bigard's earnings from Mood Indigo could have been much larger but, because he didn't join ASCAP until 1956, he didn't collect anything until 26 years after the tune was written. ASCAP list Bigard as composer of both Rockin' In Rhythm and C Jam Blues - he says he has had neither royalties nor label credit for either.

The Bigards posted me a copy of an article which Leonard Feather had written for one of the Los Angeles papers with Barney as the subject, and it seems to be one of the best of Feather's features that I have seen. He obviously spent a lot of time in Barney's company before writing it.

'One night, at an all-white date in Birmingham, Ala., the band was segregated from the audience by a line of policemen. When a scuffle developed in the hall, the cops had to leave the bandstand temporarily unguarded, whereupon a white youth sprang up and addressed himself to Bigard and to Juan Tizol, the pale-skinned Puerto Rican trombonist. "What," he demanded, "are you two white guys doing, playing in this nigger band?"

' "We told him we were just in it for the money," says Bigard, "and that seemed to satisfy him."

`During the band's European tour in the spring of 1939, the late Rex Stewart, Duke's cornettist, headed up a record date in Paris. "We wanted Django Reinhardt and a French drummer, but neither of them showed up. They finally found Django, but he had lost his guitar. Somebody picked another one up for him, and it was all unglued in back, but somehow he got it together, tuned it and played like mad. I had to double on drums for that date".'

The five superb tracks from that session are included with ten other outstanding items on 'Django And His American Friends Vol. 2' (HMV CLP 1907).

-Steve Voce

Johnny Hodges: Everybody Knows

Published in Jazz Journal in January 1970
added 2011-08-23

‘Baby, if I'm as pretty as you are when I get to your age, then I'm going to retire.’ Duke Ellington to Sinclair Traill.

Johnny Hodges is one swinging rabbit, and the apparent insolence with which he pokes his brilliance out at a concert audience is a pure illusion of coincidence. In fact, as he knows, he has reached near-perfection in the form within which he works, and he is so good that he can be casual about the most breathtaking of his solos. The apparent disinterest is due to the fact that he has learned how to work in over-drive, and never needs to strain himself at all. With six reeds on board he has opted out of the section sound, and largely confines himself to solos, which he prefers to play sitting down. However, he stands up for major features such as Black Butterfly and Things Ain't, but his irritation over being called upon by Duke to play an encore was as much due to the fact that he had to stand up for three numbers as due to the fact that it was a fairly new number with which he was not too familiar. Needless to say, from his masterful interpretation, none of us in the audience realised this last aspect. There seemed to be a general feeling amongst the members of the band that this was to be Duke's last European tour (although this is not to imply that he will not continue with the band in the States). As far as Lawrence Brown was concerned 'You can take it from me that it's my last'. But then, Lawrence Brown uttered those very words on his first post-war visit here, and on every one since. Comment on the scarcity of trombone solos produced the acid question 'Didn't you know that I'd retired?' Lawrence also feels that his legato sound, perhaps the most perfect in the history of the instrument, has been largely destroyed by the obligation to provide the growl trombone. This is about as true as his statement on the last occasion we met that 'I never could play jazz, anyway.'

Why is it that trombonists always seem to get a raw deal? From Dickie Wells, Benny Powell and Bill Hughes, through Benny Green and Urbie Green to Jimmy Cleveland and Matthew Gee, the instrument seems to have a jinx as far as proportional solo representation is concerned.

For Mr. Hodges it was very definitely not his last European trip. 'I don't know when, but I hope soon I'll be back with an all-star group. Obviously I can't say who would be in it now, but I'd think along the lines of Clark Terry, Jimmy Hamilton, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard – in fact I was supposed to bring that lot to Antibes earlier this year, but it didn't happen.

'And the fact that Jimmy came up on a jack-pot in New York hasn't helped (although it's helped him!) because he's sold his house there and he and his wife have gone to live in the Bahamas. She plays piano, and they have a little group there to help keep the wolf from the door. Some wolf.

'Quentin? I'm delighted to tell you that Quentin Jackson is fine again and very happy. He really was terribly ill, but he's made a complete recovery, and he's working in some government department, but playing trombone again as well.'

Surely the surprise of the band was the miraculous Norris Turney, who, at the concerts I saw, played a clarinet like Jimmy Hamilton, alto like Hodges, tenor like a cross between Lockjaw and Stitt, and flute with an élan which would have matched James Moody. He also plays trombone, so is a quintuple threat to any member of the band who cares to stay off, because he can dep for any two-thirds of the orchestra. Seeing the Ellington band again (I'd almost forgotten the gracious way in which, several times during an evening, he turns his back on the audience and hitches his trousers up) made one realise that what we have been missing is class. With bands like Herman's and Rich's and probably Don Ellis' we see skilful musicians charging through comparatively shallow arrangements. With Ellington there is the tonal depth of the orchestra, the depth of the writing, and the casually supreme calibre of the sidemen.

One can well understand that Stanley prefers to spend much of his time in such surroundings. It must be a unique feat in music for one man to be capable of such an extraordinary development from the early Black And Tan through Rude Interlude and the stomps, through Harlem Airshaft and Ko Ko, through The Tattooed Bride and Harlem and all the works that followed to a band which is still to-day, 45 years on, creative and supreme, in spite of or because of its reliance on its past achievements.

The only blot on an otherwise flawless career for me is in the religious works, which are untypical of the great man.

'The band's playing at a church in Detroit next Monday,' said Hodges, 'but I ain't going.'

Few would argue that Ellington is the greatest of all jazz musicians. It's good to see him looking so well at his comparatively great age, particularly since the second jazz Messiah seems to be taking an uncommonly long time to appear. In the meantime, how about a fund to build a statue of Duke in New Orleans? How about funds to build statues of everybody in New Orleans? Or Oldham?

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in July, 1974
added 2011-08-26

(2011: This was a survey of all the American bands and musicians who had visited us in England to 1974, and I’ve edited out almost all who didn’t have Ducal connections.)

Then the big one, the Ellington band in October 1958. I came down to London from my home in Liverpool for that, and before I'd heard a note and completely by coincidence I met Clark Terry in the Blue Posts pub. Apart from Clark we all made friends amongst that most wonderful of bands. Jimmy Hamilton, Cat Anderson and Harry Carney were the ones after Clark who I got to know best. But we had a wild night with Shorty Baker when the band played in Liverpool. As I write I have before me that month's Jazz Journal signed by the whole band with a 'We love you madly' inscription from the piano player.

Ben Webster came and moved amongst us so often that we began to regard him almost as an exceptionally good British player. What a lovely benign man he was. So contented with life and so good at enjoying it. He was one of the gentle people most of the time, like Ed Hall. Ed tried to convert me to yoga, and even gave me a book on the subject. He used to swallow thirty feet of bandage each day, holding on to the end, and he let it stay inside him for about ten minutes to absorb the acids in his stomach. You had to be careful, because if you left it much longer you started to digest it. Ed was so fit for his age that it was remarkable, and of course his playing was flawless and wonderful. Four months after he gave me the book he was sweeping the snow from in front of his home when he had a heart attack and died.

Then Rex Stewart came – just to show what kind of times they were: he was touring at the same time as Buck Clayton, Bud Freeman and Earl Hines. They all got together at the Oxford Union on Whit Sunday 1966 to record for television with Humph and the Alex Welsh band. It was a glorious summer day and the music matched it beautifully. Rex was very shy and worried because he thought people didn't care for his playing. He looked long and wistfully at a poster with his name on it advertising the date. In the end I went over, took it down, folded it carefully and gave it to him. He was deeply pleased, and that cemented a friendship which was to last the rest of his life. Humph had to get back to London to present his Sunday night jazz programme and since I was doing the review spot I went with him along with Buck. We were late and Humph turned his Volvo into a flying machine.

It was a wonderful time, the time of one's life. I daresay the much vaunted early golden days in New Orleans or Chicago in the '20s had nothing on being over here in the '50s and '60s. So many great men providing so much great pleasure for so many people. It must, have been very fulfilling to have been one of them.

It won't happen again. On May 24 this year Little Eddie the Piano Player died. An era went out with him. He was the greatest man our music has produced. His death is the biggest thing that ever hit our music simply because he was the biggest thing in it.

-Steve Voce

Duke, Rex and Ben at Newport:
Name Dropper

Published in Jazz Journal in October 1974
added 2011-08-26

(I later found that the BBC had supplied some material to American radio companies. The companies wanted to reciprocate and, since the BBC hadn’t asked for anything specific they sent masses of tapes from the Newport Jazz Festivals. When the tapes arrived the BBC didn’t know what they were so put them all in a basement at Broadcasting House in London. It took detective work on the part of Alun Morgan and myself, but eventually we found what was there and I was able to get what I wanted of it sent to me. When I later told George Wein that we had access to the Newport tapes he was horrified. The music had been originally provided for use in forces’ broadcasting and should not have been allowed to escape).

I have recently had the satisfying experience of discovering and broadcasting a great deal of very good jazz which would otherwise have lain mouldering indefinitely in its tomb in Broadcasting House.

The music was unearthed as a result of one of the most cataclysmic events in jazz history-the death of Duke Ellington All BBC local radio stations have a line to Broadcasting House. This is a channel through which speech or music can be relayed either way without losing any of its sound quality. Often things are sent out from London to be taken by anyone who happens to want them. On the day that Duke died a message came up the line that some of his music was being sent out for use by anyone who wanted it. Fortunately someone at Radio Merseyside taped it for me, and it eventually turned out that we had about 2o minutes of Duke at Newport on July 4, 1959, and half an hour of a similar band from a different session. The July 4 items included the usual band of the day with Jimmy Johnson on drums as well as Sam Woodyard. The titles included Anatomy Of A Murder featuring Duke on piano and Jimmy Hamilton on tenor, Rockin' In Rhythm (Harry Carney, clarinet, Quentin and Cat), Flirtybird for Rabbit and an above-average Perdido for Clark Terry. Andres Ford is in the trumpets for the second up-dated session which included Flirtybird, this time for Shorty Baker, a splendid Cop Out with Gonsalves at his stretched-out best, V.I.P. Boogie (Carney, Hamilton), Jam With Sam (Shorty, Gonsalves, Britt Woodman, Procope, Cat, Quentin, Andres Ford and Cat again) and some desultory items by Ozzie Bailey and Lil Greenwood.

We broadcast several chunks of this, but I wondered in the meantime where it had come from. I began tracing it back, and found that it had been sent out by a department at Broadcasting House called the Foreign Recordings Unit. I phoned through to them and talked to Martin Hazell. He told me that the unit held masses of tapes which they were trying to catalogue, including all kinds of music which had never been broadcast before, and only a tiny percentage had ever been available on commercial records – a negligible amount.

'I've got things by Judy Garland here that nobody's ever heard of' he told me. 'Let's keep it that way', I suggested. Martin had little knowledge of jazz, and said that he could only track down music if I gave him names to work by. So began the most enjoyable and brain-stretching session of name-dropping I've ever indulged in. Suspecting, quite rightly, that the Unit would harbour masses of Basie and Ellington material, I decided to leave them for dessert, and said to Martin 'Eddie Condon, Buck Clayton and Jack Teagarden'.

A week later some tapes arrived. I picked up the first one and read the label. It was a studio session by Eddie Condon with Wild Bill, Peanuts, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey and Buddy Rich playing Riverboat Shuffle, Charleston, Sweet Georgia Brown, The Blues and Shine. The next one had three titles that Martin had said were by the Buck Clayton Septet. This comprised Buck, Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Jack Teagarden, Don Ewell, Tom Bryant and Joe Jones, and was identified as being from Newport, 1958. Teagarden did the introductions, and the music included Muskrat Ramble, a seven minute blues and the beginning of what Tea announces as a ballad medley, but which concluded with a very off-form Lester feature I Cover The Waterfront. Alun Morgan, who has been researching all this material had discovered that the set was in fact rained off. Tea appeared with his regular band at the festival on June 5 and 6, and the material includes a splendid Aunt Hagar's, Fidgety Feet, What's New? and Handful Of Keys. Martin sent the first two, but we haven't got round to the second two yet (features for Dick Oakley and Don Ewell, I imagine). A similar band played at the 1959 festival (July 5) with Don Goldie on trumpet for a fantastic I Can't Get Started which has the command of a Shavers. Hackett was added for some track apparently including a notable Body and Soul which hasn't surfaced yet. I'd also asked Martin for anything by Stan Getz or Woody Herman, but the results here were rather disappointing. The Early Autumn by Woody featuring Getz (I nearly had cardiac arrest when I thought it might be an unknown one) turned out to be the Capitol version featuring Terry Gibbs and Getz's Too Marvellous turned out to be the brilliant original issued version with Al Haig.

It was when Martin casually remarked that I could assume that he had the entire Newport Jazz Festivals of the '50s that I realised what we were on to. Alun made the interesting point that each of the groups that played in the film 'Jazz On A Summer's Day', filmed at the 1958 festival, must have played complete set, although the film only showed one number for each. The Giuffre Trio which opened the film with The Train And The River gave its best recorded performance there, so I tackled Martin about the rest. It came, complete with The Train And The River and Pony Express, a fine romping blues from Giuffre's 'Western Suite', with Brookmeyer at his superb best on valve trombone, and Jim Hall playing that incredible guitar style which pushes the group along and also acts as third melodic voice. There were new versions of The Lonely Time and That's The Way It Is, and a Brookmeyer piano feature called simply Waltz.

Alun is a great Gerry Mulligan fan, so we got the complete set from Newport on July 15, 1958 when Gerry played a set with Art Farmer, Bill Crow and Dave Bailey (Blueport appeared in the film). The titles are The Festive Minor, Bernie's Tune, Baubles, Bangles And Beads, Blueport, Moonlight In Vermont and News From Blueport. Like the Giuffre tracks the sound quality here was most impressive, and like the Giuffre tracks broadcast them on BBC Radio Merseyside. But Martin hadn't stopped there, and there were another 14 titles by the Mulligan Quartet but with Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone. These are particularly mystifying. and come from various sources. Some identified as being from Newport in 1957 (Ide's Side, Line For Lyons and Utter Chaos – the latter was actually issued here on Philips) and some of them look very much like a session recorded in Paris but turn out not to be. Alun thought he'd got to them when he realised that Birth Of The Blues was the same duration as a known version, but it turned out to be different. So far we've shed no light on any of these.

I remembered in the Newport film a shot of Rex Stewart rehearsing a band which never actually played a complete number in the film. Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan had been sat casually in front of Rex, and Rex sang the trumpet line to Concerto For Cootie while Ben and another sax played the responses. Anyway, I said Rex to Martin. I was really hopeful here and very pleased when Martin produced the following:

Rex Stewart and the Ellington Alumni: Rex (cnt); Cootie Williams (tpt); Tyree Glenn (tbn); Hilton Jefferson (alt); Ben Webster (ten); Billy Strayhorn (pno); Oscar Pettiford (bs); Sonny Greer (dm). July 3, 1958.
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo/Rockin' In Rhythm/New Concerto For Cootie/C Jam Blues/Boy Meets Horn/Chelsea Bridge/Le Grand Romp. The first number is just a signature and of course Boy features Rex and Chelsea Bridge Ben. There are two further numbers including Perdido which we haven't broadcast yet. Mulligan played at this session, an Ellington tribute, with the Marian McPartland Trio, and his rather casual Don't Get Around Much Anymore and C Jam Blues were also included.

By this time I'd broadcast most of the material and enquiries were rolling in about the possibility of more items. Martin unearthed a couple of unknown tracks by the Miles Davis Quintet with Coltrane which I haven't got yet (as I write he's away on holiday) and I'm still waiting for the results of saying Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Tony Scott and many others. `Say "Bobby Hackett"' exhorted Ron Clough. I did and two separate sessions arrived without personnels. The 1957 Newport one had a title Handle With Cary and of course Dick Cary is there to juggle instruments presumably with Tom Gwaltney (clt/vib), John Dengler (bs-sax, tuba) and perhaps Ernie Caceres (clt/bari), Mickey Crane (pno), Milt Hinton and Nat Ray. Titles include a lovely My Funny Valentine for Hackett and two highly original sounding workouts on The Lady Of The Lavender Mist and an intriguing thing called Off-Minor. There's a nice Beale Street on another Hackett session that includes a tenor and a trombone and which is even more difficult to place (of course not all the music comes from Newport).

Saying Dizzy Gillespie produced another beautifully recorded set from 1959 Newport with a quintet which sounds as though it includes Les Spann (flt/gtr); Junior Mance (pno); Sam Jones (bs); Lex Humphries (din). It opens with a romping eight minute blues which is untitled and includes My Heart Belongs To Mother (sic), Oo Shoobee Doobee, a Gillespie millstone of the time, a great seven minute exposition on Million Dollar Baby, an even better My Man and concludes with a driving version of Manteca.

And that's as far as I've got for now although, to quote from Count Jim 'Knees' Moriarty, there's more where that came from. Should you be interested in hearing any of this music, it should be available to your local BBC radio station for broadcasting. As we go to press a comprehensive list of the Newport music with great detail has arrived from Mike Doyle. This will no doubt be of great help in digging out worthwhile sessions.

-Steve Voce

The Duke Steps Out
(Duke’s first attempt at journalism)

Published in Jazz Journal in 1974
added 2011-08-26

Duke Ellington was primarily a great musician and no one ever demanded that he should be a great author as well. Consequently, although it is disappointing that what advance reports I've heard of his autobiography say that it's not very good, there was no reason to expect him to be as good with words paper as he was with notes on paper.

However, Ossie Dover, long a figure on the Liverpool music scene until his retirement some years back, has discovered amongst his collection of papers a fascinating article from the 1930s. It is the first thing Duke ever wrote - he called it 'The Duke Steps Out' and it gives an insight which must have be most unusual at the time, into his own view of the Ellington band of 1931. Here are some extracts:

'Much has been said of the show part of the band - the melody instruments - and I have grown a little tired of this perpetual eulogy, because everyone who really understands the dance bands of today knows that it is the rhythm section which is far the most important; without a solid basis of impeccable rhythm, no matter how brilliant the melody section, the band can never be successful. In many bands the soulless nature of this continual churning out of four-in-a-bar rhythm has developed apathy in the section, the players losing interest until their performance becomes stodgy and mechanical. In my view, much of the mechanical nature of playing in the rhythm section can he avoided, and in this article I propose to show how it can be done.

`Undoubtedly the most important member of the rhythm section is the pianist. His job is to feed the band with rhythm; florid arpeggios and rapid chromatic runs are taboo until he plays solo. Then he can allow his imagination free reign, utilising all the devices within his technique to impart the utmost rhythm to his rendition.

`This avoidance of the sometimes overwhelming urge for the pianist to play or extemporise on the melody cannot be emphasised too strongly, for once he begins to neglect his immobile rhythm the whole section, which is dependent on him, immediately loses its essential snap and becomes ragged.

Example 1`One of the most important of rhythms is generally known as the ‘after beat'. This rhythm is ubiquitously played, but unless it is played as Example 1 it is seldom effective. This accenting of the bass is most important. An effective use of the after beat rhythm is afforded in choruses where a section plays softly against a solo instrument or the melody instruments.
Example 2 In Example 2 a four-in-the-bar rhythm is shown with the first and third beats of the bar accented. This rhythm may be applied to a chorus where the band is playing forte. Here we have the accents on the first and third beats of the bar.

'A problem which must have worried many pianists is what to play during the last ensemble chorus. Amongst the pell mell of the other instruments the tendency to roam over the keyboard is again very ominous, but once more I say don't do it! Example 3In Example 3 I give you a rhythm which is eminently suited to the ensemble choruses. I call it a `walking bass'. It will be found to give depth and solidity to the last chorus, while retaining a rhythmic swing, and it has the further excellent quality of inspiring the rest of the section to give of their best.

'We do not use any printed orchestrations. These are much too stereotyped. For a band to keep in the top flight today it must be original. I therefore make all my own arrangements, and my first care when doing this is the rhythm section. Piano, banjo, bass and drums all play the same rhythms simultaneously; this is essential. I never write out a drum part, however, and to explain this apparent paradox I must say that my drummer, Sonny Greer, seems instinctively to know what rhythm I am going to play, and long association has shown me that his intuition in this direction is so uncanny that I can safely leave the percussion in his entirely capable hands.

`What little fame I have achieved is the result of my special orchestrations, and especially of the co-operation of the boys in the band. I cannot speak too highly of their loyalty and initiative. During the past three years we have made the band our work and our hobby; all our creative powers have been put into its success, and the fact that our engagement at the Cotton Club. New York City, is now extending into its fourth year is an excellent testimonial and a pleasant reminder that we have been appreciated.'

After listing the current personnel of the band, Duke continues `Perhaps you will think that three trumpets is one too many, and indeed I seem to be one of the very few leaders who have three, but I can only refer you to my records and ask you if you don't agree that the brass sounds much fuller in this way. Then on the trombone side are Joe Nanton and Juan Tizol. So you will see that my melody section is eight strong and we are able to get a full harmony that has depth without being in any way sluggish.

'I am always being asked how I write the trick phrases and rhythms that my band plays, and I can only say that I get an inspiration in the most unconnected way, and out of it a new phrase or rhythm is born. In much the same way I write my tunes. About five years ago I wrote a tune called Birmingham Breakdown and this introduced a phrase shown in Example 4. Example 4 This phrase I used for over 20 bars. Apparently it was before its time, and the phrase did not catch on, so that you can imagine how I felt when Jimmy McHugh came along with The New Low Down, which was entirely dependent on this phrase and made a great hit. Everyone will remember Crazy Rhythm which also contained this old phrase of mine long forgotten in Birmingham Breakdown.

`The numbers I write are never, I think you will agree, of the 'corn-fed' type. Always I try to be original in my harmonies and rhythms. I am not trying to suggest that my tunes are superior to those of other writers. Because I think that the music of my race is something that is going to live, something which posterity will honour in a higher sense than merely that of the music of the ballroom to-day. I put my best musical thoughts forward into my tunes, and not hackneyed harmonies and rhythms which are almost too banal to publish.

`The involved nature of my numbers prevents them being great popular successes, but their popularity amongst musicians has meant a lot more to me than monetary gain, although of course I have to consider the financial side. But I am not content with just fox-trots. One is necessarily limited with a canvas of only 32 bars and with a strict tempo to keep up. I have already said that it is my firm belief that what is still known as jazz is going to play a considerable part in the serious music of the future. I am proud of that part my race is playing in the artistic life of the world. Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, your own Coleridge Taylor, are names already high in the lists of serious music; that from the welter of Negro dance musicians now before the public will come something lasting and noble, I am convinced.

`The music of my race is something more than that `American idiom'. It is the result of our transplantation to American soil, and was our reaction in the plantation days to the tyranny we endured. What we could not say openly we expressed in music, and what we know as `jazz' is something more than just dance music. When we dance it is not a mere diversion or social accomplishment. It expresses our personality, and right down in us our souls react to the elemental but eternal rhythm, and the dance is timeless and unhampered by any lineal form.

'To-day we are an important and intrinsic part of the population of the great United States of America. In Harlem we have what is practically our own city; we have our own newspapers and our own social services, and although not segregated we have almost achieved our own civilisation. The history of my people is one of great achievements over fearful odds; it is a history of a people hindered, handicapped and often sorely oppressed, and what is being done by Countee Cullen and others in literature is overdue in our music.

'I am therefore now engaged on a rhapsody unhampered by any musical form in which I intend to portray the experiences of the coloured races in America in the syncopated idiom. This composition will consist of four or five movements, and I am putting all that I have learned in it in the hope that I shall have achieved something really worthwhile in the literature of music and that an authentic record of my race written by a member of it shall he placed on record.

`This is the first time I have written for any musical paper, but I feel that my ideas will he appreciated in a country which has accorded such a welcome to many of our distinguished artists. To you all I send the greetings of myself and my hand, and the sincere hope that you will find the records we make interesting.’

Some accurate prophecy there, and above all an articulate sense of exactly where his music was going and how he was going to take it there! Duke originally wrote the piece for publication by John E. Dallas and Sons Ltd.

-Steve Voce

Butter and Lost In Medication

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1977
added 2011-08-29

A late note from Eddie Lambert: ‘Quentin Jackson died with his boots on. He was in the middle of a Broadway show when Norris Turney helped him to the Roosevelt Hospital where he died a couple of hours later.’

Lost In Medication

The fracas over the books about Duke Ellington resulted in the hurling of so many Jovian thunderbolts that only one such as I, wet toe permanently planted in a live socket, would be foolish enough to start the generators again. But the simultaneous appearance of a revised paperback edition of Derek Jewell's ‘Duke’ and the first hardback publication of Mercer Ellington's ‘Duke Ellington In Person’ (the former by Sphere Books, the latter by Hutchinson) invites immediate and direct comparison. Mercer's book has, of course, been written by Stanley Dance.

Having corresponded with both Derek and Stanley about the two books, I have been privy to the background of the greatest jazz upheaval since the Boppers v Figs riots of the '40s, and I'm damned if I'm going to name King Ludd!

Duke Ellington and his music provide the richest, most important subject that any jazz book can have. As one of the most significant musicians of the 20th century, Ellington's canvas is inevitably large, and perhaps nobody could avoid mistakes in the detailing of his life. There are mistakes in both books, but I would suggest that they are insignificant ones, and that the main force of both is to add immeasurably to our knowledge of the subject. I have no doubt that these are the best two books to have been written to date on the subject of Duke Ellington; and that is a comment that will probably annoy both authors!

The implication of the argument has been that the two books are the same; but this is far from the case, and no reader of this magazine has done himself justice until he has read them both.

The wrestlers toil over who gave whom permission to quote what from where - something that matters only to them, and not perhaps the heinous life-and-death matter it has seemed to be. Likewise, it is polite to pay tribute to sources, but not earth-shatteringly remiss not to. (Stan notes that Derek never fails to attribute to the Sunday Times but is not so meticulous in his own (Stan's) case. The hawk-eyed will note that none of the 40 or 50 excellent photographs in ‘Duke Ellington In Person’ receives any credit whatsoever. I am delighted to report that one of them seems to be the copyright of Times Newspapers Ltd!).

-Steve Voce

Sensationalising Strayhorn

Published in Jazz Journal in August 1997
added 2011-08-11

I think the evidence provided by their eyes will allow people to make a correct evaluation of the Dimbleby statue of Ellington and a bit of piano. The secondary point is who needs or wants a statue of Ellington?

Strayhorn next. It's important that Billy Strayhorn should be remembered for his greatest contribution to humanity, which is his music. Hajdu's biography paid inordinate attention to his homosexuality, an element of his life that is irrelevant to his admirers and, in the climate of the day, best forgotten as trivia. But no.

We must give thanks that for all the years since his death Hollywood has never considered the comparatively ordered life of Duke Ellington as worth turning into The Duke Ellington Story. After all, where was the glamour if you weren't a dedicated fan of the music? The various jazz sagas may have turned a buck or two for the moguls, but they never did the music any good.

But now that Duke's musical partner stands revealed as having had a sexual proclivity that is not only acceptable to but fashionable amongst the politically correct, they have suddenly lunged at the idea. Many names, most of them unknown to me, but including Eddie Murphy, have been bandied about for the two leading roles, and apparently most of the actors are keen to try their hand.

Who is to re-create the music? How is the music to be recreated. Why should the music be recreated, since it can never possibly be as good as the original?

I was delighted to note, when the subject of a Hollywood film about Ellington and Strayhorn was broached, that Bill Russo hurried to say that he didn't write for films any more. Like Bob Brookmeyer, Russo, a dignified and much admired figure, had Ellington connections that one wouldn't have expected.

`I had worked with Ellington,' he said. 'He brought me to New York for advice in 1968 and he gave my orchestra the music to the first Concert of Sacred Music. He supervised the performance of it, which delighted him enormously. He also fully endorsed the triple concerto that I had begun composing in the year of his death. It was for him, his orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. I haven't had the heart to complete the piece.'

-Steve Voce

Whit Sunday, 1966

Published in Jazz Journal in December 1979.
added 2011-08-03

I found a tape the other day that recalled Whit Sunday, 1966, one of the happiest days of my life. That morning Humphrey Lyttelton collected Buck Clayton and me from our London hotel and drove us to the Oxford Union where two Jazz 625 programmes were to be recorded. When we arrived I saw Rex Stewart looking wistfully at a poster in a glass case advertising the show ‘Earl Hines, Buck Clayton, Rex Stewart, Bud Freeman, the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, the Alex Welsh band.’ I opened the case, took down the poster, rolled it up and gave it to Rex. From that moment we were friends and wrote regularly until his death 18 months later.

The show, with Humph as master of ceremonies, went well except that the be-catted Earl Hines hogged it (it was Humph who pointed out that Earl’s hairpiece looked like a cat curled up on his head). Rex’s feature in the first show lasted three minutes, Bud Freeman’s almost four, and Earl’s eleven. It was the same in the second show except that Hines,in Ken Dodd mode, took nine minutes. The concert began to overrun alarmingly. Not important, you might think. But it was to Humph and me. He was presenting the jazz programme live on BBC radio that night and I was taking part in it as a reviewer.

We worked out that, if Earl didn’t go berserk and stuck, like everyone else, to the agreed two choruses each on the final St. Louis Blues, then we should, if Humph drove fast, make it back to London with minutes to spare. Earl duly went berserk and the tune rolled on and on with chorus after chorus of piano. It was then that I saw the Humphrey Lyttelton that Sylvester Stallone modelled himself on. Enraged, Humph told the producer of the television show that we’d have to leave him to it without Humph winding up the show. The Hines Juggernaut eventually slowed and Bud (who had played beautifully all day), Rex and Buck docilely took their two choruses apiece and the Lyttelton Volvo was launched to rocket across the quiet roads of Oxfordshire. I remember feeling detached, since I was to be in the final part of the programme. But the pressure was really on Humph and we arrived in the studio with a handful of minutes to spare. So few that Humph was still breathing heavily when he went on air.

-Steve Voce

Berry's Axe (or Berry the Hatchet)

Published in Jazz Journal January 1980.
added 2011-08-03

The nomenclature of the various brass instruments has probably caused more implacable mistrust between us and our brothers across the Atlantic than anything since the Boston Tea Party (were the Kennedys behind that, too?). In the United States what we call a tenor horn is an alto horn and what we call a BBb Bass is a tuba. The complexities of tubas versus sousaphones do not bear thinking about, and the mere mention of a peck horn is enough to make a British brassman switch at once to something more orthodox, like the cymbalom.

I ran into a fair example in conversation with Bill Berry when I asked him why he played the trumpet-cornet instead of the trumpet. To us the trumpet-cornet is larger than a cornet, smaller than a trumpet and with the look of a cornet in design. A cornet is the diminutive version that Louis used with the Hot Five and, incidentally, in the film `New Orleans'. When I asked Bill about his trumpet-cornet he said "I play just cornet. I haven't played trumpet in about five years now."

Accepting the American definition of what to us is the trumpet-cornet, I asked Bill why he preferred cornet. "Well, for a start it's more my size. If you notice a lot of smaller players use cornet. Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Warren Vache and so on. Thad Jones is the exception. When I was in the Ellington band Ray Nance used one. It makes no difference to your section work. I played first trumpet in a television show for years using that."

Bill played for Duke for three years. "A fantastic experience. It changed my life and my family's life for the better of course, and I'm deeply grateful to those people, Duke and his men." I asked Bill if it was true that the band library had consisted of bits of charts with the bulk of the missing parts left to the player's intuition.

"More than that! When I joined the band I had a library of music, it must have been six inches thick, none of it was titled, none of it was numbered and we didn't play any of it anyway! I know that sounds fantastic, but it's the truth, and you can ask anyone who was ever in there and they'll tell you. There wasn't any music. We were doing a record date one time and Duke tore off one stave of manuscript paper and gave us each a series of notes and then told us what to do with them rhythmically, and when he got through it was another Ellington piece. Amazing! Louie Bellson was telling me last night that Ray Nance (sat) in the section cooking toast and someone else was shaving - on stage and opening the show! But that was the way it went in that band, very much a family affair. Those people were really a bunch of characters. After I left the band I came back often as a dep because they couldn't just hire any trumpet player, they had to hire someone who knew the parts because there weren't any to read. When I first joined it was terrifying. One night I said to Cat Anderson `What do I play on the end of this?' and he said `Just grab a note that sounds wrong and hold on!'

"As you say, in the L.A. Big Band we have some of the musicians who I think are amongst the best jazz players in the world. It's a privilege to know guys like that, never mind have them work in your band. The band was originally the New York Big Band, but when I moved west it became the L.A. Big Band, and since then more than half the guys in the New York Band have moved out to L.A." (I have often spoken with disbelief to Nat Pierce about the kind of scene where you phone someone like Bill Perkins or Bob Cooper when you need a dep!).

"Of course they're all old friends. Cat Anderson helped me tremendously on the Duke's band, everyone loved Blue Mitchell of course, and Jack Sheldon was the other trumpet player on the TV show for all those years.”

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in June 1980.
added 2011-08-03

Rex Stewart told me one night of the loss of one of his compositions that later became an 'Ellington' classic. The Ellington band on a train was a cruel and unrelenting casino by all accounts (I once saw Harold Ashby blanch when Johnny tried to explain the intricacies of 'Chuck-a-Luck', what he described as `the old Chinese game' that the band used at that time to move its money around).

Rex was in a school with Duke on a train journey when Duke cleaned him out. Duke didn't want Rex to quit the game and offered to play him for anything. Rex put the composer rights of one of his compositions on the line (Rex and I were giving it one in the small hours at the time of this conversation and I can't recall the title, but I suppose it must have been Subtle Slough/Just Squeeze Me). Rex lost and it became an Ellington composition.

Stewart's composing abilities have never been properly recognised. Just listen to Poor Bubber or Menelik, The Lion of Judah for examples of the inspired originality of that great musician.

Whilst we're dealing with composers, Peter Clayton, in a fascinating interview with Sir Charles Thompson, drew attention to the fact that Robbin's Nest is listed as `Composer Unknown' on Vogue VJD 527, the classic Buck Clayton All Stars album. Peter speculated that Buck would surely have known the composer's name (Sir Charles, of course). Confirmation of the fact that Buck didn't superintend the original French album details comes with the fact that Buck's Swinging At The Copper Rail appears as Swinging at the Camarillo and with Buck's Outer Drive is also `Composer Unknown'. From a royalties point of view, it's nice to see that they do credit Ma Rainey (cheque to Gertrude Pridgett, please) with See See Rider.

Yah-Yah Not Wah-Wah

Paul Quinichette was/is a great tenor player and his playing on the Basie Clef sessions, the Mercury jam sessions and that superb two-tenor set with Charlie Rouse (Parlophone PMC 1090) confirms the fact. When The Blues Come On from the Parlophone album is a jazz classic and someone should get Peter to play it on Jazz Record Requests.

Despite enthusiastic support from Stanley Dance for his playing the fact that Paul had such a strong Lester Young influence in his work seems to have caused him to be dismissed as a mere copyist. Can anyone help with where he is and what he's doing?

We asked the same question about Lawrence Brown, and my old drinking apprentice Jack McNamara of `The Manchester Evening News' has come up with the answer. On a visit to Los Angeles he managed to trace Lawrence through Ruth Stewart and looked him up. Happily, Lawrence is in good health and revelling in his retirement - we hope it will be very long and very happy.

Barney Bigard's playing has been sporadic to say the least over the last few years and from Ruth Stewart comes the news that the most effective of all jazz clarinettists has not been in the best of health lately. I'm sure all our readers will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.

Tricky Sam Nanton has always fascinated me. A colleague of Barney's and Lawrence's, he was a special friend of Harry Carney's and I used to home in on Harry each time we met to discover more about one of the major jazz soloists about whom least was known.

`He was devoted to Duke and would never work for anyone else,' Harry once told me. `He just couldn't relax if Duke wasn't there to take charge. I nearly got him to record away from the band once though, when Ed Hall had a session for Blue Note and he wanted to use Tricky and me with him as the front line. Everything was set and the studio booked, but then Tricky backed off and we got Benny Morton instead.' (That wonderful session by the Ed Hall Swingtet produced It's Been So Long, Steaming and Beaming, Big City Blues and I Can't Believe, none of which have yet appeared on LP).

However, I did manage to track down a couple of sessions that Sam made away from the Ellington band whilst he worked for Duke. Nanton joined Duke in the summer of 1926 and in the November of that year he recorded three sessions with The New Orleans Blue Five and Thomas Morris and His Seven Hot Babies. These were like second division Hot Fives and Sevens and are well worth having (they are included on `Thomas Morris' - French RCA FPMI 7049). Bob Fuller and Ernest Elliot (remember them with Bessie?) are on clarinets and there is some fine guitar from Buddy Christian. Morris himself was an exceptional player, slightly reminiscent of George Mitchell and his work here and on Fountain FJ-113 where he is teamed with Bechet and Clarence Williams amongst others is much to be prized. Tricky is on seven tracks of the RCA, and it is interesting to hear the `growl' style quite well developed. He had been working with Bubber Miley for some five months and one speculates whether Bubber had had a rapid influence or whether Tricky had used the style before he joined Duke. He had one of the most pungent, declamatory styles in jazz, despite the ridiculously limited range of the fully-fledged double mute style.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in December 1981.
added 2011-08-03

After placing the Rabbit to one side, one of life’s more futile occupations is trying to decide who was the most effective of Duke Ellington’s soloists. Miley? Nanton? Bigard? Blanton? Webster? There is no doubt about who was the most underrated. Paul Gonsalves was one of the greatest tenor saxophonists to grace the scene from the fifties on. His unfailing friendliness and courtesy masked the tragic effect that heroin had on his life. But even in such harrowing circumstances there was room for comedy.

One of the side effects of heroin is that it makes you fall asleep at random and frequent intervals. Paul had developed a method of dealing with this on the stand by sitting with his cheeks slightly puffed out and dozing on the end of his mouthpiece. If you knew, you could tell when he was doing it. It worked well most of the time, but on one occasion at a concert in Chicago, his sleep was too deep. Bassist Jimmy Woode, who stood behind Paul when the band played, used to keep an eye on him.

Duke announced the concert version of Take The A Train, which consisted of long solos from the pianist, Ray Nance's violin and a final tenor solo from Paul. Paul slept deeply in the section, and as the violin solo began Jimmy nudged Paul in the back with his knee. “Paul, you’re on next!” Paul grunted.

”Hey Paul," bellowed Jimmy, "get ready!" No reaction. As the violin solo wove dangerously near its close, Jimmy jabbed Paul hard in the back. "Paul, you're on!"

Paul rose somnambulant from his chair and fumbled towards the mike. As he arrived there Ray Nance stepped back, his solo complete, and Paul woke up. The audience began applauding the violin solo. Paul opened his eyes, looked up at the applauding audience, bowed, went back to his seat and sat down.

The fine photograph of Paul comes from a series taken by Jim McMaster of the Ellington band's 1966 concert at Liverpool University, which was also recorded. An enormous marble wall at the back of the stage helped produce good acoustics, and the concert was memorable also for the fact that the band had only three trumpets, Cootie being in hospital. Sinclair Traill persuaded Duke into a rare solo performance of Carolina Shout.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in May 1982.
added 2011-08-03

Sweet and Sourpea
On the few brief occasions I was fortunate enough to meet Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, I was invariably impressed by their courtesy, dignity and friendliness. I doubt that I shall ever meet such fine people again nor in the age of disenchantment have such a profound memory etched on my mind.

I have complained before of posthumous character assassination and I am about to complain again. On a previous occasion when I protested at being told that Bessie Smith was a lesbian (I have yet to see nor do I wish to see any scrap of evidence to support this theory) I was raged at for being a Victorian prude. Perhaps if I had been screaming "kill the pigs!" or waving a banner in support of unemployed one-parent black lesbian mothers in the Lower Yangtse Basin, I could have been one of the good guys.

You will understand my rage then, at reading the chapter on Swee'pea in Don George's book `The Real Duke Ellington' (Robson Books). It begins `Homosexuality was as normal for Sweetpea (sic) as any other area of life, heterosexuality or whatever, was for anybody else.' and says later 'Sweetpea (sic) never worked the neighbourhoods, never cruised. Most homosexuals I've known cruise. If they don't cruise, they keep their eyes open for someone to make it with. Sweetpea wasn't like that. Sweetpea was faithful, sincere with his friend.'

I suppose the letters will now pour in accusing me of having known all along that Strayhorn was, well, whatever word they like to use - always supposing that indeed he was! This Victorian prude insists that he didn't and doesn't want to know, and Mr George's perhaps accidentally sensational opening sentence seems extremely cruel to a very nice man who also happened to be a genius.

If he is to be believed, Mr. George spent a lots of nights from the forties on in the company of Duke Ellington, frequently organising ladies for Duke and frequently, according to Mr George, joining him in his pleasures.

Being such a gifted, prominent and attractive man, it was inevitable that someone like Duke should have had a lot of hangers on (I always loved the assertion from some New York musicians that `every time Duke wanted a pee Stanley Dance was there to unzip his fly for him'). Mr. George seems to have done his hanging well, but his collection of anecdotes is not kind to some of those involved. Additionally we only hear Mr. George's side, and I wonder how Ellington and Strayhorn, in whose reflected glory he so avariciously basks, would feel if they could read the book. I have the feeling that we shall remember them after Mr. George has long gone away.

-Steve Voce

Edward Kennedy Rides Again

Published in Jazz Journal in July 1982.
added 2011-08-03

Don Byas, yet another in the legions of unsung tenor men, was a physical fitness fanatic who used to spend hours lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean (wearing an aqualung) and was expert at karate. One night, whilst a band was on stage, we were alone in the artists' bar at the Free Trade Hall, both, as was our individual custom in those days, loaded. Don told me that even though he was half my size, he could throw me over the bar without hurting me. Loaded or not, a high degree of self-interest has always been one of my most prominent characteristics, and I knew not to take the proffered hand.

Don wheedled, cajoled and tried to corner me and I was beginning to think that perhaps after all my destiny lay through and behind the mirror over the bar. My life passed swiftly but blearily before my eyes as the hand reached out as though in friendship. Suddenly Eddie Lambert came into the bar and with inspiration I said `Don, you haven't met Eddie Lambert, have you?' Eddie put out his mitt to shake hands and as the diminutive tenorist grasped it, I fled. I never could stand the sight of blood.

But Eddie survived, as readers will have noticed, and recently reviewed the first of French RCA's `Indispensable Duke Ellington' double albums.

We owe a debt formidable to Jean-Paul Guiter for the exemplary way in which he had compiled what I believe to be the finest re-issue catalogue in the world. The Jazz Tribune series in particular has been beautifully pressed, packaged and presented, and quite definitive in the representation of the artists' work. But I think Eddie has misunderstood Guiter's intentions with the newly-launched Ellington and Waller sets. Previously available in exhaustive collections with all alternate takes, the series are now appearing in sets of double albums containing only originally issued takes, thus performing a useful extrapolation for those who don't need all the different versions of apiece.

Eddie suggests that since the new set is to comprise 20 LPs, it represents little cut down from the original collection of 23. I believe in fact that the set will be cut to five doubles, and not ten as Eddie speculates. He probably still has double vision after being thrown over the bar.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal February 1985.
added 2011-08-03

The continuing saga of the revelation of the contents of the J.J. questionnaires is becoming more of a torment than the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. Each month the Editor Eddie Cook lifts another corner of his veil and announces a fact that will amaze you. He has discovered (December issue) that big bands are extremely popular with our readers and will take heed of this when adjusting the editorial balance. Since he is a life-long Bob Crosby fan who has never been too interested in the work of Duke Ellington this could be a double-edged sword. In fact I had the pleasure of giving him one of his first modern Duke Ellington albums but it didn't seem to catch on. As the old adage insists, life would be very boring if we all held the same opinions.

I read the editorial reference to the big bands at the beginning of Christmas and it set me wondering about my own favourite performances. The first one I recalled was Ellington's Half The Fun from Such Sweet Thunder. This is first class music from the fruitful middle years with U.S. Columbia. The whole suite shows Ellington's imagination at its most fertile, and since the music is played by the only solo team ever to come close to that of the 1941 band, it is not surprising that it is so eminently satisfying. Half The Fun has everything. It is designed to evoke a picture of Cleopatra floating down the Nile in her royal barge. The work opens with exotic time setting from Sam Woodyard. a man who has been undervalued persistently by writers, for he was, Sonny Greer apart, the most suitable drummer Ellington ever had (I remember one of the musicians telling me that when he left, the rest of the hand threatened to go on strike unless he was rehired, so indispensable had his playing become to them -it would be nice to have this validated by Stanley Dance).

The band states the theme with thickly woven chords and the sinister, brooding section calls forth a responding phrase from the trombones before a swirling passage from the saxes heralds Johnny Hodges' solo entry. It is as good as his best, with that microscopically precise timing having a supernatural feel to it. Ellington's placing of his piano punctuations has the same instinctive feel and his contributions are intensely dramatic. Hodges' solo is the usual voluptuous, casual seeming affair, in fact as measured as Louis' on Knockin' A Jug, and as always as trenchant as the Magna Carta. The band swiftly changes mood even before Hodges' last note has subsided, into a delicate and complex theme that must surely be written by Strayhorn - elegant, unexpected and of great beauty. This is the sort of writing that must have influenced Gil Evans very strongly.

After a descending piano tremolo from Duke the clarinets restate the main theme which is then taken on by the band with a hollow, ghostly echo from the trombones. The piece ends on a sumptuous held chord from the band finally diminishing to one trombone and is then capped by a deep and resonant single note from the leader.

I have avoided using the adverb, but use it now: this is perfect. To have been able to go home at the end of a day knowing that one had created this should have imparted a satisfaction that none of us will ever know. I have remarked before that there is at the very least something of interest in every single piece Duke ever wrote. Here we find his art at its highest intensity (as it was so often, for this is not necessarily a piece that stands out from the body of his great compositions). Every element you could wish for is here. Originality - the melodies are unique, and their idioms draw on European and African feelings. blended with pure Ellingtonia, and are thus jazz's finest malt. Even the `jungle' sound is used discreetly but vitally by the trombones and this is wholly appropriate to a performance that is so characteristically Ellington.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in July 1985.
added 2011-08-03

Cromwell knew what he was about when he gave Eddie Lambert charge of Oldham. Although Liverpool and Oldham are roughly at the same longitude, I am, I suppose in the current vernacular a street-wise Liverpudlian, whilst Eddie Lambert is very definitely your blunt northerner in the tradition of bullet head haircuts. Consequently it was right that the crescendo of his opening speech at the 1985 Duke Ellington conference came as he explained where to order your commemorative glassware for onward postage, with a rallentando in the direction of where to assemble for the coach to the Bronte country and a scherzo of apology to those who found their reallocated hotel to be in another county under a sign saying 'Ellington '85: You Can't Get There From Here'.

I jest; for in fact the conference was a masterpiece of imagination and organisation, and the brave organising committee kept its nerve in the face of overbearing obstacles. Not the least of which is in the basic fact that Oldham is a dreadful hole, ranking with Birmingham, London, and everywhere within 20 miles of Oldham as places to be avoided at all costs. You might have expected the locals to be embarrassed and apologetic, but not all. The hard faced publicity issued to everyone at the conference by the Greater Manchester Council made the area out to be like Disneyland with free admission. Oldham itself is a dirty slag of abandoned mills ('What's the difference between Oldham and Algeria? In Algeria the Moors come down from the hills ...').

However, once inside the comparatively elegant Birch Hall Hotel, one was in a remarkably friendly and cosmopolitan atmosphere, peopled by old acquaintances like Eddie, Roy Crimmins, John Chilton and Alan Cohen, and old names who one was delighted to meet for the first time; in my case these included Ken Rattenbury, Vic Bellerby, Peter Tanner, Jerry Valburn and many others.

If you got stuck for someone to talk to there were always people like Jimmy Hamilton, Bob Wilber and Willie Cook.

With his Cromwellian sense of justice and destiny, Eddie Lambert had obviously planned for months for a 'When did you last see your father?'-type confrontation between me and Jerry Valburn. This, Eddie immediately organised when I first arrived. I think he expected blood to be spilt. Realising that it must be something that I wrote, I asked Jerry what had given offence. 'You used Carl Hallstrom's name in the same paragraph as mine,' he complained. Careless of me, for the Swede of Doom could hardly have less in common (give or take a few of Jerry's albums) with the exuberant Valburn. In between devoting his enormous energy to the conference, he splashed some of it on me. Before long I had an invitation to write a Muggsy Spanier liner and another to visit his Long Island home to look at his eleven million feet of tape (look at, not listen to!). I found the trigger that set off his unstoppable fund of anecdotes and suddenly found myself in a world where it wasn't that Barney Bigard's solo was better on the Victor version than the Decca, but that the studio in such and such a street had brought the horns out much better than the vastly inferior studio used round the corner. I can tell you that when Duke Ellington stubbed a cigarette out, Valburn was there to note the make of the butt! A delightful man, and I quickly became used to the fact that he was accompanied by a fallen Irish priest who appeared to have recently had his beard torn off with some violence.

Eccentrics abounded and were specifically unleashed at the opening party night when the only music was that of the ear benders. Having been on the wagon for a couple of months, (I fell off later that night) I was being soberer than thou, but David Balfry and Eric Townley both wore the looks they keep for when they think I am about to say something particularly unkind to them (in fact Balfry vanished into the swirling mists that night and will still, if there is any justice, be being ravished by an Oldham harridan in her moorland hovel).

In the face of the erudition on display the only wise course was to keep quiet. Best to give Lambert a kicking when he's on his own and not surrounded by the high priests. Savour instead the fact that he told me that Teagarden never recorded an Ellington composition in his life, when I know that Jack made a whole album of Duke's tunes. But be generous. This was the big moment of Eddie's life, and he and his committee had worked hard and confidently to achieve what was such a successful jazz occasion that one even forgave Eddie for a closing speech that ran longer than the concert version of Black, Brown And Beige. I was disappointed, amongst all the congratulatory hugging of dank and sweaty bodies at the end that no one made mention of Tony Adkins, who quietly half killed himself racing to still howling mikes, move pianos and generally hold the moors steady. Eddie was out front being Field Marshal Montgomery.

We have known for a couple of decades now that Bob Wilber is an exceptional musician. The arrival of the soundtrack album of the 'Cotton Club' film showed him capable of a recreation of Duke's music that must have been the greatest ever. Consequently we went to Oldham with high hopes which were not disappointed. He unerringly went for the shaded corners of the beauty of Ellingtonia (who had ever thought to hear Love In My Heart or Tattooed Bride played again?). His instrumental work was simply astonishing and the fidelity of his Bigard and Hodges evocations were so close that I doubt that anyone in the world could have brought them about. It is awesome to think that such comprehensive achievement is only a part of the man's talents. Remember also that he is one of the finest arrangers of our time, and particularly that he loves a whole area of jazz usually passed over by contemporary writers. I must restrain myself from lauding him more, so as to let Eric have a go. But suffice it to say that his leadership of the small and big bands was perfection.

Some of the English musicians gave the performances of their lives, and Danny Moss was absolutely right when he told Roy Crimmins that it was Roy's Nanton character that had really put the authentic stamp on the music. Those of you who are still here will know that I have been a Crimmins admirer since he first appeared with the Galleon Jazz Band when I was a Wolf Cub. He sat firmly on his role as Lawrence Brown, Tizol and Nanton in the small group, and Bill only managed to sneak a tiny bit of vibrato from underneath on rare occasions. Rov was superb on all occasions. producing a splendid Pyramid and also spreading himself wide enough to be Floorshow on Squeeze Me. This was one of the best performances I have heard from him. and his Nantonesque braving across the big band should have frightened the hell out of the not very good trombonists in the section with him. When they soloed the music invariably fell on its face.

Likewise the big hand baritone was not up to the Carney role, but the big surprise was the barrel chesting of Danny Mass on baritone in the small group. This was a revelation. and he has one of the best tones on the horn I have heard. He produced a number of dazzling tenor solos and anyone who heard him must have wondered why we arc concerning oneself with American tenorists in the mainstream field when we have this major voice amongst us. Len Skeat, pianist Chris Holmes. and Bobby QT had perhaps the most difficult roles. but had them well m control.

I fell in love again when I saw Alice Babs. What a delightful woman she is, bubbling with talent, humour and a contagious love of life! And what a singer! If the conference had done nothing but bring her back from retirement it did so wonderfully, then it would have been judged a success. Herb Jeffries told a wonderful joke and loaned us an incredible larger than life personality. but also sang Satin Doll, Jump For Joy and a ballad called 'Oh, that old thing' which showed him to be even now one of the best of Duke's singers. unfortunately, when it came to expressing his emotions on the occasion he, like several of our friends from across the pond, found himself not in accord with our dour British reserve, still this was a small allowance to have to make in the face of what was, even though we kept stiff upper lips, an emotional charge for us all.

Jimmy Hamilton, normally not a man easily given to emotion, was much moved by the reception he was given. His birthday fell on the Saturday, and the organisers had created a cake big enough for everyone to have some (I had two pieces and it was delicious - I had to give my third piece to Jimmy, because he hadn't got one!). He played beautifully, with the slow theme from The Tatooed Bride a high spot matched by the soaring he and Alice did on Jeep's Blues the night before. "The harder I think the more difficult it becomes to envisage something nicer than Alice soaring. She would slay them at Nice. But then I'm biased because, as I said, I just fell in love again.

Incidentally. I was delighted in one number to see that the lady wasn't all soft sweetness - Herb Jeffries was about to embark on some more of what had already been a rather large share when a tiny unit moved across daintily but firm as hell and removed the mike from his grasp.

Unhappily I missed all the daytime events, but one man I would have liked to have heard was Bob Zieff, who presented an examination of the distinctive structure of some highly individual Ellington pieces (Flaming Sword and West Indian Dance amongst them). Roy Crimmins introduced me to him, and he turned out to be a fascinating man who had worked at a very high level as a jazz arranger in the States. He had for instance, produced a still unissued session with Bill Harris and Jack Nimitz with strings. To my chagrin, Crimmins was played a tape of this - I didn't find out about its existence till it was time to leave.

Willie Cook was enjoying himself, and played a fine role in the small group and later a beautiful All Heart with the big band (the transcriptions here were superb and I think were the work of Wilber, Alan Cohen and Walt Levinsky).

This was one of the most successful jazz projects I had ever attended outside of a festival. Remarkably. it was the work of many amateurs, and they must be deeply satisfied that they have established a tradition with this, the third event of its kind. The fourth will have to go some to approach this, and I look with interest to see if it will happen.

Those of us who took the benefit applaud those who did the hard work – Mike Hazeldine, Ray Ibbotson, Eddie Lambert, Jim Lowe, Elaine Norsworthy, Derek Webster. Oh yes, and Tony Adkins.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in August 1985.
added 2011-08-02

In early 1947 Jack Teagarden took a blindfold test with Leonard Feather as the inquisitor. One of the records played was Duke's Lucky So And So featuring Rabbit, Hibbler and Lawrence Brown. My own experience of Teagarden in earlier years had amounted to a brief chat and a hearing of his appearance on Desert Island Discs. I had formed the opinion that he was not only incapable of but was terrified of saying an unkind word about anyone. It would be hard to imagine two musicians more likely to hold each other in higher regard than Big T and the Duke. Duke never got 'round to dealing with Jack in Music Is My Mistress but in 1947 Jack certainly laid it on the Duke.

He speaks: 'Here's one style that's caused all the bands to break up. Listen to the brass drowning out that trombone! Don't like the singer or anything else about this. I never did like anything Ellington ever did. He never had a band all in tune. It always had a bad tone quality and bad blend. I don't like Lawrence Brown either. I wouldn't pay 25 cents for this record. I'd just as soon listen to a hillbilly hand on a juke box.'

If I hadn't known that he believes that Duke will walk through the hallowed portals at the second Coming, I would have thought that Ruby Braff had depped for Jack at that blindfold test.

But how on earth can one reconcile Jack's opinion of Duke? Jack was a consummate musician who made all but Louis and Hawk and the Duke's men, give or take a Bechet or two, sound like amateurs, and he must have known the Duke's worth. There wasn't a trace of malice in Tea, quite the opposite, so how do we unravel this mystery? Has he been misquoted? Feather has a weakness for the melodramatic, but he wouldn't have distorted what the great man said. And. incidentally, he always chose the records for such occasions with imagination. Of Bill Harris on Woody's I Wonder Jack said 'He's not exactly my taste, but it's clean. it's right and it's clever. He's building something.'

As one who is convinced that, when the golden gates open for the Second Coming, Jack Teagarden, Bill Harris and the Duke will walk through arm in arm, I'll buy that. Incidentally, I think they'll have Buck, Doc Cheatham, Rex, Fats, Clifford and Miles to blow the fanfare.

It hurts to think that when they do I'll probably be shovelling coke alongside Dizzy in a place where there's sure as Hell no Bulgarian Red.

-Steve Voce

Clark Terry, Louie Bellson and Smedley’s Army

Edited from a column in Jazz Journal, November 1985
added 2011-08-29

Would you pay several pounds for tickets to a concert given by musicians whose names you didn't know? That's what several thousand people did in London recently when Norman Granz put on two shows at the London Palladium. I'd already heard the line-up from Nat Pierce, but the oohs and aahs which greeted the name of each artist as Granz announced it from the stage, proved that the audience had just come along on the strength of it being a Granz package. I'll bet even now that most people don't know that Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Lockjaw Davis, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Joe Pass and Louie Bellson played those superb concerts.

Milt played like he was on demob leave from the MJQ, and some of his remarks on the band coach testified to this.

We were waiting in the coach outside the group's hotel to leave for the theatre. The musicians had accepted a rule that anyone who was more than five minutes late for the coach walked. Dizzy was fifteen minutes late but generosity prevailed and we waited. `When the mother shows up let's give him the silent treatment', Zoot suggested. `Hell, no' said Milt emphatically, I just finished 20 years of that, three days at a time, day and night'.

The tour schedule had almost 20 days of bouncing about Europe, from London to Helsinki. The men had flown in from Amsterdam that afternoon after an early morning start. Clark Terry had just dropped into exhausted unconsciousness when I rang his hotel room. Dizzy, however, was brightly chatting up the other guests in the lobby, and he showed no signs of wear. `These other guys have been trying to tear Europe apart all at once', he said. `I been behaving myself'.

I noticed that Clark and Oscar Peterson called Granz 'Smedley', and recalled a Blues For Smedley they recorded a dozen years or so back. 'It happened many years ago', Clark recalled. `Oscar was looking at Norman one day and he said "You know, you look like an English butler called Smedley". It stuck ever since'.

Smedley came on stage and introduced his dream band for the first house. Milt came on and the show really took fire as he went into business with Peterson, Pass, Brown and Bellson. He played with great feeling on blues, ballads and tear-ups, concluding with a driving Bag's Groove which, like the rest of the numbers, showed him in genuine partnership with the other musicians. Lockjaw was certainly the more aggressive, but the content of what he played was no match for Zoot's subtlety. But then this is the way Granz intends it. In the dressing room before the concert he said `I like my musicians to be friends off stage, but when they go out there and play, I want blood.'

`Surely with someone as experienced as Dizzy you won't get that kind of competitive reaction ?' I asked. He and Clark laughed immoderately. `You couldn't have picked a better example', Clark said. `Dizzy is the ultimate competitor. It makes it hard for me, though, because Roy and Francois' (an unexplained name for Gillespie) `are the cats who started all this music, and I ain't going to mess with them'.

Louie Bellson played the drum solo. It was a brilliant piece of work, as one would expect from one of the greatest drummers of them all, and for me made a satisfying pair with the work of Bob Rosengarten, whose fine-tailored drumming we heard with the WGJB the week before.

Clark told me a lovely story involving Louie. It went back to the time when Bellson and Charlie Shavers were both with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and roomed together on tour. It seemed that Louie would never go to bed until he saw Charlie in bed and asleep. He explained why. Charlie always took a hot bath last thing each night. On this occasion he went into the bathroom as Louie was falling asleep. Louie woke in the middle of the night to find the light still on and no Charlie. He went into the bathroom, and there was Charlie asleep in the cold bath with the water up to his chin. `Hey Charlie! ', Louie shouted, rushing towards him. Charlie turned over in his sleep and reached down to pull up the blankets and pulled a large wave of cold water over his face and over the sides of the bath.

Dizzy and Clark played well up to form in both houses, but this time Smedley got his blood as Roy edged into the lead with display of the best trumpet I've ever heard him play in concert. He was intense, disciplined and carefully measured, and the great surges of power he came through with (particularly that unexpected explosion into What's New?) were trumpet playing at its best. His corrosive tight-muting contrasted with Clark's softer sound, and where Clark was fast and elegant, Roy was more direct and basic. Francois climbed back in with a fiery style that sounded like a combination of Clark and Roy, picking his notes with care and then rocketing off into those superb runs which have always characterised his style. This was a Satch and Josh or wrestler's tricks situation with a vengeance, and there was certainly no room for any coasting from anyone. One slip and the wolves would pounce.

An example of the incredible resilience of this kind of musician came in the second house. I was backstage in the dressing room listening over the house speakers and talking to Clark, Dizzy and Norman. Gradually the enormous fatigue of all the travelling overcame Clarke, and his absolute exhaustion began to show. 'I'm due on in five minutes. If I go to sleep now, will you wake me?' He dropped into deep unconsciousness and about three minutes later the Tannoy called `Clark Terry on stage, please'. I shook him hard and he came round out of a deep sleep. I explained, and he grabbed his trumpet (no fluegels on this tour) and made the stage just in time, and shot straight into the first solo, putting those agile, skittering phrases together with all the powerful form and knife edge needed to stand up to Roy and Dizzy. In both houses it was particularly noticeable how well the other two improvised licks behind the soloist, and in the second house they dealt out a blues, complete with knocked out vocals, which deserved to be preserved for record (incidentally Norman seemed to be recording a lot of these concerts on tour with a view to issue on Pablo). It was impossible for anyone to detect Clark's tiredness and he played with all the inventiveness and inspiration of a man who's just had eight hours sleep!

After the concerts everyone seemed to throw off their tiredness, even Oscar Peterson, who had worked harder than anyone, and most went off on the coach to eat at an Armenian restaurant of Norman's recommendation. Zoot and Bags went off with Annie Ross.

Alan Appleton and I went round to breakfast with Clark the next morning before the group left for Brussels. Zoot had very obviously been giving it one the night before. As we stood on the pavement by the coach, he was peeling an orange. It took him ten minutes. He finally completed the job, just as the coach was leaving. He climbed the steps, and then slowly turned round and threw the orange into a nearby grid. It's a hard life.

It was one hell of a pair of concerts, of the kind we hear far too infrequently. My compliments to the chef. Or should it be the butler?

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal December 1985.
added 2011-08-03

More sad news, but in a back-handed way. Buck Clayton writes in late October 1985 `No one in the jazz scene has died since I wrote you last. I guess we're having a cooling off period but it's about time as for a while there it seemed that every week somebody passed. I think Sam Woodyard was the last I heard of, or perhaps Ed Lewis (Ed Lewis had been found floating down the Hudson with his face bashed in – SV) who was Basie’s first trumpeter for years ...'.

That is sad news. It's hard to decide if Sam or Sonny Greer was the greatest Ellington drummer. They were so different that they can't be evaluated against each other. But they undoubtedly played a vital part in the contemporary Ellington sound for many years.

Sam Woodyard was a great character, a man who I often saw but never met. One of his colleagues retold an incident from when the band played Antibes.

Sam had had a heavy night and when he awoke at what he assumed to be about three o'clock in the morning, he found that he had left the light on and that it was dazzling him. He put up with it for some time but couldn't get back to sleep so staggered across the room with his arm stretched out to turn it off.

But he kept on staggering, and it took some minutes before he fell over and came round enough to realise that he was under the fierce midday sun on the sandy beach where he had passed out the night before.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in February 1988
added 2011-08-02

`This night thy soul shall be required of thee.' What a chilling way they had of putting things in those days. Well, my old turkey, let's hope that that night, when I become a gorilla-gram for God, is a long way the hell hence from here. But I find that as it approaches the passage of the years dulls one's sense of adventure and I retrench in my chosen listening to the men of the middle years - Ellington, Parker, Young, Getz and Davis. It was while indulging myself over Christmas and letting reviews, obituaries and column writing go hang while I listened for the hell of it, that I encountered Miles' Heavy Day. It was in the cold New York winter of 1951.

Miles had left the Charlie Parker Quintet some time before, and Charlie had been working under contract to Norman Granz for about a year. Norman recorded Charlie in many different settings until he finally decided to use him with his current sidemen Walter Bishop and Teddy Kotick, plus Miles and Max Roach from the old quintet. This was the session on Wednesday, January 17 which produced two takes each of Au Privave and She Rote along with the classic Star Eyes and a powerful and spontaneous K. C. Blues (all on Verve 2356 087). Later that day Miles had been booked for his first session under contract to Prestige. He used Benny Green, Sonny Rollins, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Roy Haynes in a session that was not one of his best. However, there is a fragile charm to the two takes of Blue Room (Prestige PR 7674), although the hard day was beginning to tell on Miles' chops. He rounded the day off by appearing as pianist on Sonny Rollins' first date as a leader, also for Prestige, when I'll Know (Esquire 32035), credited to Miles but actually based on Parker's Confirmation, was cut.

I wondered at such intense activity and flicked through the discographies to see what else had been happening. The result was a short but amazing period of concentrated jazz recording - would that it happened on the same scale now. Here is what I found, with catalogue numbers as they were or are available in the UK.

Two days before, on Monday, January 15, Norman Granz recorded what was, within days, to become the Johnny Hodges Band when Rabbit, Lawrence Brown and Sonny Greer left Duke. Four titles were includes these and subsequent Hodges titles mentioned). Granz was back in the studio the next day, January 16, for six titles with Lester Young, John Lewis, Gene Ramey and Jo Jones (Verve 2683 066; while over at Prestige Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Junior Mance and Gene Wright recorded several titles including Blue and Sentimental (Esquire 10-358). The Parker, Davis and Rollins sessions took place on the 17th and on that day Sarah Vaughan recorded Ave Maria!

That Saturday, January 21, saw the Ellington band in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in aid of the NAACP (DJM DJD 28035). As we have seen, Hodges was already recording his new band, but he, Brown and Greer were still with Duke at the Metropolitan where A Tone Parallel To Harlem received its premier and Johnny and Lawrence made typical contributions in Ring Dem Bells and Rose Of The Rio Grande. After they left the band Britt Woodman came in on trombone and then the Great James raid took place and Duke took Willie Smith, Juan Tizol and Louie Bellson from the Harry James band. It is not recorded what James had to say about this. However, in the few weeks up to the Ellington Coronets' recording (Vogue VJD 525) and the Fancy Dan /Hawk Talks session (CBS 88128) in May, the Ellington band style underwent one of its greatest ever upheavals, retaining the old characteristics where necessary, but wiping the floor with any opposition in a new big band style powered by Bellson.

-Steve Voce

Memories of Duke

Published in Jazz Journal April 1994.
added 2011-08-07

Lemon Cookie

As one becomes older it seems that the world becomes a more violent place. But really it doesn't change much.During the forties and fifties many jazz musicians in America felt the need to arm themselves for personal protection as sometimes they worked in dangerous surroundings. Ben Webster always carried a knife and Buck Clayton was rarely without his 'Saturday night special',a home-made pistol very popular in those times. Of course Buck didn't shoot anybody.

Ray Nance's wife recalled that, whilst in Texas with the Ellington band, Ray bought himself a revolver. Some days later the band bus was stopped by police who were searching for a gang of black men who had just carried out an armed robbery. Despite the fact that those on the bus were palpably the Duke Ellington band on tour, the police considered the musicians to be suspects and decided to search them all. As the police worked their way up the bus Ray panicked about the revolver and what would happen if he was found with it on him. He passed the gun to his wife who swiftly lifted her skirt and slipped it down the front of her pants. `You aren't going to search me now, are you?' she asked as the policeman checked Ray over. He stared at her, hard. 'O.K. then, I guess not,' he said and moved on.

Mrs Nance told the story at the Duke Ellington Music Society's (DEMS) Ellington '93 convention in New York. But the best of last year's crop was the Lemon Cookie story, which was recalled by bassist Aaron Bell. This was originally told by Paul Gonsalves on the band bus during the fifties and apparently had the band in an uproar for three days. I managed to retell the story over the radio, yet I suppose it's too long and too outrageous to be printed here. But if we should ever meet, don't let me go without telling it to you.

Riding On A Blue Note

The DEMS is a remarkable body. The membership has been closed for many years, and I think I was one of the last to be admitted. It is run by the eccentric Benny Aasland and his wife from their home in Stockholm and apart from the annual jamborees, the society is best illustrated by its magazine, DEMS Bulletin.

The DEMS members are the sort of people who will draw blood over whether the Duke Ellington band made a short wave broadcast to England on May 21, 1937 or whether it was May 22. Nobody recalls hearing the broadcast but one of the members chased up the BBC Written Archives Centre and made them dig out the Radio Times for that week. The broadcast wasn't listed, but that didn't stop the members exercising themselves over it. Aasland even unearthed a mention of the event in The New Yorker of 15 May 1937, which, alas, didn't prove to be revealing

What amazes and delights me is that these people will go to endless lengths to split a Ducal hair and woe betide anyone like me who makes an error within the glare of their pages. They are skilled in the application of corrosive scorn and are not to be trifled with. (One excludes from this the major Ellington scholar Sjef Hoefsmit, one of the kindest men I ever met).

The hapless Alun Morgan, sleeve note writer in excelsis, is given a swift going over in passing by Benny Aasland in the latest issue of the bulletin. Referring to a new CD, Duke Ellington At Birdland, on Alan Steffensen's ever surprising Ja Unlimited label (JUCD 2036), Benny Aasland comments on the excellent sound quality of the release and then beats his breast about the fact that a 1983 edition (of) the bulletin in a paragraph headed Things To Come gave the date of the session ; November 22, 1952 when the correct da is November 20, 1952. The members stayed indoors with curtains drawn for three days.

`The included notes are written by one Mr Alun Morgan (dated February 1993) wrote Mr Aasland, `who is unaware of the replacement of Louie Bellson by Ed Shaugnnessy (not mentioned anywhere until pointed out by me in connection with the above Things To Come) and Threesome (mentioned in the Morgan notes) is said retitled VIP's Boogie ( However, the two parts of Threesome were retitled as VIP's Boogie and Jam With Sam.'

I 'phoned Irene Morgan to discover into which river her husband had deposited his remorse-crazed corpse, only to have the r-cc answer in person. Alun has had the temerity to operate as an Ellington expert for the best part of half a century without Mr Aasland's knowledge. Alun has written a few books and also liner notes for more than two thousand jazz albums including Ellington and Hodges ones of Verve, Capitol, Affinity and many other labels. So he knew, as I did and Mr Aasland didn't, that it's Louie Bellson and not Louis and that it's Ed Shaughnessy and not Shaughnnessy. But we are both big enough to own up that we wish we could split hairs in Swedish as well as Mr Aasland can divide them in English.

The DEMS themselves are not infallible, having on one of their LPs published as `Untitled' the easily identifiable Ellington tune Don't Ever Say Goodbye. They also sometimes think they know better than Duke about his own work. Another of their albums, produced by Jerry Valburn, includes Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue with the abrupt information 'Gonsalves solo has been edited out'.

Stanley Dance seems to regard the DEMS with the kind of scorn which DEMS in turn applies to people like me who make mistakes about dates and things. Stanley refuses all their demands to supply dates for the various Ellington sessions from the Mercer Ellington collection to which he must have access.

I must solemnly admit that I can listen to and enjoy the music without being tortured by not knowing the dates, but I can't see why the world shouldn't have them, what with Stanley being regarded as a historian and all that. It does seem silly that we know, with the Laserlight Birthday Ellington albums, that they were recorded on Duke's birthday, April 29, but we don't know in which years. Does Stanley take pleasure in this negative wielding of power? I think we should be told.

-Steve Voce

Django and the Duke

Published in Jazz Journal August 1996
added 2011-08-07

Having heard the legends of Django Reinhardt's visit to the US in 1946, I was delighted to be able to play to Ruby some of the music he made there with the Ellington band. I hadn't known that any recordings existed, but they surely do and can be heard in fine quality on a unique double CD set, Duke Ellington-The Great Chicago Concerts, on MusicMasters 01612-65110. The label is widely available here, being imported into this country by Nimbus Records.

When Django arrived in the States he did so without a guitar, for he assumed that the guitar companies would be queuing up to lay a free instrument on him. Alas, they weren't, and he had to borrow one.

Reinhardt had played with Ellington musicians in Paris. Indeed that incredible quartet session with Rex Stewart and Barney Bigard just before the war remains one of the finest examples of small group jazz. The musicians had only one hour to record and had never played together before. `How will Django manage?' Rex asked Panassie. ‘Just play,' said the Frenchman. `He'll follow.' Afterwards Rex remarked that of the 10 best guitar players in the world, Reinhardt was five of them. During the same visit Ellington played with the guitarist in a small club.

I mentioned to Ruby before we heard the music from the 1946 concert that Duke had not written much to feature the guitarist. When he heard Honeysuckle Rose Ruby disagreed (another belting), but I insist that Duke had put together sparse charts to feature the guitar – quite probably and certainly possibly deliberately to point up the guitar solos. The band came in at the beginning and end of each number and there was little adornment in between. Ellington had written no special numbers to feature Reinhardt and when asked if he'd brought music of his own he said: `Play what you wish, I'll follow.'

The November tour seems to have been a great financial success, but as Dr Stratemann records, audience and critics didn't think much of the Deep South Suite that Ellington was playing. (In referring to the thought that it wasn't as good as Black, Brown And Beige, Downbeat unfortunately ascribed suicidal tendencies to the composer with the headline `Duke Fails To Top Himself'). Certainly the package didn't score at Carnegie Hall. Metronome pointed out that `the fault was only partly the guitarist's, however, because his performance was more than the band's adversely affected by the auditorium's chronically bad p.a. system and by the unfamiliar equipment that he had to use throughout his American performances'.

Apparently Duke didn't appreciate the guitarist's rather unpredictable behaviour and the two seem not to have hit it off during the tour. The fact that the Ellington band recorded for Musicraft in New York towards the end of the tour and didn't include Reinhardt may be self-evident.

But the 140 minutes from Chicago on the MusicMasters set bursts with great jazz from beginning to end, and in his autobiography Duke referred to Django as being `a very dear friend ... one whom I regard as among the few great inimitables of our music.'

MusicMasters 01612-65122 is called New York Concert and it contains a performance by an Ellington trio (Sam Woodyard and Peck Morrison) from May 20, 1964 with guest appearances by Willie The Lion Smith (apparently virtually dragged from the audience by Duke) and Billy Strayhorn. Ruby was much impressed by Duke's Bird Of Paradise, wherein, without knowing of his presence in the hall, Ruby detected the Lion's influence in Duke's playing. We listened to the Lion's version of Carolina Shout from the concert.

`Willie The Lion was the first person I ever played with in New York,' said Ruby. `It was on one of my High School visits. He was playing in a place called The Pied Piper. I don't know how I got to sit in with him, but he was quite wonderful. "I like your attack, boy," he growled. I knew him from then for the rest of his life. He had a duo thing with Don Ewell. They were marvellous together, and I played with them too.

`I played with Willie a lot of times. One time in Boston he scolded me when he heard me telling someone that I would accept a gig for the next night. It didn't occur to me that it was the most serious of Jewish festivals. I didn't know that Willie was Jewish   unusual for a black guy. He said: "Did I hear you say you were going to work tomorrow night? How can you work on Yom Kippur! I'll never speak to you again if you do that." So I didn't take the gig. He was very strict about observing Jewish holidays.

`He was a great musician and Duke was quite correct in telling people how he'd been influenced by him, because he was indeed. I was always surprised that he didn't write some kind of concerto for him and Willie to play at the piano with the orchestra. I suppose he had so much to do. Everybody wonders why he didn't do this, didn't do that, but it's such a wonder that he did all the things that he did!'

Readers should investigate MusicMasters. There are at least three more Ellington or Ellington-related albums, one of which, by the Louie Bellson band with Terry, Wess, Temperley, Stamm, Woodman and Art Baron, has a splendid half hour version of Black, Brown And Beige (01612-65096).

-Steve Voce

Leeds 1997 Ellington Conference

Published in Jazz Journal in July 1997

During a recent interview for the BBC Stanley Dance told me that Duke Ellington read the Bible through four times and as a result often gave Stanley advice on which bits to read. Stanley too is a Christian. `I suspect that all the people who reviewed Duke's Sacred Concerts were atheists,' Stanley told me. I had the decency to gulp.

So, in view of Ellington's virtually literal acceptance of biblical imagery, it was appropriate, even to those of us of secular bent, that there should be a celebration at the city's Cathedral Church of St Anne. The American soloists appeared again with the College of Music Orchestra, and the acoustics were good with an emotional high point when Kay Davis read Stanley Dance's original eulogy. Feeling the lightning accumulating in the ceiling, I left as the chaplain began to intone prayers.

Earlier, while beginning this piece, I had overlooked a discussion of Midriff by Pete Long and Bob Hunt of Echoes of Ellington. Sjef Hoefsmit told me that this was one of the highpoints of -the weekend.

Another was the barefoot ballet dancing of Monica Zamora, a ringer for Rita Hayworth, as Echoes played music from The Nutcracker.

`I can't believe what I'm hearing,' Sjef told me when the band played, and all the delegates from overseas were similarly amazed that such a fine orchestra could have come into being without their knowledge. The band played three long sets which took up the whole of the Sunday evening and we were gorged with a wonderful feast of ensemble and solo playing. In a discussion with Stanley Dance I suggested that Quentin Jackson was my favourite re-creator of the Nanton role. Stanley preferred Booty Wood and told me that Duke's favourite was Tyree Glenn. In fact Bob Hunt, who has graced these columns before, is as good as any of them were at raising the hairs on the back of one's neck. In lain Dixon the band has one of the country's leading tenor soloists and Jay Craig anchors the band with a Carney sound which might have been a blueprint for the original. Bruce Adams appeared in the Cat Anderson role, almost demolishing the walls with the coda on Jam With Sam. Pete Long is a hyperactive giant who plays clarinet, conceived the whole thing and leads and writes for the band. He is to be earnestly commended and, as space runs out, I must tell you that if the band appears within 20 miles of you it is worth walking to be there.

Roger Boyes, Peter Caswell, Elaine Norsworthy and the others must be feeling huge satisfaction at the result of their efforts. And everyone else is bulging with gratitude.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)
Webmaster's note:
This conference is described in detail by Sjef Hoefsmit in DEMS Bulletin 1997/2, from pages 6 to 10.

The Hard Times of Rolf Ericson:
Open Your Wallet And Say After Me ‘Help Yourself’

Published in Jazz Journal in August 1997.
added 2011-08-11

If you sit by the river long enough, the body of your enemy will go floating by.

I've always respected the truth of the Chinese proverb, and indeed I'm still sitting and rocking, but it's sad that so many of the good guys go floating past, too, and usually in threes. The amiable and expert trombonist Bob Burgess, the fine bassist Chuck Andrus and trumpeter Rolf Ericson died in June. They'd all been ill for a long time. Two weeks before Chuck died, John Williams, who served with him in Korea, travelled the couple of hundred miles from Sebring to Chuck's home in Boca Raton with a tenor-playing mutual friend, and Chuck was able to get out of bed and play a few numbers with them.

As Alun Morgan pointed out to me, Rolf Ericson was one of the three European trumpeters who rank with the best Americans - the other two being Jimmy Deuchar and Dusko Goykovich. Rolf was a great soloist and section man with a fabulous track-record of big bands he'd played in.

His entry into the Ellington band was rather eccentric. He'd got his girlfriend into difficulties at a time when he was penniless in New York. He went to Ellington and asked him if he could help with a loan. Duke opened his wallet and asked `How much do you need?' 'I don't know how or when I'd be able to pay you back,' said Rolf. 'Join my band and work it off,' said Duke. Trumpeter Roy Burrowes was coincidentally leaving Duke, so the seat was still warm.

Rolf's German wife Evelyn is an excellent singer in her own right. They met when Rolf lived and worked in Germany. Eventually he settled in Los Angeles where he was enormously popular and worked in the studios as well as taking jazz jobs. Five or six years ago Evelyn came to Europe on her own to tour. On her return to the States, she was stopped passing though immigration and asked for her address. When it was checked the authorities found that she hadn't been given US citizenship and she was refused permission to enter the country. She had to return to Europe. Rolf had no alternative but to sell up their house, car and everything and return to Europe to join her, where they settled in Stockholm.

-Steve Voce

Ray Nance: Thumping Through the Roof

Published in Jazz Journal in October 1997.
added 2011-08-11

Ray Nance has always seemed to me to epitomise what jazz is meant to be. He was a gifted instrumentalist, a hot and swinging vocalist, and a man gifted with a unique balance and athleticism that made his occasional dancing a jazz element and a delight to watch. Although Nance followers are vastly outnumbered by, say, Hodges or Webster fans, they are probably just as dedicated to their hero. One of them is Ruby Braff, who rates Ray's violin work as being amongst the highest echelons of jazz.

To some extent Ray was a mysterious figure, and he always gave the impression of being a loner. Perhaps this is not surprising, for in the Ellington band all was usually not well. Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart went for years without speaking to each other, and even someone as amiable as Clark Terry had those in the band about whom he couldn't think without becoming enraged. Apparently Ellington and Hodges were often not on the best of terms, but I suppose a close association of such length was bound to produce friction.

Originally Ray replaced Cootie in the band in 1940 and established himself with the trumpet solo (he later switched to cornet) on the original Take The A Train recording in 1941. When Ellington was forbidden by weird British laws from bringing his band here in 1948 he brought Kay Davis and Ray Nance (allowed in as `entertainers' and not as musicians) and toured with a British rhythm section. It included bassist Jack Fallon, who said of Ray:

`He was the king of stage presentation. When Duke would be playing he'd do a kind of jig, pecking round the stage, and every time he'd shoot his cuffs he made his coat tail go up. Then he'd pull his coat down-and up went his cuffs! He used to carry a pile of 78s around of all his old friends and I would say he was insecure, timid though not aggressive.'

The cornetist toured here again in 1966 in an economy package (a noted English musician turned down the job because the tour organiser was offering the sidemen four quid a night). Accompanied by a Bruce Turner group, Ray played and sang well. I recall that he was loaded on the two times that I saw him, but since probably I was too, I didn't mind. Digby Fairweather mentions the tour as being 'a not so happy time.'

Ray had left Duke in mysterious circumstances. On September 6, 1963, Ray flew from New York with the Ellington band for its first tour of the Near and Middle East and India (the tour was eventually aborted in Ankara because of he assassination of Kennedy on November 22). In a rather breathless sentence Klaus Stratemann recalled:

`Early in the tour, Ellington suffered the loss of multi-talented Ray Nance, who had to be sent home from Amman, Jordan, either because of illness ("a nervous condition aggravated by the change in going to the other side of the world" as Ellington stated), or because of offensive behaviour or drug abuse as other sources indicated at the time.'

Ellington himself was not in good health and on the tour Billy Strayhorn or Harry Carney occasionally fronted the band. Duke's weak condition may have been a factor in a startling recent revelation by Jerry Valburn on the Internet.

Apparently one night while the band was in India Cootie Williams went out on a bender and got drunk. When he returned to the band's hotel he sought out Ray Nance and gave him a severe beating. Cootie was a burly and well-muscled man against whom the diminutive Nance would have had no chance.

Nance went to Ellington, told him what had happened and demanded that Cootie be disciplined. Duke refused even to raise the matter with Williams. Ray walked out of the band. It would be interesting if Stanley would comment on the incident.

-Steve Voce

Ray Nance : Let's Face The Music And ...

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1998
added 2011-08-29

There are few people to be spoken of in the same breath as Louis Armstrong. Ray Nance is certainly one of them. I wrote of him in our October issue and of the incident which led to his leaving Duke in 1963 (Ray died on January 28, 1973). Ray's wife Gloria and I must have met at the Oldham Ellington conference in 1988 but neither of us remember. I am delighted that she has contacted me, and as I write we are planning a radio programme together on Ray and his music that will be transmitted in three days' time. Gloria has sent a gentle and lucid letter to me that puts in order the events of which I had written.

`How can I possibly fault the beginning of your piece? Where I take issue begins with "Ray left Duke in mysterious circumstances on September 6, 1963 ...". The remainder of the article it seems was based primarily, much to my dismay, on Jerry Valburn's words. I had read Jerry's misinformation in the New York TDES newsletter. I should have, I could have corrected the errors I found. But sometimes it seems so hard to go back to those long ago times. And for what? It's only when I come across someone with your apparent sensitivity that I feel it's even worth the effort.

`So firstly, Ray Nance was never in India. I believe the confrontation between Cootie and Ray happened in Beirut when someone stupidly booked them as roommates. I think that the next date was in Damascus. Both my mother and I received telegrams from the State Department asking that Ray's flight home be met. Duke's former barber, Billy Black (a good friend of ours) drove me to the airport where we saw Ray being escorted from the plane by a nurse in military uniform. Raymond was not released until the nurse literally handed him over to me. Of course our trip back to New York was a lot of "Hey man, what happened over there?" and "What really went down?" I'm not going to relate all those and subsequent conversations. I remember Ray and me having a joint session with Dr Albert Ellis a couple of days later.

`There were many guys on the band who barely spoke to each other. Cootie Williams had a number of serious health problems and consequently was never good company. Ray, on the other hand, generally got along with everyone with the exception of Cat Anderson. Paul had been our best man when Ray and I married in 1951. Clark Terry was always everyone's favourite. Sam Woodyard was a terrific guy to be with any time. But Cootie? No! There was no personality clash between Ray and Cootie. It was simply a matter of life going on and time taking its toll.

`A factor that Ray spoke of often was the assumption that all the men in the band would have to be unofficial diplomatic representatives of America for every day of that tour. Many guys resented this additional burden put upon them. Certainly Ray did. It was a drag having to go to social teas and cocktail parties and mingle.

`And then it seems that Ray was not feeling good in Beirut or Damascus, whichever city came first on their itinerary. Ray was spending much time in bed. As he said "I was just trying to get myself together for the gig that night." It was early evening when Cootie came into the room and wanted to know what the f. was the matter with Ray being in bed all that day? As we know, one word led to another, and about 10 minutes later Cootie told Ray to start behaving like a man and slapped Ray's face. I distinctly remember Ray telling Dr Ellis that he was so stunned by this action that he just stood there immobilised.

`Well, it seems that Cootie pretty much forgot the incident by the next day – but not Ray Nance. Ray could neither resolve nor understand the episode. He thought about it constantly, minute by minute, hour by hour, actually brooding. And then he found himself unable to play (a) because one of his idols disrespected him to such a marked degree and (b) because he began to think that he should have defended himself and not allowed Cootie to slap him as if he were little more than a pussy. I think that very night Ray sat on the bandstand and didn't play. He said he couldn't.

`To make matters worse it seems that Ray sat on the stage with his legs crossed. I can see him now. I know that posture. The mid-Eastern audiences were not as familiar with it as I, though. They read defiance, and refusal to play for them, a paying audience. I was later told by a midEastern expert that to cross his legs in public is about the most insulting thing a man can do. Duke didn't know about this, nor did Ray. For that matter, no one ever mentioned it until after the fact. But the audience started to boo and hiss and was actually getting out of hand. Ray never understood. He, who was so used to applause and bravos, suddenly had to deal with intense dislike and disapproval. He asked Duke to send him home. That's when the psychiatrist was brought in to evaluate his condition. Things didn't improve if anything the audience the next night was even more vocal in its displeasure.

`I must emphasise that Ray Nance would never presume to tell Duke Ellington how to run his band and would certainly never, never tell him who to keep on the payroll. If Duke was looking for a trumpet player, Ray might make a suggestion. In that respect I do believe it was Ray who helped Al Hibbler get on the band. In fact Al and Ray happily roomed together that first year or so.

`Jerry's remarks about Ray's demands of Duke regarding Cootie are really offensive to me and most certainly incorrect for that matter. Anyone who actually knew Ray or Duke would know that this could never happen. Duke ran the show!! Sometimes if there was mismanagement of the money, as there sometimes was, Ray or other band members would complain to Duke, but never would any one sideman speak about the music, the choice of music or soloists or the personnel of the band.'

It was a great pleasure, during 1997, to be able to introduce Joe Wilder and Buddy Childers, two trumpeters who admired each other's work over the years but had never met. At the end of the year I was able to repeat the procedure with another unknown mutual fan club by putting Ruby Braff in touch with Bobby Shew. More on that when space permits.

Meanwhile the death of Johnny Coles, one of the most potent trumpet soloists of the last 30 years and a very nice man, is sad news. Johnny was lonely while in the Ellington band because he wasn't a member of any of the cliques.

-Steve Voce

Burglar Duke

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1999
added 2011-08-29

Did Barney Bigard compose Mood Indigo? Did Lawrence Brown write Sophisticated Lady? Were Hodges, Bigard and Carney the creators of Rockin' In Rhythm?

Forty years ago, speaking of Jones and other boppy compositions that he wrote while in the Ellington band, Clark Terry explained the system to me. `Because you're in the band at the time, Duke automatically got half the composer credit. By the time his company has published your tune, you find out that it's four-fifths his and one-fifth yours.'

I'm grateful to Ann Kuebler, who assembled the following relevant quotes not in malice but in wonder.

Cootie Williams: `That's all it meant. One of the biggest things that I did there was Concerto For Cootie. I stood on the bus, down there on the steps of the bus from Boston to New York begging him to buy the song for $25.00.'

Helen Oakley Dance: `Well what was he saying? He didn't know if he was going to like it?'

Williams: `Yeah, yeah, it was whole lot of jive. By the time we got to New York he said, "Well, OK, I'll buy it".'

Dance: `If your name had got on the number, you would have shared in those royalties, wouldn't you?'

Williams: `No, he had bought the song. All of us used to sell the songs to him for $25. Some of the fellas, in later years, they sued him. But I didn't do it. No, I believed in if I sold a person something and he paid for it, I didn't believe in going back, you know, and saying I didn't mean it that way. So I let it go. It was fun then. You know, I got a lot of experience doing things like that. And it was a pleasure, you know, to have the band to play your song. To have someone playing your song. That's why we did it.'

Lawrence Brown: `I got the terrific cheque for $15.00 for playing - for writing Sophisticated Lady.'

Patricia Willard: `Have you ever gotten co-composer credits?'

Brown: `No. No. That cheque cancels you out. See, no one knew what was going to happen. You never know when you had a good coming number on your hands. So in fact we didn't even care. We were just doing something that we wanted to do.'

Juan Tizol: `Well, he changed around a lot of stuff. Out of one composition, he made three compositions.'

Willard: `And sometimes, he would take an old one?'

Tizol: `Like (sings Once In A While) –- oh, he made that one up. He made it into that one (sings I Let A Song). And I forgot what other one. He used to steal from one to the other, and change it around and make a tune out of it. Sure. Oh, he'd steal like mad, no questions about it. He'd steal that from his own self.'

Brown: `Once In A While, I played a solo on Once In A While and Johnny Hodges with his little inventive self always inventing something. Always giving something to somebody. Come up on I Let A Song? That's an obbligato of Johnny Hodges against the melody of Once In A While. And what's that other tune? Don't Get Around Much Anymore? Johnny Hodges. That's another one of the fellows that never received near what he should have.'

Willard: `And so those melodies were Johnny's creations?'

Brown: `The saxophone players sat back on the stand and would create these melodic extravaganzas on tunes that were being played. And of course, they became tunes.

Williams: `I try to, you know, tell a story when I'm playing. Some people play on chord construction and I don't play on chord construction. I like to have a melody. I like to read the music down. And see what the composer intended for it to be in order for me to play it to get a feeling out of it. Now if you've got just the chord construction there, you ain't got nothing but chords, I don't know what the song is. What his idea of anything is. Once you have a melody there and I can see this melody and play this melody over and see his idea - then I can improvise on this melody to do something with it.'

Brown: `The only thing is that whenever I would be given a solo, you know, where the whole number sort of depended on one, I would plan the whole number. I had a system that I used to try to perfect these solos. I wouldn't get up and just play anything that came across my mind. I would first go into a study without the horn. I would mentally play the lead - I mean the theme - then with slight deviations, and then with more deviations, and then hear where the band would come in and make embellishments, and then I'd come in with more. And when I got through with this routine, I could hear myself play the number as I wanted to hear it. And still not have touched the horn. Then after that, I'd pick up the horn and play it.'

Willard: `So you did that every time?'

Brown: `I did that almost every time. You see in that band also, when you were given a solo that nobody - that's your composition. Your composition for the particular way you wanted to hear it played. I mean, you routine it the way you want it. Nobody framed it for you or said, "Play this. Play that." No, you did that yourself. And you usually worked so that it would sound the best to yourself.'

To complicate matters further Jane Volmer's research indicates that Johnny Hodges co-composed with Ellington about the same number of single compositions as Billy Strayhorn did. Her studies indicate that many of the Strayhorn/Ellington compositions were recycled from Ellington's melodies.

-Steve Voce

Lend Me An Ear

Published in Jazz Journal in May 1999.
added 2011-08-29

The record companies are doing well by Edward Kennedy, particularly when one considers that we, the specialist listeners to the real jazz, are a pretty insignificant minority. Readers will be aware that this column inclines very favourably to the Mosaic label. This is not just because its productions are so intelligently and impeccably done, it is also because the music it encompasses is what I feel to be the core of our music. No matter how good the younger players sound today, they are branches, or even twigs, off the main trunk. On Mosaic you can find Wild Bill Davison or Thad Jones, Ed Hall or Stan Getz improvising timeless music that achieved its power and momentum by the fact that it was original. There are few trailblazers in today's music – as an aside, it is British composers and their bands like Gibbs, Westbrook and Towns, who are prominent in these roles.

But the music that you and I like doesn't sell. Mosaic have to be shrewd in their packages because if they're not the boxes sit on the shelves for longer than the time that it takes to get a return on them.

If Cuscuna and Lourie didn't love our kind of jazz so much, they could easily make more money elsewhere in the record business. Consider this. The Fresh Sound Conte Candoli recording that came 5th in our ROTY poll hasn't yet sold 800 copies. Joshua Redman's first CD sold 150,000 copies. Phil Woods hasn't come close to that in total of all his albums in the 40 years he has been recording.

So, we must be grateful when RCA bring out a 24-CD set of everything that Ellington recorded for the label between 1927 and 1973 (09026 63386). The early recordings for the label, at a time when Duke recorded the same tunes for many different catalogues, were much the best. There's a gap in the late 1930s when he went elsewhere, but the recordings for Victor by the 1940-42 band are at the tip of the pinnacle of jazz.

RCA have sent me a three-CD extract from the set, and one's first impression is of the much improved sound when compared to the Blanton-Webster album or the LP of the 1952 Seattle concert – although admittedly there's only one track from the latter on my sampler.

Two dozen CDs want a lot of playing and some people might regard the set as overkill. But Duke's music is so varied and full of moment that the project is fully justified. From the earliest stomps to the reflective piano of New World A-Comin' here is RCA's part of what is without doubt the finest body of music in jazz.

I believe that it is Orrin Keepnews who is responsible for the restoration of the sound quality of the set. Fortunately Orrin is of the old school who believes in if it ain't broke don't fix it. At least in regard to the turning of mono into phoney stereo. Although violating the RCAs in this manner was never considered, Orrin did express an opinion. His argument against the process included the suggestion that because the original studios were miked for mono it isn't possible to recreate the ambience in a very different stereo set-up.

The indivisibility of a section containing Bigard, Hodges, Hardwick, Webster and Carney that was originally recorded in mono is obvious.

The Ellington band was coincidentally at its best in the years of the switch from mono to stereo. It reached a peak in the mono album originally entitled Historically Speaking that was recorded for Bethlehem in 1956 and sustained in it the 1957 Such Sweet Thunder for Columbia and then rarely achieved such sustained form again.

-Steve Voce

Vanity Thy Name Is Hajdu

Published in Jazz Journal in June 1999
added 2011-08-29

Ken Vail sent me a copy of his dazzling ‘Duke's Diary Part One: The Life of Duke Ellington 1927-1950’ (Vail Publishing 367pp. £28.00). He said that he had been nervous of doing so because I had suggested that as far as research on matters Ellingtonian is concerned, Eddie Lambert's book was a good place to stop. In the face of Ken's wonderful achievement I was embarrassed and unhesitatingly commend the book to readers of this magazine.

I had expressed myself badly. It had been my hope that speculation about Ellington and what might have been his intentions would cease. One commonly sees on the Internet suggestions that deduce things about Ellington from his actions. Quickly the suggestion, mere speculation of course, becomes accepted as fact, and there follows total distortion of the reality of yet another aspect of Ellington's life.

In an essay published in the May issue of Vanity Fair, David Hajdu suggests that the relationship between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn was a homosexual one. `Unless you're a congenital liar, you find it awfully difficult to apologise for something that you're proud of having done,' Hajdu writes in retrospect of his piece.

It will be recalled that many of us who read Hajdu's biography of Strayhorn viewed with distaste the copious and unnecessary detail that Hajdu had dug up about the man's private life. Strayhorn himself had always been discreet about such matters while he moved in the world of music, and it seemed eminently disrespectful to him to rip the cover off it and cast it under floodlighting. Hajdu dwelt to such an extent on the extremely private matter of Strayhorn's sexuality that it became a sensation and, as he writes in his latest piece, `Film maker Irwin Winkler is now casting a screen version of Strayhorn's life'. So, what should be nobody's business has become everybody's business.

Ellington and Strayhorn thought as one when it came to the creation of music. Their lives were devoted to their music and because this was the most important element in their lives they lived closely together, worked together on buses and trains, shared rooms and so on.

I find it outrageous that Hajdu's Vanity Fair article implies throughout its text (four pages of the magazine) that there was a reciprocal homosexual relationship between the two men. No hard evidence is given to confirm this suggestion. `The degree to which the mercurial love between the pair may or may not have seeped past the chalk lines of heterosexual friendship is unknowable,' he writes, `though it proved to be anything but imponderable.'

We need to be precise here. The Oxford Dictionary says that `unknowable' means `that cannot be known'. `Imponderable' means something `that cannot be estimated or assessed in any definite way.' If it cannot be known, how can it be estimated in any definite way?

I don't understand why Hajdu uses the word `heterosexual', which means 'feeling or involving sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex.' I suspect that this is careless writing.

Quotes that Hajdu assumes support his theory come from trombonist/arranger Billy Byers, Duke's son Mercer, and Marian Logan, the wife of Ellington's doctor. They are all dead so we cannot ask for amplification.

This would have been particularly useful in the case of Mercer Ellington. It is crucial that the sentence that follows was written by Hajdu, not by Mercer.

`As for Duke, Mercer said - with no hint of spin - he had always simply assumed that his father's bond with Strayhorn, his legendary sexual appetite, and his seemingly boundless sense of adventure likely led to some experimentation with Strayhorn.' When did Mercer say this? Who did he say it to? We are not told.

Mercer is quoted as saying `I don't know for a fact - I didn't watch them. I just presumed as much. So did the cats (in the band). One told me he walked in on them one time. I never pressed the issue. It seemed like a given'.

That is the nearest we get to `evidence'. Assumption and hearsay. Who walked in on what? This seems like a smear.

Among the living, Lena Horne is described by Hajdu as 'Strayhorn's dearest friend and confidante'. With Hajdu's degree of ponderables those terms might be thought to imply that Lena had a sexual relationship with Billy, although of course she did not. Yet because Duke was also Strayhorn's dearest friend and confidante it is suggested that the relationship went further.

George Avakian, who produced many of Ellington's albums for Columbia, is quoted as saying `It was obviously a special relationship. Duke had an enormous love for Billy apart from his work.' Yes, of course he did, but so what? They were friends.

The subject matter of Hajdu's article is at best none of his or our business. At worst it is, well, I don't know what are the ultimate intentions of the author ...

Surprisingly Hajdu is the president of the Duke Ellington Society. In an illustration of his lack of sensitivity he says his piece has caused `much more of a to-do than I anticipated', and feels the need to justify himself to the members of the society. There is more of his strange grammar. He writes in its latest newsletter:

`I ask anyone unhappy with the piece to consider himself why. Is it really rational to accept if not glorify an artist's womanising as a component of his cool, yet horrible to accept the mere idea of intimacy between two people who were close for 30 years?'

Again, it's difficult to penetrate the meaning of these sentences. Nobody argues about the entirely laudable fact of Ellington's and Strayhorn's intimate relationship. It was an essential part of their music. Back to the Oxford Dictionary: `Intimate closely acquainted, familiar, close'. It has a secondary meaning of 'having sexual relations.' I wonder which meaning Hajdu had in mind?

Hajdu is selective in using only quotations that support his theory. He does not, for instance use a quote from Mercer Ellington that would have been relevant: `There was only two things in my father's life ... his ladies and his music.'

Mr Hajdu also pussyfoots alarmingly and ducks out on being specific about his conclusion. Having gone to such length to construct his edifice, he should not be afraid to say `I think that Duke Ellington was a homosexual'. Readers will have their own thoughts about why he appears not to want to be specific.

If I was a member of the Duke Ellington Society I would have asked him to resign his presidency.

-Steve Voce

Oh What Fools

Published in Jazz Journal in July 1999
added 2011-08-29

Sony Jazz and their Columbia/Legacy label have taken a beating recently for not matching RCA Victor's 24 CD Ellington set from their own resources. This is highly unfair, for Sony have in fact unearthed more unissued material for the remarkable Ellington issues they have brought out. Most exciting amongst these is Ellington At Newport (Complete) on Columbia/Legacy C2K 64932, a double CD set that brings 2 hours and 10 minutes of turbulent and invigorating music for about 14 quid.

Sharon Kelly is the lady in charge of dealing with the press at Sony Jazz, and she rushed the new albums to me before they were issued so that they could be included in Jazz Panorama. (Until this month I hadn't realised that Sharon is also a jazz pianist who has played professionally at Nice, amongst other places.)

On the programme I was able to play to Clark Terry his feature Up And Down, Up And Down. The 77-minute ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ album (CK 65568) includes nine previously unreleased tracks, including four pieces from ‘Such Sweet Thunder’. Unhappily the original Up And Down has been replaced by a lesser version that omits Terry's half-valved `Oh what fools these mortals' coda. Clark, who incidentally, sounded completely exhausted, was not best pleased, particularly since the original version has been omitted.

There seems to have been a bit of a barney over their roles in the Newport album between George Avakian and Phil Schaap at the Ellington Conference in Washington. No space here now, but more on that next month and more comments on the Newport and other Sony Ellingtons.

-Steve Voce

Troubles With Ellington

Published in Jazz Journal in August 1999
added 2011-08-29

(2011: I discussed this in various conversations with my friend George Avakian 12 years ago. He seemed to feel he’d been misrepresented elsewhere in the Sony matter, and I remember being very much on his side. But then I always was. There’s more on this under Newport Down below – SV).

George Avakian is one of the more illustrious figures of jazz album production. He has always been a benign influence on the music and is a man who recalls his unique and vital knowledge of things past at Columbia with intelligent clarity.

Phil Schaap is the epitome of the bright young man of the industry. Despite his comparative youth he has amassed a huge knowledge of the history of our music which he is able to interpret sensitively and with relevance.

We are lucky to have skills like theirs available to us; which doesn't mean we can't laugh when they put on a music hall act, as they did at the recent convention of the Duke Ellington Music Society in Washington.

Schaap was addressing the audience on the subject of the new Columbia/Legacy Ellingtons. `It's not enough' interrupted George Avakian `that you've caused two major complete lies to be published in the press release for the new CD edition of Ellington At Newport, and which you repeated on the back cover of the CD box, without also having violated Ellington's express wishes and his privacy by irresponsibly and disrespectfully sending forth to the world the contents of his personal trash can in further violation of the contract with Columbia Records dated June 30, 1956.'
`Mr Avakian is pretty upset with me.'
`No, I'm upset for Duke more than for myself.'
`Well then Duke and I will have to have this out at a much later date.'
`I don't know if you'll see him'!
"Just for a point of order on this. I didn't write either of the two documents that Mr Avakian just mentioned and secondly I haven't even read the second one.'

The original transfer of Ellington's 1956 Newport music to LP was a mess, largely because the position of the CBS microphones wrecked the recordings. However the Voice Of America had a separate set of mikes, and their recordings were OK (the BBC issued me and other jazz presenters with tapes of these more than 25 years ago. If I'd known they were important ...). Anyway, Ellington went into the studios and re-recorded most of his Newport output and had applause dubbed on. It was Ellington's idea. Schaap got hold of the VOA tapes and the current complete edition is the result.

Both men have such achievements behind them I'll never forget Avakian on radio talking with so much love about producing Louis and his All Stars-that it seems a shame that they have to battle. George is obviously getting blamed for decisions made by Ellington himself and,

if Schaap is wrong in doing this, then it's a minor matter and not one for the blood-letting that almost occurred.

'Ellington At Newport 1956 (Complete)' (Columbia/Legacy C2K 64932) is a remarkable piece of jazz history. A comparatively poor solo by Paul Gonsalves (on Diminuendo And Crescendo) made it one of the best selling of all Duke's albums. The casual behaviour of the band on stage (the men knew they were being recorded for Voice Of America broadcast and for a Columbia album) was incredible. The band had to be taken off near the beginning because Duke decided he couldn't manage without several of the sidemen who hadn't turned up. When it came on again three hours later it sounded as though it was using the gig to rehearse Duke's Festival Suite for the first time! There is a vivid account in the liner of Ellington's sensitivity in avoiding an audience riot.

There's another fuss about the new issue of ‘Black, Brown And Beige’ (CK65566) which always seemed insipid in its original LP version. Now it is vibrant and wonderful, and the sound quality is vastly improved so that this sounds like a new recording. The absence of Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Brown, previously regarded as a fundamental flaw, is seen to give a dry and in this case attractive quality to the ensembles. There has been a terrible fuss on the Internet over the fact that Mahalia Jackson is heard cursing (she says `Jesus!'). There is also a badly mistaken conception abroad that BB&B is a religious suite. It is not. It is a portrait of what was then referred to as the Negro in America.

As I mentioned last month, ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ in its new version (CK 65568) contains a second and inferior take of Up And Down that omits Clark Terry's superb coda. There has been a petulant outcry about this by many hair-splitters on the net. It has been pointed out that those who own the original mono CD, as most of them do, have the original anyway, and that with the new set the buyer simply has another version that completes his collection.

I quote from the Internet: `There is too much ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ material for one CD. Phil Schaap prepared three masters, one with more than 77 minutes of material and two different masters with just below this for a normal CD. He tried to persuade Sony to make a special CD with more than 77 minutes of music. That is technically possible. Sony refused and took one of the two other masters. As soon as Phil found out that the wrong version of Up And Down was on that chosen master, he tried to stop the whole preparation but Sony didn't want to lose time and didn't think it was that bad anyway. Together with the release of ‘Such Sweet Thunder’, the release of ‘A Drum Is A Woman’ was planned. There is so much material for ‘A Drum Is A Woman’ that one CD is not enough. It will be issued on a double CD but there will be some space free. Phil anticipated that he could put the remaining material from ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ into the free space on ‘A Drum Is A Woman’.

The soon to be expected release of the double CD ‘A Drum Is A Woman’ will contain all the material of the ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ sessions that was not on the CD in question. There are plans to make a second production run of the ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ CD but this time to include the highly praised version of Up And Down.

Exactly a week after I posted my 90 quid to Giovanni Volonté (see StS JJI June) the two volumes of the new Duke Ellington Story On Record arrived. They are quite breathtaking. Some birdbrain is complaining because there is no index of musicians. There is no need for one. The two huge volumes are every bit as good as I expected and I am delighted with them. Was it wise to send the money in cash in an ordinary envelope? I've done it before and perhaps I'm lucky that it has always worked. You do, of course, need to have confidence in the honesty of the people you are sending it to, apart from the straightforward risk of your letter going astray or being stolen.

-Steve Voce

Newport Down

Published in Jazz Journal in November 1999
added 2011-08-29

Recently I've been in touch with George Avakian by 'phone and fax. He and Teo Macero are both very concerned about some of Columbia/Sony's contemporary reissues and recently appeared in a symposium on the recorded legacy of Duke Ellington moderated by Nat Hentoff at Lincoln Center. George was particularly upset about the Ellington 1956 Newport album and the statement on the CD box (that George says has been confirmed by Sony as furnished by Schaap himself) that `Phil Schaap ... solves the twin mysteries of why poor microphone placement led Columbia to re-record Ellington's set ... George tells me that he has been explaining for 40 years that there was no bad mike placement at the festival recording, only Paul Gonsalves blowing into the wrong mike instead of the clearly identified (with wrappings of white tape) Columbia recording mike. Listening to the rest of the LP sides done at the Festival confirms that the mikes were in the right places. Equally obvious Ellington did not re-record his set. George claims to have found over 50 misstatements in the text for the double CD.

George was annoyed at the suggestion that after the concert he had booked a CBS studio in New York for 9 am on the Monday (this would have been impossible to do at such short notice and particularly beginning on the post-concert Sunday morning of the July 4 holiday weekend). Duke himself, worried about the band's lackadaisical rehearsing of this brand new piece, had anticipated the need to make corrective patches to the Newport Suite. He made a timely call to George on Friday, asking that a studio be reserved if possible and arranged for Billy Strayhorn to be under the stage with the Columbia engineers marking the passages during the recital where the playing wasn't up to scratch. It was these parts that were rerecorded on the Monday morning and then edited into the live performance to correct the imperfections.

`You will have all four of the original Newport LPs,' said George. `Is there another example of anyone sounding off-mike? Of course not. We even recorded Eddie Condon during a rainstorm and yet the sound is quite satisfactory. But Gonsalves blowing off-mike with the Ellington band blasting in full cry was not solvable, and could be acceptably corrected only later and painfully through equalisation, not by a non-existent studio recording as Schaap suggests.'

Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue was not re-recorded in the studio, as listening to the CD confirms.

Ellington had the right in perpetuity to veto the issuing of what he regarded as inferior material, in the same way that royalties are paid forever.

George told me `The unique circumstances led to the only time in my years with Duke that he asked to hear the finished product, which was only because he was so worried about the press and the Suite - he hadn't written a new extended work for many years and the bruises still hurt.

`I respected his request by giving Strays acetate tests of our final product, which he took to Duke, by then in Canada. Duke called as soon as he heard them. "I have two things to say, George. One is Don't change a thing. The other is Thank you." From then on Duke would refer to me as the man who gave him a second life in July 1956.'

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in August 2003
added 2011-09-01

Joe Temperley is hoping to make an album with trumpeter Joe Wilder. Now there's a guarantee of quality. Temperley is one of the great players of the day, full of original playing coupled to the only baritone sound in the world that matches Harry Carney's.

There isn't that much `original playing' of value around today - Temperley's sound stands out instantly and it would be hard to mistake him for anyone else. But, unlike Joe and the Ellingtonians who came before, contemporary players tend to be confusable.

The partnership of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn was unique. Many would say that the men were geniuses. There is no doubt that they were unusually inspired and original composers and orchestrators. They surrounded themselves with sidemen who had those qualities, but perhaps in a narrower level - Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Barney Bigard, Tricky Sam - the list would fill the page. These were men who, even when they were derivative as was Webster from Hawkins, had such powerful personal contributions to make that stylistically they stood on their own feet.

Ellington and Strayhorn created a new musical language, built mostly on their own experiences, but of course drawing in elements from other musicians, symphonic or jazz. When Strayhorn and then Ellington died, the dictionary of that language froze. It has not been possible to add to it in a way that has any meaning. The sad peregrinations of the Mercer Ellington band served only to show what could not be done, and nobody has written anything significant in an Ellington vein since the two creators of it stopped.

Youth and repertory bands all over the world recreate and replay music from the Ellington library. Many of them play scores artfully and cleverly drawn from the originals. Unhappily the profundity of the source in no way guarantees the potency of the recreation.

Ellington's music evolved over decades. Over those decades he carefully selected the soloists that he thought would best enhance it. He fine-tuned his work to suit those instrumentalists. The music was built on Ellington's quirks and unorthodox orchestral techniques. These were peculiar to him and couldn't be borrowed and applied again by the mechanics that later came to work on Duke's oeuvre. Make no mistake: some of the Ellington mechanics around today are excellent musicians. But it would be arrogant and totally misguided to assume, as some of them seem to, that they are somehow on a par with Ellington and Strayhorn. They are but hollow shells in comparison.

At this point we should separate some of their aims. Re-creating and rewriting Ellington's music in an attempt to match or add to Ellingtonia is a non-starter. But using the music to teach young musicians is a laudable aim. On the other hand, one should not expect artistic and creative results from the myriad of such teaching orchestras across the world. In a competition for youth bands across the United States next year re-written scores of Ellington music will be included amongst the test pieces. This year's competition demonstrated that the standards are high and that the young players can read the scores well and that their ranks include those able to solo. But any possible comparison with the original should be firmly put out of mind.

The elements of mutual compatibility and years of experience with each other would produce, say, a setting for Gonsalves or Nance within the Ellington band. The idea that it could be written down and reproduced to telling effect by a band of students without that experience is preposterous.

It's more feasible to create an approximation of the Basic or Herman sounds, because the elements involved – soloists and arrangers, were more interchangeable. But such attempts must still leave the listener with a feeling of unease.

Now that the originators have all gone the best place to hear the Ellington band is on the two extraordinary Dreyfus albums under his name. The label appears to be breaking new ground with sound restoration and these are perhaps the best representation of the 1940s band that we yet have.

They are ‘Ko-Ko’ (Dreyfus FDM 3671720) and ‘Take The A Train’ (Dreyfus FDM 3673229).

The more affluent amongst us might turn to RCA Victor's amazing but sometimes flawed 24 DC set.

Or you could look at The Complete Capitol Recordings Of Duke Ellington (Mosaic MD5-160) and Duke Ellington: The Reprise Studio Recordings (Mosaic MD5-193).

-Steve Voce

Jimmy Hamilton

Published in Jazz Journal in November 2003
added 2011-08-31

As I keep telling anyone who will listen, we're lucky to have lived through the greatest decades of jazz. The 1950s and 1960s, before the excitement of seeing jazz greats in the flesh had dulled, were the greatest. Meeting musicians from the Ellington and Basie bands and finding that they were normal and modest people was a great thrill. We felt that, as they returned each year, we were getting to know them, but we weren't really. How could we, with a few hours each year in contact?

The Ellington band was particularly full of deep currents. With delightful people like Clark Terry and Harry Carney, what you got was what you saw. They were, like the morose and lonely Lawrence Brown, completely genuine. On the other hand Cat Anderson, an orphan with a troubled childhood, was known to the rest of the band for some reason as `Snake'. Jimmy Hamilton was as smooth as his clarinet playing, and there was again something a little doubtful about his place in the order of things. In later years he won the lottery and he and his wife went to settle in the West Indies.

Jack Brymer, the English classical clarinet player who has just died, was next in line to Reginald Kell in the symphonic scheme of things. Brymer played alto in and led a swing band while in the army at Morecambe during the war. Many years later, when he was established as the best of the symphonic clarinets, someone at a party asked him what he thought of jazz. Brymer took out his clarinet and gave perfect re-creations of the styles of Goodman, Shaw and Bechet. On another occasion Brymer remarked that Jimmy Hamilton was the greatest clarinet player that he ever heard. Brymer played in concert where he played Ellington's feature for Hamilton, Clarinet Melodrama, and in the same programme, Stravinsky's piece for Herman, Ebony Concerto.

Great Hamilton performances with Duke abound - like the other Ellingtonians he wasn't so good away from Duke's direction. There are some of the best due early in the new year from Columbia Legacy when the reworking of 'Ellington Masterpieces' and other contemporary performances are reshaped onto CD. One of my favourite CDs that features him is Vol. 1 of `The Private Collection' (KAZ CD 501) but beware, foreign volumes are numbered differently. This CD is absolutely packed with Ellington masterworks. Hamilton plays a genuinely joyous Jump For Joy with virtually bass and drums accompaniment and, in the eight-minute Long Time Blues gets down and dirty and quotes from Snag It. Hamilton was such a master that he could switch from smooth to growl without ever losing a scintilla of poise.

-Steve Voce

Duke on Columbia

Published in Jazz Journal in May 2004
added 2011-08-31

These days it requires the acquisition of a computer of Star Wars proportions to give me a real buzz. Fifty years ago it was a spidery and fragile little Phillips device which played LPs that was better than sex. Then the new LP form represented technology beyond our wildest dreams. One of the first that I bought, and indeed one of the first jazz LPs ever, was HMV's `The Duke Ellington Soloists'. Instead of two sides with a piece of music on each it had eight of what we were to learn to call tracks. Nowadays we've retrenched so that our discs only have one side, although the double-sided DVD promises Columbus-like journeys through audio.

But the first ground-breaking LP was Columbia's `Masterpieces By Ellington', a 12" affair that, despite the fact that it ran for 45 minutes, only had four pieces on it.

This album, all done on December 19, 1950, was Ellington's first exploitation of the new medium. He expanded three of his classics - Solitude, Sophisticated Lady and Mood Indigo into what were known as `concert versions'. More importantly he was able to record in studio surroundings The Tattooed Bride, a suite that he'd written in 1948 that was, in retrospect, one of his greatest achievements. It ran for almost twelve minutes.

The music, with added tracks, superior sound quality and an erudite and absorbing liner note by Patricia Willard, has at last been released here under its original title on Columbia Legacy 512918 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Duke's death (May 24, 1974). Patricia Willard, a much-lauded journalist and author in the States, is little known here. She knew and worked with Ellington and she is currently working with Louie Bellson on a book about his life. British readers can acquire more of her work with two simultaneously released Columbia Legacy Ellington CDs, 'Ellington Uptown' (512917) and 'Festival Session' (512918) to which she has also contributed liner notes.

Ellington, always regarded by his listeners as the master of the three minute form, regarded himself as inhibited by it and had always wanted to spread his composition to greater length. His first attempt at this, Creole Rhapsody (1931), was brave but flawed and by the time of the four 78 sides of Reminiscing In Tempo (1935) the composer had changed direction and honed his methods. The shorter, but still long Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue (1937) had a basic charm and vitality that was ultimately demolished by the sledge hammer attack on it at the 1956 Newport Festival. Then came Black, Brown And Beige (first performed in 1943). This was indeed a major work, Ellington's musical story of black people in America, and it bulged with material - some recycled and some to be recycled later. It stimulated controversy then and still does today. The Liberian Suite (1947) was, by Ellington standards, minor and fragmented, notable for just the first part, the out-of-tempo Dance No.1 and for one tune, I Like The Sunrise. Then came The Tattooed Bride and, in 1951, Harlem, often adorned, as it is on the 'Ellington Uptown' album, with the less modest title A Tone Parallel To Harlem. This latter is the best version of the suite, played often by the orchestra in subsequent years. It was written to be played with a symphony and was first performed in that way. The later recording in that form on Reprise shows the strings to be a distraction. Here, incidentally, Ellington makes the best use of Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet. Sometimes, as in the Capitol Happy Go Lucky Local, Hamilton was permitted to destroy an established atmosphere, but in Harlem Ellington's use of him is sublime.

Columbia Legacy has much more Ellington to go at, unlike Capitol where the well of Kenton masterpieces has now run dry. It's reassuring to have the three new Ellington albums and, in their new form, they are exhilarating and refreshing. As I write, the original producer, the 85-year-old George Avakian, whose contribution to this music can't be over-stated, is on a visit to London.

-Steve Voce

Duke and his scores

Published in Jazz Journal in August 2004
added 2011-08-31

Always concerned about his image, Duke Ellington tried to persuade his son Mercer to dye his hair so that Duke wouldn't have a son with grey hair. Palpably and to his credit Mercer refused. Mercer, who played trumpet in and eventually led his father's orchestra, was an apparently quiet man who posthumously became a controversial figure. On the one hand are those who regard him as having been a generous and pleasant fellow and on the other are those who find reason still to nurture a vitriolic hatred of him.

Annie Kuebler is a remarkable lady whose work in the Institute of Jazz Studies at the Smithsonian opened up and preserved a considerable slice of the history of jazz. A large part of her job involved research into and tending to the Duke Ellington archive. In recent years she has lifted a corner of the cover to let us learn much about the Ellington environment of his last years and beyond.

Latterly Annie has been remarking on what are known as the Presentation Albums.

Duke had a sardonic line in false modesty. As he famously remarked, the fates didn't want him to become `too famous too young.'

`I have no interest in posterity,' he once said. `We hardly ever keep scores. We have nothing to go back to. Out of the thousands of numbers we've done only about ten per cent of the scores remain. They disappear. People wrap their lunch in them.' An untold number of them were lost in a flooded basement.

`Ellington was interested in but not concerned about his posterity,' said Annie. `He knew he was creating music that would be performed and studied posthumously.

`Many of his scores did, in fact, disappear. Evidence on the scores proves that he used them as coasters and address books. A few scores physically transferred to Juan Tizol contain messages to him and his disregard for them as historical documents is evidenced in other such ways as the cigarette burns, spills and drink rings on them. Once the exact arrangement was worked out and the parts extracted, the scores no longer had a function. I believe this is one of the reasons, so few early scores (very simple and enhanced by verbal instruction) are extant.'

Several years after the death of Billy Strayhorn, Mercer and Duke's doctor Arthur Logan came up with the idea of the Presentation Albums as a surprise birthday present for Duke. It was an attempt to combine on paper every known Ellington composition to date. There were between 20 and 40 albums, each one 18" x 24", leather bound and with the sheet music in plastic sleeves. Many of the scores had been written by Tom Whaley who wrote and copied for Duke, and John Sanders and Joe Benjamin were brought in to help re-score any bits of the music that were missing.

`After the 30s,' said Annie, `another function for the scores arose. Duke's music had become so popular, he needed to keep playing it but was not interested in maintaining the "jungle sound" and had better ideas or twists for the tunes. Ellington always had other arrangers but, as we know, something quite different in the form of Billy Strayhorn then entered the picture. Then when Ellington needed a new version, he would often ask his sister Ruth to send original scores to Strayhorn, if they had one, to write a new arrangement of an old Ellington number. Some of the scores were lost because Duke generously assigned his relatives – principally Ruth and Mercer – important business duties that were not handled well. Ellington's job was to keep writing great scores, not keeping them. After Tom Whaley (who considered himself the band librarian) enters the scene, the original scores become better managed.'

-Steve Voce

Duke And Alternative (not Alternate!) Takes

Published in Jazz Journal in September 2004
added 2011-08-31

It really is time that our CD reviewers ceased to draw attention to short playing time. Why waste space when the duration of every album is printed in the heading information? And obviously the quality of the music is more to the point than its quantity.

Vic Bellerby, reviewing the three recent Columbia Ellingtons, complains not only about the duration but also for some impenetrable reason, of the presence of so-called `bonus' tracks. I'm glad of them and love to get a different view of the sessions from new music. If the additional tracks don't come from the immediate sessions, it is surely good to have material unissued before on CD to add to one's collection.

Columbia are to be congratulated in bringing us yet more Ellingtonia. ‘Blues In Orbit’ (512915) adds eight new `bonus' tracks to the original eleven. Since this was a session that depended upon much improvisation from the sidemen, their new variations are entirely to be welcomed. ‘Piano In The Foreground’ (512920) adds seven more of Duke's extemporisations whilst the five bonus tracks of ‘Piano In The Background’ include a March 1961 version of Harlem Airshaft. The always perceptive Patricia Willard points out in her elegant prose that Airshaft has its roots in Duke's Rumpus In Richmond. I hadn't noticed before. On this version Ray Nance takes the role that Clark Terry had in earlier years. The sections are crisp and beautifully recorded, although Hamilton's clarinet solo is a bit off mike, no doubt accounting for the fact that the track wasn't in the earlier album.

In one of the liners Patricia quotes producer Michael Cuscuna from an interview that I had with him last year. On that occasion Michael said `I think an alternate take should be of near-equal value to the master take and should have some differences that are enlightening. Otherwise why would you countermand the original decision of the producer or the artist? ... I'm not one to do what Verve was doing at one point when they were putting out a Ben Webster album and then at the end they would have false starts and stuff. Their only reason is (a) they exist and (b) there's no discretion involved. These artists don't deserve to have things being released that were done in preparation for masters.'

RCA have a most interesting series that couples CDs with DVDs. There are four new albums, reasonably priced, by Ellington (828786600912), Shaw, Goodman and Hawk.

The Ellington includes seven tracks described as `previously unreleased' (these are from broadcasts) and its accompanying DVD `contains all eight of Ellington's short films made between 1934 and mid-1943'. The DVD also includes an eleven minute (audio) interview with Duke from 1941.

-Steve Voce

Duke and The Perils Of Bandleading

Published in Jazz Journal in May 2005
added 2011-09-02

Rooting through old reel to reel tapes recently I came across a concert by the Duke Ellington orchestra at the Albert Hall with the London Philharmonic. I couldn't find any reference to it until I discovered that I'd put the date down as February 1966, when in fact it was a year later.

That was when Duke used to come to Europe regularly and he had also been here in February 1966. In searching for the date I found a remarkable set of circumstances listed in Klaus Stratemann's indispensable `Duke Ellington Day by Day and Film by Film'.

Duke had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 23, before opening the tour in Portugal on January 24. Whilst in the studio his wardrobe, packed for the five week European tour, had been stolen from his car and he had to appear on the Sullivan show in what Stratemann records as `a startling blue brocade jacket and black pants.' When one remembers that Duke made a complete change of clothes at half time in each concert, one realizes that the thieves must have thought they'd collected the equivalent of the Men's Department of Harrod's.

Duke had wanted Louie Bellson for the tour but Louie was tied up accompanying his wife Pearl Bailey. Ellington hired Skeets Marsh (who he?) instead. But when the tour began he decided he didn't like Marsh's playing, so wired Elvin Jones who was playing in John Coltrane's group at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop. Elvin was unhappy because Coltrane had hired Rashid Ali as a second percussionist so he left the gig without giving notice on January 26 and joined the Ellington band for his concert in Frankfurt on January 28.

In the meantime Duke decided to keep Skeets Marshall as well so, after four concerts, Elvin left the band and returned to the States to work on his own. In the meantime Ellington got in touch with Sam Woodyard who joined the band to partner Skeets Marshall at the concert on February 2, in Zurich. The plan was to unload Skeets Marsh when the band returned to the States whilst Duke planned to keep Woodyard until Louie Bellson was free to rejoin. But in the meantime Louie had taken on the writing and orchestration of some TV documentaries that would keep him tied up for several months. So Woodyard stayed in the band.

Ulcers all round, I wouldn't wonder.

Duke famously recorded with Lonnie Johnson in the band in 1928. The tracks, including The Mooche, Misty Morning and Hot And Bothered, are on ASV's `The Duke Steps Out' (AJA 5573), which you should have safely tucked away in your collection by now. Lonnie Johnson worked in the Okeh house band in the late twenties. In this role he recorded not only with King Oliver and Louis Armstrong as well as with Duke.

There've been some interesting exchanges on one of the news groups to which I belong about the period when the banjo was phased out of jazz groups to be replaced with the guitar. Ellington made effective and restrained use of Fred Guy's banjo and this was, apart from the exuberance of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, probably the best use of the instrument at that time. Although both Johnson and Teddy Bunn had recorded with the band, Guy would have metamorphosed from banjo to guitar on his own as the music became more modern and the more subtle sound appropriate – probably around 1934.

Lonnie Johnson, who died in 1970, was a strange chap. One half of him was like Louis Armstrong, whilst the other was more Velma Middleton. He seemed to spend much of his later life stubbornly resisting the attempts of critics and fans to throw him back into the 1920s. On occasion he was reluctantly persuaded to play the acoustic guitar but he refused to give up Danny Boy, My Mother's Eyes and the syrupy sentimental ballads that alternated with his powerful blues playing that remained so eloquent until his last breath. His brief visit to Britain pre-dated postwar tours by any other Americans and thus was supercharged with magic, but we still found his soppy ballads bewildering. I never questioned them at the time because I was rapt with enchantment and have had a soft spot for them ever since. In a piece on Johnson included in a book just published, Gary Giddins recalls that Ellington refused to appear with the `old blues guy' when Johnson appeared once more with Ellington's band in a concert at New York's Town Hall in 1961. But some sources say that Johnson did play with the band at the concert.

-Steve Voce

Good Old Gonsalves

Published in Jazz Journal in October 2005
added 2011-09-02

A man who is probably best described as a little-known variety artist suggested recently that Duke Ellington's music wasn't part of jazz but more a close parallel to jazz, `and not quite part of its direct legacy.'

When I suggested that this was rubbish his feelings were hurt and he made agitated claims that I had insulted him.

He pointed out that in later years Ellington didn't like to call his music 'jazz' and suggested that perhaps I'd 'attack Duke also for denying that what he was writing was jazz.' He asked if I thought that in this respect Duke was also talking rubbish.

Yes is the short answer. As far as I can see every note that Ellington ever wrote may be encompassed within what we know of as jazz.

When I (metaphorically) threw on to the table Creole Love Call, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Jack The Bear, Tricky Sam Nanton, and Concerto For Cootie he wriggled and said that he hadn't meant the earlier period.

I'd suggested that Paul Gonsalves was one of the finest of all tenor players and that he'd played jazz in the greatest jazz orchestra there ever was. The suggested that Paul was featured too much and that he found his playing 'too busy for the Ellington style.'

I suppose it's understandable that some people, brought up on the open melodic playing of Hodges and Bigard and the direct declamations of Cootie Williams, Bubber Miley and Tricky Sam Nanton, baulked at the innovation of the suave and sophisticated playing of Lawrence Brown when he joined the band in the spring of 1932. To those people Ben Webster was probably acceptable when he finally joined in 1940 (he had depped in the band in earlier years) because he was probably drenched in the Hawkins tradition. Gonsalves' arrival was as controversial as Lawrence's had been 18 years earlier.

Gonsalves came to the Duke in September 1950 by way of several big bands whose leaders had been aware of his potential. They included Count Basie, who also used Lester Young, Don Byas and Lucky Thompson around the same period as Paul was in his band, so Paul became part of Count's good track record. Gillespie also employed him in his big hand immediately before Paul joined Ellington in September 1950.

There were immediate divisions amongst the Ellington fans. Some realized that here was the next move in the Webster tradition, but others felt that this was a major flood of Bebop through a hole in the Ellington dam and continued to maintain bf that Paul was totally unsuited to Ellington music.

Gonsalves stayed in the band for 23 years, so Duke obviously hadn't noticed that he had chosen the wrong man for the job. Until his death in London on May 14, 1974, an event which preceded Duke's own demise by 10 days, Duke had in many ways behaved like a father to Paul.

After Duke's triumph at Newport in 1956 when he featured Gonsalves on the sensational version of Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue, Paul was called on constantly to play his lengthy solo version of the piece. He disliked having to do this and was dismayed by the fact that most people judged his jazz abilities from it. Occasionally, as can be heard in the 'unofficial' version that was taped in a dancehall at Carrolltown, he can be heard transcending the confines of the arrangement and playing a really trenchant tenor solo.

I'd like also to have heard the early version from the 1951 broadcast that J. Bradford Robinson says finds him 'playing "outside" the underlying chord progression, thus foreshadowing by nearly a decade Eric Dolphy's celebrated manner of stretching jazz harmony to its limits.'

-Steve Voce

Duke and Lester

Published in Jazz Journal in December 2005
added 2011-09-02

Lester Young’s genius extended to how to give in his notice. He handed Count Basie a note that read 'Base, in four weeks I will have been gone two.’

And as one would expect the Duke was a master of sharp thinking. On tour he and Cootie Williams were boarding a plane together. Duke turned left into the First Class section and Cootie was about to turn right into the seats reserved for lesser beings.

`Hey Duke, how come you get to fly first class and the rest of us have to travel tourist?'

`Now Cootie,' said Duke, 'you wouldn't want to work for a leader who didn't fly first class, would you?'

That nice man Lutheran minister John Gensel, who died a couple of years ago, had this to say in 1979 about his close friend.

'Duke never got into politics. If he did something for a politician, he didn't want it to be said that Duke was sponsoring him or that he was a Democrat or a Republican. Just the same way that if you would ask him "Are you an Episcopalian or a Lutheran?" I'm sure he'd say, "Well, I'm both or neither." He was the same way about politics. In fact, some of the more militant blacks were a little bit critical of Duke because they said he didn't come out and parade and that sort of thing. He did it in his own quiet way and made a tremendous contribution in the whole aspect of the racial situation."

And Marian Logan, the wife of Duke's doctor, speaking in 1978, said: 'There are many ways in which you can pay your dues to the civil rights movement. I think Ellington's greatest contribution is the fact that he travelled, and his music was accepted and he was accepted, above and beyond being a black person. There are some people who have to yell and scream about blackness, and there are others who do it in a quiet, continual way, and that's what Ellington did all his life. He projected the black idiom, black music, and his blackness and the blackness of his people. But he didn't have to get on the bandstand and scream, "I am black!" He was really interracial. He crossed all the barriers. You can't just say that Ellington wrote, created and played for blacks. He played for people, and because of being a black person himself, what came out of him had to be the black experience.'

Eloquent stuff.

-Steve Voce

Lawrence Brown and the Jazz Trombonists

Published in Jazz Journal in August 2007
added 2011-09-02

In A Mellotone, which is included in the classic Johnny Hodges album (ASV AJS202I) reviewed in Jazz Journal July 2007 by Alun Morgan, appeared here in the first batch of Clef 12" LPs to be issued in Britain. I bought it the day it came out along with the similarly attractive ‘Music For Loving - Ben Webster With Strings’, an album, controversial by definition, that transpired to be a masterwork.

I hadn't heard Mellotone for some years until the ASV came along. It's very satisfying to hear Lawrence Brown playing one of the longest and most exciting trombone climaxes on record.

This melancholy and conventionally religious man was one of the top half dozen jazz trombonists of all time and certainly one of the most exciting, although he always denigrated his own performances. He had a personal aversion to Ellington and also thought that Ellington had caused him finally to damage his embouchure by insisting that Lawrence took on the Tricky Sam Nanton mantle with the mutes. But his deep-seated dislike of Duke went back to the '30s when he thought that Ellington had interfered in his (Lawrence's) then recent marriage.

My own favourite trombone climax is Bill Harris's solo on Ghost Of A Chance during a Norman Granz Jazz Concert at Carnegie Hall on September I6, 1950. Bill was often not relaxed in some of Norman's public arenas but on this occasion, in company with Hank Jones, Lester Young and Harry Edison, everything came right and he excelled himself in the most wonderful trombone ballad performance I ever heard.

Jack Teagarden too was a great man with a climax. The 1940 Jack Hits The Road with Bud Freeman's Famous Chicagoans was a standout and J C Higginbotham, in his golden era on February 5, 1930 came up with the majestic Higginbotham Blues, a wonderful shout up that must have influenced Lawrence Brown, Bill Harris and hundreds of other players.

Bebop trombonists weren't much gone on majestic climaxes, except of course for the ill-starred Benny Green's version of Stardust, a gem to be savoured alongside Jack Jenney's solo on the same number with Artie Shaw.

-Steve Voce

Basses and Bigard

Published in Jazz Journal in October 2007
added 2011-09-02

In her heartfelt obituary of Art Davis – he was a close friend – Val Wilmer wrote of his association with John Coltrane `...the two men often played privately together. From this musical intimacy they developed the revolutionary concept of using two double basses in a jazz group.'

As was so often the case, Duke Ellington was there first. Ellington enthusiasts, including me, have wondered for more than 50 years why Ellington had two bassists in the band between 1934 and 1939. Wellman Brand was the stalwart, of course, having propelled the band since 1927. Braud stayed with Duke until 1935, leaving to work with small groups and, later, to own a poolroom. He returned to jazz on the first wave of traditional revival with Jelly Roll Morton in the late 1930s and played with Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Kid Ory in the 1940s.

Duke brought Hayes Alvis into the band in the spring of 1935 whilst Braud was still there. It has been generally assumed that, since Duke was always reluctant to fire people, this was done as a hint to Braud that he should go. Alvis was more versed in the newer forms of the bass role. But then Billy Taylor arrived a couple of months later after Braud had gone and he and Alvis shared the job (you can see them both in the film short `Symphony In Black' where Alvis is on the left and Taylor on the right). When Alvis departed in 1938 Jimmy Blanton came in. Taylor stayed on for some time into 1939 before Blanton moved into his immortal ascendency.

It seems strange if not extravagant for Duke to have used two bassists. My pal Arne Neegaard has been trying to sort things out.

`Billy Taylor joined first, basically as a tuba player as relief for the by then exhausted Braud. Hayes Alvis was added, probably to get back the old Braud sound that Duke was missing by then. Remember that Duke had a soft spot for bassists. They were always properly miked in a way that reduced the sound from drums and guitar. I've read somewhere that one of the bassists was often ill and thus the two bass arrangement worked well.

`When Taylor joined Duke's manager Irving Mills made a $20 reduction in Braud's salary to compensate for the extra player.

`When Braud refused to accept this Mills went over Ellington's head and gave Braud two weeks' notice. Guy, Greer, Nanton, Hardwicke, Carney and Whetsel got furious at that and threatened Mills with their two weeks' notice if he didn't back down. Mills had no option but to let Braud stay on with his $I00 a week.

`The two bass players gave Duke several options - bass/tuba, bowed bass/bass and doubled pizzicato.'

Let's stick with the Ellingtonians.

`My uncle was a fiddle player who used to lead his own band when I was small,' said Barney Bigard. `He used to lead Kid Ory's band too, incidentally, Johnny Dodds was the clarinettist in my uncle's band. In those days they used to use an E Flat clarinet on parades and things. With me being real small, my uncle borrowed an E Flat clarinet from Johnny Dodds for me to learn on and that's how it started. I was terrible. Oh, I was awful. I put down the clarinet altogether, because at that time the soprano sax was kinda popular and they used to write music with a chorus for the soprano and then one for the tenor and they didn't need the clarinet at all. So I gave it up and by the time I joined Joe `King' Oliver's band I was playing tenor.

`In any case he had two good clarinet players in Albert Nicholas and Darnell Howard. But Nick left the band first closely followed by Darnell. They were going to China to work and they wanted me to go with them. But I didn't want to go.

`Joe said "Didn't you used to play clarinet?" I said "Yes, but forget it." He said "If I buy one for you will you try to play it?" I told him I was awful. But he insisted and he got me an old Conn.

`I started wood-shedding and I found out that I could play more clarinet than I had ever played in my life. I could play it quite well - it must have been developing the technique on the tenor - and soon I lost all interest in the saxophone and just wanted to play clarinet. `I was working in Baltimore with King Oliver when we got stranded in Baltimore and I went to New York.

`Luis Russell worked at an after hours place there and he got me into his little band. Wellman Braud was working with Duke, who had six pieces at that time. But when he took the job at the Cotton Club they augmented the band to ten pieces. Wellman told Duke about me and Duke came round to hear me. He invited me to his home to talk about money matters and when I got there he was sleeping, so I had to wake him up. I asked him what he was paying. I was doing all right at the after hours place because I was making a salary and of course all the Broadway stars came in there after hours and I made a lot in tips. Duke was talking about a lot of funny time money, so I said "No, I can't make it," so he said "OK, I'll see you later," and I left.

`Later he told Braud about my visit and Braud said "What did you offer him?" Duke told him "$65 a week." and Braud said. "Huh. He makes more than that in tips." So Duke came back with $72 and I saw possibilities, particularly with playing in a big group rather than a small one.

`He was playing on Broadway at a place called Reisenweber's. It was fantastic. That was where the gangsters ate and the gangsters owned the Cotton Club. Irving Mills got hold of Duke. He was in with the gangsters business-wise and he got Duke in there at the Cotton Club.

`The gangsters were very good to us. They never did bother musicians or entertainers or anything like that. Any trouble was amongst themselves. But anything we wanted we got. It was great.

`When I joined Duke's band he used to arrange so weird that I used to think all his chords were wrong and he and I would have the biggest arguments you've ever seen. But he proved he was right. Of all the bands in the country, everyone could always identify Ellington when he came on the air. And during the Depression when people weren't working Duke always had work.

'Bubber Miley was the hot man on trumpet. He had the world's worst tone, but when he put the mute in he was wonderful. Tricky Sam, I really loved him.'

-Steve Voce

Same Old Lawrence

Published in Jazz Journal in April 2008.
added 2011-09-02

"The clarinet was invented by six people who never met each other." - Phil Woods.

Our Jazz Record Of The Year poll (JJ February, 2008), which has been going for longer than I care to think about, was one of the world's first and it's still avidly watched each year across the continents. The results presumably left Michael Cuscuna replete with satisfaction whilst at the other end of the scale they engendered some Machiavellian plotting from a sore loser. This year's table produced some interesting results with the emphasis more than usually on the core of jazz. I hope that the fact that just about all the albums in the accumulated two categories are music that I would enjoy will not be held in an unfavourable light because I compiled the tables.

Readers will know that I was glad to see the Bill Harris Lone Hill stagger up to 11th in the Reissues. Even with my Willard Palmer bias I acknowledge that that was a fair position for it. It contains Bill's most concentrated master-works. His solos at that time didn't quite have the exhilarating freshness of the First Herd solos, but they were much more expansive, and the `Bill Harris Collates' album that is included was his diadem.

We know from Bobby Lamb's account that when he and Willie Dennis made up the Herman trombone section with Bill, the older man treated them like a kindly father (not a very old father, for Bill was dead before he was 60).

He was not always so paternally inclined.

Nat Pierce remembered when Bill and the trumpeter Stan Fishelson were roommates and also shared a car between gigs in the Herman band of the 1950s. Bill enjoyed driving but characteristically liked to do it without much conversation. Fishelson on the other hand was voluble and sat in the back seat continually haranguing the trombonist with things Bill didn't want to hear about. No matter the length of the trip, Fishelson, his chattering done, contrived to fall asleep about an hour before they arrived at their destination.

Early one morning the two arrived in Detroit and as they were approaching the hotel Harris noticed an open man hole. He drove around the block and stopped the car so that the man hole was immediately outside of the door where Fishelson was sleeping.

`OK, we're here,' said Bill. Fishelson awoke abruptly, opened the door, got out, and disappeared down the man hole.

Harris got out of the car, gazed down the man hole, and said `Don't bug me, man!' He then got back into the car, and drove off to the hotel.

A couple of the influences on Bill's trombone style were fairly obvious. He certainly acknowledged Lawrence Brown, and Lawrence, who rarely showed enthusiasm for anything, professed his admiration of Bill.

Someone wrote recently on the Internet of how splendidly Lawrence adapted to the Ellington muted trombone style when Duke ran out of Nanton imitators. The writer spoke as though Lawrence had relished the chance to play in this way but Lawrence in fact regarded it as yet another injury that Ellington had perpetrated on him by compelling him to take the role. Lawrence's natural style depended on delicate lip work and he felt that the double muted playing forced him to change his embouchure to the disadvantage of his open playing.

Like Johnny Hodges he was a long-term Ellingtonian. Whilst the Ellington band salaries were pretty good, Johnny always wanted more. He had played brilliant soprano in the band of the early 1930s and 1940s and finally demanded extra for doubling on the horn. Duke flatly refused him so Hodges put the soprano back in its case and refused ever to play it again. He never did.

When, in 1951, Johnny wanted a raise and Duke refused, Johnny left the band taking drummer Sonny Greer and Lawrence with him to be the root of the Johnny Hodges small group. (It was to work for Clef and one wonders if perhaps this was the source of the subsequent enmity between Norman Granz and Duke).

Lawrence stayed with Johnny in comparative happiness until the band broke up in 1955. He was lucky to get the job of trombonist Warren Covington when Warren left the CBS studios. Lawrence ate up the sight reading of complex scores and although the work was boring it was extremely well-paid. At first he loved the work, particularly because it meant that he could usually take jazz jobs in the evenings.

Studio musicians have to be of the highest calibre but free of individualism in their sound.

`There's a peculiar thing about studio musicians,' reflected Lawrence. `They all sound alike. They're great musicians and any one can sit in another's chair and it doesn't change anything at all. My sound was too individual and I couldn't suppress it properly.'

Eventually the boredom got to him and he left to play in jazz clubs for some time before, in 1960, he got a call from Ellington and went back into the band.

He never cheered up, and was always adamant about what he saw as his lack of talent as a jazz musician. Anyone who heard his jam session recordings for Granz would disagree.

‘All the others can improvise good solos without a second thought. I'm not a good improviser,' he told me.

He retired in 1970 with a typically gloomy remark. `We have to realise that being popular is nowadays more important than producing anything of value.'

Lawrence then worked in a business consultancy and took part in Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Finally he took up a post with the American Federation of Musicians in Hollywood.

Many people tried to persuade him to take up the trombone again.

`When I finally left Duke', he said, `I called in to see my Auntie in Cleveland on my way back home to California. I left my trombone behind her rocking chair. As far as I know it's still there. It can stay there.'

-Steve Voce

Clark on Riverside

Published in Jazz Journal in 2008
added 2011-09-02

The death of Johnny Griffin prompted me to dig out some of his albums. I was delighted to listen again to him and Clark Terry on Clark's 1957 Riverside ‘Serenade To A Bus Seat’. Although it wasn't exactly Hard Bop, this must count as one of the best recordings of the Hard Bop era. The two made a brilliant match, both satisfyingly fluent and creative, and Clark was obviously very happy working with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe. This is where his later set-piece Stardust originated, but it's notable that Clark wrote eight of the pieces, showing as early as this that he was a talented composer. I must have asked him but I forget any answer to the question `Did you write Jones?' (2011: Of course he did!). I'm sure he did but of course when you worked for Duke you had to share composer credit with him for anything you wrote. Duke also published your piece through his company and, as Clark told me,`you start off with a tune you've written and you end up owning about a quarter of it and he's got the rest.'

Another marvellous album of Clark's from the time was ‘Clark Terry In Orbit: Clark Terry Quartet With Thelonious Monk’, also for Riverside, in May 1958. This has remained fixed in my mind because Clark loaned me a copy of the set before it was issued. This felt at the time like being given the proceeds of the sale of the crown jewels. The music remains as fresh and original as ever, and once again Monk and Clark were perfect partners, with Sam Jones and Philly Joe the perfect complement, Clark had been working closely with the company that designed the modern flugelhorn and he played the first one they produced on this album.

Again he was to lose out, for when Monk later became popular, Riverside reissued Clark's album but under Monk's name. It's still selling well, and deservedly so, but I don't know if Clark gets royalties. Again he wrote some fine themes for what is one of his and Monk's best albums of the time.

I believe Clark still plays, despite the most amazing lifetime of being buffeted by the medical profession. When last I spoke to him he'd had the 29th operation on his eyes and, at one point he had a hole drilled in each of the vertebrae of his spine.

`Don't believe them,’ he told me. ‘ The golden age sucks.'

-Steve Voce

The Big Challenge

Published in Jazz Journal in December 2009
added 2011-09-05

Perhaps it’s appropriate that, because of the ephemeral nature of their contributions, people who write about jazz should be unloaded rather quickly when they pass their final sell-by date. Goffin and Panassié are long forgotten, nobody ever mentions Max Jones, Benny Green or Sinclair Traill, and we must be grateful that the sorcerer of jazz Leonard Feather is remembered only in the nightmares of the few.

Before joining their ranks I want to bring one of them back, well, two actually, who were both very nice, as well as uniquely gifted.

George T Simon, who lived from 1912 to 2001, became editor of Metronome, was a distinguished record producer and in 1971 wrote and published what was then generally recognised as the definitive book in its field, The Big Bands. Almost 600 pages, it remains a unique history of the era. Simon was also a director and a & r man for the eccentric Jazztone, a mail order jazz label that was an offshoot of the Concert Hall Society, itself a classical mail order operation in the States.

Jazztone was an amazing label. Operating like a book of the month’ club, it drew reissues from labels like Dial and Commodore, but also produced some outstanding contemporary original sessions of its own. An 11-minute version of Careless Love by Joe Newman, the two Franks, Benny Powell and Sir Charles stays unforgettable in the mind. But it had two giant achievements, both involving Rex Stewart, who was the other great writer I had in mind.

Jazztone under Simon mounted a few original sessions that must have been very expensive for such a specialised company with a small subscription list.

Rex, along with Coleman Hawkins and Jay C Higginbotham was involved in the two best of Simon’s recordings. One was ‘The Big Challenge’ (once on Fresh Sound FSR-CD77 and now on FSR 1603) and the other was ‘The Big Reunion’ (Fresh Sound FSR-CD 44) where a 17 piece band played two Stewart originals and, the main purpose of the session, re-created some of the original arrangements for Fletcher Henderson’s band. Shortly after the recordings, Jazztone went out of business, but its legacy was ripped up and reissued in a variety of forms on several different labels. Some, horror of horrors, was ‘electronically re-channelled for stereo’.

None of the great jam sessions got by without some kind of formal preparation. One of the best of them was no exception. ‘The Big Challenge’ (Fresh Sound FSR-CD77), done originally for Jazztone in New York on April 30, 1957, had Ernie Wilkins contributing brief but masterful frameworks that kept things in order whilst allowing complete freedom to the improvisers.

The personnel was Cootie Williams (t), Rex Stewart (c), Lawrence Brown, J.C. Higginbotham (tb), Coleman Hawkins, Bud Freeman (ts), Hank Jones (p), Billy Bauer (g), Milt Hinton (b) and Gus Johnson (d). Joe Thomas joined Ernie Wilkins in sketching the routines.

In his original and unsigned notes Simon found to his dismay that when he first approached Cootie Williams with the idea for the session Cootie thought it was a bummer. Anyone could have told George that that would happen. Cootie played music for money and had little altruistic or artistic enthusiasm.

Then George made another mistake. ‘I contacted Rex Stewart, his friend and partner with Ellington…’. No, George. Rex and Cootie hated each other to destruction and with venom that developed even before Duke, when they were both in the Henderson band. Like several Ellingtonians, they only spoke when the job meant there was no way of avoiding it. George seems to say that the morose Lawrence Brown, wonderful trombonist, was ‘a warm, personal friend’ of Cootie’s. I don’t think Lawrence was a warm, personal friend of anyone’s. Always sad, he hadn’t spoken to Duke except minimally on business since Duke wrecked Lawrence’s life in the ‘30s. (I’m certain that the title Blues For Duke on Lawrence’s Verve album was inflicted on him by someone else and not chosen by him – it wouldn’t have been by Norman: he fell out with Duke, too). An English journalist recalled in ‘Jazz Music’ that he went to hear Cootie’s big band in a New York ballroom in the mid-‘40s. He went up to Cootie during an interval and said he was impressed by his fine alto soloist. What was his name? Cootie turned to the band, still in their seats, pointed to the man and shouted ‘Hey you! What’s your name?’.

Rex and Cootie were to meet again although at arms length 18 months later when they recorded an unsatisfying “Porgy and Bess” album for Warner Bros.

It was a masterstroke of George’s to partner Hawk with the eloquent and under-rated Bud Freeman. The partnerships on the record are a consummation indeed, flourishing on top of one of the lightest and most lifting rhythm sections one could wish for. It was a move of great imagination to select the ‘modernist’ Hank Jones on piano. Everyone, including Cootie, was at his latter-day best. Lawrence swung suavely and Higgy shouted from the rooftops, Bud flowed and stomped with Hawk barking back at him with brute authority and Rex, always driven by nervous energy and self-doubt, simply played in the way that he had throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s when he had burned and burnished his jazz without too many people noticing. I for one still play as many as I’ve got of his multitude of Paris sessions from the ‘40s and if you dig them out you’ll find most of his later sessions back in the States were also full of little classics.

Rex had come to London in June 1949 after a terrific six months touring around Europe with a wonderful band that included Sandy Williams on trombone and Vernon Story on tenor. He sneaked into London alone, made friends with our founder Sinclair Traill and managed, without the Ministry of Works noticing, to record a smashing quartet session for Tempo with the great pianist Gerry Moore. One of the titles was Trucking Down The Sinclair Traill.

-Steve Voce

Scratching The Surface

Published in Jazz Journal in January 2010
added 2011-07-24

Scratching the Surface - 1 - Rex Stewart

Duke Ellington held Rex Stewart in high regard. Reduced to a financial comparison, he was the second best paid of the sidemen after Johnny Hodges. In 1943 Duke paid Rex $160 a week. Taft Jordan was on $140 and Lawrence Brown earned $125. Sonny Greer, who Ellington seemed not to like in those later years, was on $120.

In his time with Ellington Rex was usually an inspired and unpredictable soloist who added powerful character to the music. His 1940 Morning Glory feature was a substantial jazz classic and his various interventions with his mutes threw a stimulating turbulence into the music.

A good example of this is in the Black Brown And Beige suite. Rex wasn’t on the studio recordings made for RCA and his place was taken by the still very effective Taft Jordan.

But on the series of weekly broadcasts by the Ellington band during 1945, sponsored the U S Treasury, Ellington frequently played extracts from the suite. Here Rex assumed the role that had probably been written for him and the music leaps to life in a way that it hadn’t done in the studio. The Victor recording was not highly regarded by the critics and, on the evidence of the Treasury Shows, it seems that Rex made all the difference.

The pungent use of mutes in the brass was of course a prime characteristic of Duke’s music. The greatest exponents included Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Rex, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson, Tricky Sam Nanton, Tyree Glenn and Quentin Jackson. Lawrence Brown claimed to have been forced to play the Nanton style trombone by Duke when there was no other specialist in the later band. He claimed that this ruined his embouchure.

Many of the trumpet players were particularly nasty towards one another. The amiable Bill Berry recalled his first night with the band and the notorious difficulties with missing bits of charts. He turned and asked Cootie a question about the piece that they were playing and Cootie snarled ‘F… you,’ out of the corner of his mouth. Cat Anderson recalled that when he first joined the band one night when Rex wasn’t there he took Rex’s role in Blue Skies. He played it an octave higher than Rex did. ‘When I ended up on a double C the people were applauding… As luck would have it Rex came in the stage door as I was blasting away. He didn’t speak to me for 15 years. He was highly strung, and so am I.’

Scratching the Surface - 2 - Taft Jordan and Tricky Sam Nanton

Taft Jordan, a severely underrated jazz musician, although primarily influenced by Louis, was able to create a good imitation of Rex’s style and used it during his time with Duke. For some time they were both with the band and seem to have got on well. The Treasury shows contain their duet, Tooting Through The Roof, which is an explosion of great and dextrous brass fire.

Times were hard for the Ellington band in 1947 and Duke asked the men to take a pay cut. Taft (along with Wilbur de Paris) decided to leave.

‘When I left after almost four years I was so tired that I slept for almost a whole year. I’d had too much road. For a long time I actually slept two or three times a day, and not cat naps but for two or three hours. I hadn’t realised how tired I was when I was out there.’

Amongst themselves the trombonists seemed to have been a pretty amicable lot. For one so prolific amongst Ellington’s successes we know comparatively little about Tricky Sam Nanton. Intriguingly he was a freedom fighter before the term was invented. Rex Stewart came up with a good physical description.

‘Joe Nanton was a gingerbread-coloured man, kind of on the squatty side. His facial contours reminded me of a benevolent basset hound, with those big brown eyes that regarded the world so dolefully, framed in a long face with just a hint of dewlaps.

‘What a variety of sounds he evoked from his instrument! From the wail of a new-born baby to the raucous hoot of an owl, from the bloodcurdling scream of an enraged tiger to the eerie cooing of a mourning dove, Tricky had them all in his bag of tricks and he utilised them with thoughtful discretion and good taste.’

Tricky was at his best by the time of the Treasury broadcasts, contributing a couple of haunting versions of Black and Tan Fantasy. On one of them he was partnered by Rex and, oddly, this was the only time that Rex ever recorded the tune with Duke.

Scratching the Surface - 3 - The Treasury Broadcasts

For those who don’t know them, I’d better say a little more about the Treasury series. Eddie Lambert writes well about them in his magnificent ‘Duke Ellington - A Listener’s Guide’ (Scarecrow Press). You should also read Rex Stewart’s ‘Jazz Masters of the Forties’ (MacMillan) for absorbing portraits of his fellow Ellingtonians.

As Lambert points out, the Treasury broadcasts became the single largest Ellington project of Duke’s career. They began in the spring of 1945 in the last months of World War II and were weekly broadcasts under the title of ‘Your Saturday Date With the Duke’. They were recorded at various locations into the following year and had as their raison d’être the government’s need to fund the war. The frequent appeals to the public to buy war bonds are a minor irritant throughout the transmissions, but if they hadn’t existed, neither would the music.

The master Ellington devotee Jerry Valburn eventually managed to collect all the broadcasts together, mainly from AFRS discs, and did a remarkable job of re-engineering them to produce a more than acceptable good sound quality. At first he issued all the broadcasts on 48 LPs, but now the process of bringing them out on double CD albums is well under way on Storyville, or indeed may have been completed by the time you read this. Lambert describes this Ellington series as ‘one of the most exciting ever produced.’

The specialised nature of the RCA recordings is relinquished of course and there is some dross amongst the popular songs of the day that are included. Generally the quality of the vocals (excluding those by Ray Nance, of course) is not up to that of the purely instrumentals. As with the titles so far referred to, there are a good many not recorded elsewhere, including a couple of features for Lawrence Brown.

Oddly I found one of the Treasury Show double albums for under eight quid on Amazon, but most of them seem to sell at £16.59. Add the carriage and it’s out of my price range. However if you want just one and can sort out the album that includes Broadcast 20 you’ll find that Black and Tan mentioned above, along with a cracking reworking of In A Jam (Rex, Tricky and Hodges rampant) and alsoThe Jeep Is Jumpin’, Mood Indigo, Indiana, Let The Zoomers Drool and the piano feature Tonk, which oddly appears as Pianistically Allied.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in September 2010
added 2011-07-24

‘I don’t think Cootie Williams ever forgave Duke for hiring Rex. I believe Cootie’s jealousy of Rex is what caused him to leave the band.’ – Sonny Greer quoted by Steven Lasker.

When Cootie was 14 he joined the carnival band run by Lester Young’s family for a summer. ‘I got 50 cents a day and I ate with the family,’ he recalled. Later his pal Edmond Hall, taking up job with pianist Eagle Eye Shields in Jacksonville, managed to get Cootie into the band as well

Another friend of Cootie’s whilst the trumpeter was still with the Fletcher Henderson band, was Johnny Hodges. It was probably Hodges who, at the beginning of 1929, recommended the 17-year-old Cootie to Ellington who was looking for a replacement for Bubber Miley. Rarely throughout his career did Duke fire a musician. Miley was the first and Charlie Mingus probably the last. With his ‘jungle’ style Bubber was a key member and his frequent absences had ruined several important appearances by the band. Miley died from tuberculosis three years afterwards when he was 29.

‘When I joined the band,’ Cootie told Eric Townley, ‘Tricky Sam Nanton would be growling, playing the trombone with a plunger mute and I used to laugh. This was funny sounding music to me.’’

Ellington didn’t ask Cootie to adopt the muted style. Cootie, who was one of the main Armstrong disciples, had never heard Bubber live and it was only when he’d been with the band for six weeks or so that he decided to play a growl solo, delighting Duke and the other musicians. ‘Keep that in,’ said Duke. His brazen muted solos drove the band’s work for the next decade as he became a master of his craft. More direct than the sinuous Rex Stewart, a record paradoxically perhaps exemplifies his work, not with Duke, but with Lionel Hampton – the irresistible Ring Dem Bells. Not necessarily his best work, but certainly representative of it. Like the other muted trumpeters he was most effective in combination with the giant of the style, Tricky Sam Nanton, with the two reaching the ultimate with the 1931 Echoes Of The Jungle.

Williams was well established in the Ellington dynasty when he first led a band from within the band under his own name. The 1937 session produced at least one track that might be regarded as a masterpiece. Diga Diga Doo had fine solos from Tricky Sam, Hodges, Carney and Ellington as well as the trumpeter. The whole thing was set off and given extra character by Hodges’s soaring soprano, proving without doubt that the Rabbit was a Bechet disciple.

‘Everybody contributed compositions to the band on their own – Tizol, Hodges, Bigard, Carney and myself,’ said Cootie, ‘but Duke used to get all the credit for them. Sometimes we’d write a complete number and Duke would still get the credit and all the money. I did Echoes of Harlem and Concerto for Cootie and they were entirely mine, but Duke got his name on the label. I didn’t mind.’ Cootie pointed out that, since Ellington never wrote feature pieces for the instrument, each of the trumpeters had to write his own.

The arrangements for the Ellington small groups led by Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart and Cootie himself ‘were rehearsed beforehand and not made up in the studio.’ This is at variance with record producer Helen Dance’s assertion that ‘Very little was written on these dates...and the musicians would arrive at the studio almost totally unprepared.’ Listening to the polish of the bands, particularly on the Bigard tracks, one must doubt what Helen said.

Ellington helped Williams to negotiate a good salary when he joined Benny Goodman in November 1940 (the year of Concerto For Cootie and all the classics with the Blanton band). Cootie stayed for about a year.

‘That Goodman band! I loved it. It had a beat and there was something there that I wanted to play with. When it comes to music, I forget about the world. Everything else leaves me.

‘Benny is a great musician... He’s just Goodman. Not one way with this man and another with someone else, the same with everyone. I think I was happier in music that first year I was with him than I ever was.’

One would like to think that in the Goodman band Cootie forged a friendship with Lou McGarity. At the time McGarity’s playing was a match for that of any trombonist (including Teagarden). In and out of the band at various times, some of Lou’s best solos are on Benny’s tracks – note particularly his work on ‘Benny Goodman Plays Mel Powell’, one of Alastair Robertson’s magnificent quintet of Goodman albums, this one on Hep CD 1055.

After he’d been with Goodman for six months Cootie made a session of four tracks under his own name for Okeh (I had it on Regal Zonophone 78s!) which had a wonderful tribute to Louis in a reworked West End Blues. Lou was on trombone along with other Goodmanites including Johnny Guarnieri.

Lou appeared again when Cootie had his own date for RCA some 18 years later in 1958 (RCA 74321 21826). In the big band Cootie was the only trumpet and apart from his own horn there was effective soloing from Lou and Boomie Richman. Others in the band included George Barnes, Eddie Safranski and Don Lamond.

‘That’s my favourite recording of my own,’ said Cootie, ‘and my wife is crazy about it.’

After the year with Goodman Cootie, as agreed, asked for his job back with Duke. But Duke had taken on Ray Nance and suggested that Cootie formed his own big band. He led a brash big band at the Savoy Ballroom that didn’t do justice to him or the unlikely talents that he discovered for it. In 1944 his youngsters included Pearl Bailey, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and the 16-year-old Bud Powell. The first recordings of Epistrophy and Round About Midnight were made under Cootie’s name. Later trios included Eddie Vinson, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Gus Johnson and Ed Thigpen.

Monk, Parker and Powell were at a frontier that was surely alien to Williams.

‘Bud was a genius,’ said Cootie. ‘...we went to play a job in Philly and he was a little late. And high when he got there. So he didn’t come back with us when we had finished work. The next day the FBI called and told me they had him in jail. I gave them his mother’s phone number. She found they’d beaten him so badly round the head.. she couldn’t bring him back on the train and had to hire a car. His head was so damaged he ended in Bellevue. His sickness started right there.’

The band headed away from jazz into rhythm and blues and, like most of the other big bands, it broke up in 1948 but Cootie kept a small r&b group and had a hit record with ‘Gator’, featuring honking tenor from Willis Jackson. By now the band functioned as a r&b band and not as a showcase for the leader’s trumpet. It worked in comparative obscurity at the Savoy until the ballroom closed down in 1962. After a brief season leading a quartet at The Embers Cootie rejoined Duke later that year. He stayed with the band, outliving Duke, who died in May 1974.

Cootie enjoyed a year of complete retirement. ‘My wife and I love horse racing and we would go to the races nearly every day and then go out to dinner. When I was retired I was in bed by about eight o’clock and waking up at six in the morning.’ Sporadic festival appearances including Newport and Nice were part of the winding down of his magnificent career. After that he resumed a comparatively lengthy retirement, dying at 75 on September 15, 1985.

-Steve Voce

Music Is My Mistress – Postscript
added 2011-09-01

Ever since it was first published in 1974 controversy has abounded in regard to Duke Ellington's autobiography 'Music Is My Mistress' (surely it should have been `One Of My Mistresses'?). General first impressions were that the book was no more than a cosmetic and half-hearted attempt by the Duke in which he stroked his friends and pretended that he didn't have any enemies.

Two comparatively recent events have forced reconsideration of the book's stature. Somebody speculated idly on the Internet saying 'We all know how little time Duke spent on this biography and how little importance he accorded it. I read somewhere that he agreed to work on it probably only for a matter of money.'

I left the Kenton group on the Internet when it was taken over by addle-headed hysterical women. The ladies gracing the Ellington group are a different matter altogether and include Americans who include a distinguished journalist, an Ellington researcher from a well-known university and, uniquely, a lady who worked with Duke on his administrative matters day by day.

Since these ladies are all discreet, the latter wouldn't thank me for naming her.

'Little Time? Absolutely not. He went through hell writing that book. He did it all on his own with no help from any writer. He had a few writers assigned to him but it didn't work because they were always suggesting how he should do it. Dance came back on full time, only to dig up names, dates, places etc.

'He had it all set ready to go to the publisher when something happened and he had to just about re-write the whole book and secure an extension on his contract or give back the advance.

'I helped with the bibliography and at one point he went so much into panic of not securing the extension, he had me get passports for myself and all the boys to take us all to Europe to complete the book. Thank goodness he got the extension at the last minute and I didn't have to go.

'The mess that was created by a trusted friend that forced him to request an extension has never come out in a biography of him. He couldn't compose for over a month. It was terrible and then after his death this person continued to parade as being part of the close circle around Duke.

`I never forgave this person because we all lost a great deal of new composing because of time lost in this re-write.'

These days it is difficult to take seriously a non-fiction book that is published without an index. Duke's was one such. But just over a year ago Jørgen Mathiasen completed a perfect index for the book and published it on the Internet where we were all able to download it for free. Of course this transforms the book and gives it new life.

-Steve Voce

Briefer writings

Jugged Rex

Published in Jazz Journal in January 1966
added 2011-08-19

Hearing Humph playing Rex Stewart’s record of Jug Blues with Sandy Williams made me wonder if the Rex Stewart sides recorded in Europe will ever be released here. Although I have never heard the very rare Jug before, I have a half a dozen of the 12 inch Blue Star 78s which include Mobile Bay, quite the outstanding record of trumpet/cornet playing which I know of. And then there was Old Woman's Blues from the it German session and quite a few others. Rex is one of the great masters, sounding as though he had three hands and five and a half valves.

I am looking forward to his intended English visit with more than a little enthusiasm because, after having lobbied for it for so long, I am sure that it will be an eventful one.

Rex has taken up writing these days, and several extracts from what promises to be a well-written book by him have already been published. There is some muttering at our newspaper-empire HQ in Willow Vale that Rex is also writing at least one piece for Jazz Journal. What with the article by Duke in December, the serialisation of the Clayton letters and Rex's contribution, it looks like Stan and I might be looking for a job.

-Steve Voce

Rex and Harry

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1966
added 2011-08-19

The discographical queries which I raised last month (More Rex) have all been solved. The caption to the photograph of Rex Stewart's band gives the personnel of Jug Blues, and Harry Carney tells me that he played the clarinet solos on Rexatious and Lazy Man Shuffle. He also told me that, contrary to George Ellis' speculations on the sleeve note, he played the alto solo on Brown Berries by Ellington

(RCA RD-7731) and on the 78 version of Blue Bubbles. He also cited a 1927 track, well-known, whose title now escapes me, where he soloed on alto.

-Steve Voce

Bucket And Rex

Published in Jazz Journal in July 1966

added 2011-08-20

The kind of music I enjoy most is the kind played by 'Bucket', as Stewart calls him, and Rex himself. Consequently May and June were to me months of profound satisfaction. Clayton's tour beat Rex's only because it was more unified, and Buck and his accompanists are well-versed in working together. What some people mistook for erraticism on Rex's part was largely due to the fact that such an individual stylist cannot adopt the mantle of an unfamiliar band in so short a time. Rex dropped all the opposition on his last appearance (a B.B.C. L show) when he played Body And Soul. This transmission will he worth waiting for.

-Steve Voce

Blanton And Nanton (first taste of Fargo)

Published in Jazz Journal in September 1966
added 2011-08-21

I wonder what arrangements have been made for Duke Ellington to receive royalties on the concert recordings by the 1940 band currently floating around in the underground movement. The material I've heard (I believe there is a lot more) comes from a concert at Fargo, North Dakota in November, 1940. The quality of the band sound is not exceptional, but the soloists come over beautifully, and there are yards of Tricky Sam and Blanton which would never otherwise have been heard. In the odd half-hour or so which I've heard there was a magnificent Clarinet Lament (better than the issued one) by Bigard; a Sepia Panorama with a long Blanton solo, an expanded Webster one, and good work from the band; a riotous Rumpus In Richmond from Rex; an unknown (to me) feature for Carney called Slap Happy; glorious Nanton and rolling piano on Sidewalks Of New York; more Bigard and Tizol on Caravan; a long Never No Lament with Hodges and Brown, and a cracking version of Flaming Sword.

Particularly in the cases of Nanton and Blanton this stuff is impossible for the collector to resist, because it helps to add a missing dimension to their backgrounds. But how much did Duke, who paid their wages. get for the recording?

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in November 1967
added 2011-08-22

Clark Terry ran in to Ben Webster during the tour. Ben was having a night off and relaxing in a manner that would kill most people.
‘Look at me!’ yelled Ben. ‘I’m as tough as Coleman Hawkins!’
‘No, you’re not,’ said Clark.
‘Why not?’ shouted Ben.
‘Because Hawk would still be standing up.’

-Steve Voce

Jimmy Hamilton? Bring Back Rudy Jackson

Published in Jazz Journal in September, 1968
added 2011-08-23

'Congratulations to Duke Ellington' read the Melody Maker letter 'on losing Jimmy Hamilton. Hamilton was never really integrated into the Ellington orchestra. He may have been a better clarinet player than Barney Bigard but he never was as good a jazzman and member of the Ellington band.'

To think it took Duke 24 years to find out!

As usual when a long-term Ellingtonian leaves, one feels that the blow must be mortal, but of course it will not be. With Harold Ashby, a fine tenor man, as Jimmy's replacement, it is difficult to envisage what will happen to the clarinet chores. Doubtless Procope's role will be increased, but who is to handle the suave and finely-honed parts that Jimmy did? Or will we perhaps see a clarinet transition in the band as marked as the one when Jimmy (with a brief period between from Chauncey Houghton) took over from Bigard?

And what of Jimmy? It is to be hoped that he is not to vanish, like so many good jazz musicians, into the anonymity of the studio. He is probably the greatest all-round jazz clarinettist of the day, and we must hope he's not going to be lost to us. Wherever he goes, I'm sure we all wish him the very best of luck.

Maybe a residency at the Manchester Sports Guild?

Maybe not.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in November 1974
added 2011-08-26

As we go to press the sad news of Harry Carney's death. He had seemed so fit last autumn when he was over here that one had thought him much younger than his years.

He was an incredibly gentle person, sharing this characteristic with Billy Strayhorn, which made me wonder how either of them managed, as they did often, to control the Ellington band in rehearsal. Carney's work as a straw boss was the least recognised of his achievements. That barrel-chested baritone sound made him the outstanding performer on the instrument with any competition only coming late with the arrival of Gerry Mulligan. But the two men had totally different aims and were not to be compared. Carney has cited Hawk as his main influence (although Hawk played baritone with Henderson, Harry was influenced only by his tenor) and this probably accounts for the big tone and unusual fluency that made Harry so individual.

The sudden decimation of the ranks of the Ellington band over the last few years is quite shattering, particularly since it seemed as though they were to be with us forever.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in March 1980.
added 2011-08-02

Where Are Lawrence Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Hamilton? Great jazz musicians all, and it seems wasteful that they should be absent from the scene. It is true that Miles has not enjoyed the best of health in recent years, but both he and Monk seem to have become enveloped in total obscurity. Are they simply lurking to do a latter-day Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton when the time is ripe? One cannot believe that such creative minds have ceased to have musical thoughts any more.

Lawrence always thought that he richly deserved obscurity. He once confided to me that he wished that he could jam like the other musicians in the Ellington band - although the facts were that he was one of the most excitingly original players in the band. But his gloomy outlook was always similar to that of Marvin in `The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy'.

Jimmy won some kind of lottery many years ago and lie and his wife bought a hotel somewhere in the Caribbean. He still plays, and Clark Terry told me he had a hit record out there a year or so ago. Does he still play jazz? It would be interesting if readers would let me have their `Where are?' enquiries. You never know, we might find someone. Larry Adler does not apply.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal March 1987.
added 2011-08-03

In March 1987 I wrote a piece in Jazz Journal about my old friend Peter Clayton and quoted him:

‘I have very fond memories of Paul Gonsalves. He was at a press conference for the Ellington band in Southport, and very drunk. Duke was tactfully trying to shut him up, but he got worse. I took him to his hotel room and I can remember sitting him on the edge of the bed and trying to sober him up with scalding hot coffee. He pointed to his tenor on a ledge in the room and said "I'm married to that piece of steel up there. That's my family." The coffee didn't really work and I went with him in a taxi to the theatre. During the ride I had the disturbing experience of having him weep on my shoulder over the then not very distant death of his friend Johnny Hodges. Being in such distraught shape, he played very badly that night, and I was furious when a small part of the audience laughed at him.’

-Steve Voce

Half Valve, Half Cock

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1987.
added 2011-08-07

`I never heard Rex Stewart until I joined Ellington and somebody in the hand played me some of his records,' said Clark Terry. 'Besides, I couldn't do that half valve thing the way he could. Now Buck could do it. He could probably have done it better than Rex did! So you see that any idea that I based my playing on Rex's is totally wrong. I won't tell you who printed the story that I did, but his initials are Leonard Feather.'

I was pleased to note that one of the provincial Irish magazines has stopped promising to print Leonard Feather's obituary and has agreed to wait until he is dead. Two consecutive issues of the magazine carried the note of Feather's death. I checked with Los Angeles to find that Feather was perhaps shaken, hut still undead. It must have been very worrying for Feather who must think they know something that he doesn't and be continually looking over his shoulder for a bunch of murderous Celts with black-hearted things in their minds.

-Steve Voce

Jazzy grunts

Letter published in The Independent in 1992
added 2011-09-07


Monday, 6 July 1992

Whereas 'grunting' may be regarded as a problem in the realms of tennis and symphonic music (Letters, 4 July), jazz musicians have solved its manifestation not by eliminating it but by adapting it into their music. The arch-grunter was the pianist Milt Buckner, whose recordings abound with rhythmically delivered explosions of grunt. Duke Ellington evolved a keening kind of grunt which, slightly off-key, can be heard throughout many of his piano solos. Count Basie grunted a lot, too, but more modestly than the florid Oscar Peterson, whose powerhouse grunting often triumphs over the sound of the piano.

Lionel Hampton, on the other hand, is the major exponent of bleating. The connoisseur finds his greatest moments on the many recordings by Peterson and Hampton together, where the collision and conjunction of bleat and grunt reach an apex in collective improvisation.

Yours faithfully,



Published in Jazz Journal in June 1994
added 2011-08-07

As is the case with Duke Ellington, the work of Benny Goodman should best be compared only with itself. When he was listless or disinterested, usually when he had regurgitated too many Fletcher Henderson charts for too long, Benny's playing was a long way from the firestorm which he could blow up when he was on one of his frequent peaks. When one looks back over his career, it is easy to undervalue the innovative skills of his early big bands and the fantastic discipline and accuracy of his well-rehearsed sections.

Goodman seems to have considered his own band to be superior to Ellington's. In his indispensable book on Goodman, Swing, Swing, Swing (Hodder & Stoughton), Ross Firestone records the following conversation as detailed by trumpeter Jimmy Maxwell. Jimmy felt that the Henderson library was becoming frayed round the edges.

`I said to him "If you like coloured arrangers so much, why don't you use some of Duke Ellington's charts?" Benny just looked at me, then said "Do you really like that band, pops?" I said "Sure, it's the greatest band that ever was". He said "Yeah? Do you think so? I always kind of thought my band is". I couldn't believe that he was serious, so when he asked me "And who's your favourite clarinet player?" I told him Barney Bigard, who was playing with Ellington at that time.'

An hour later Goodman summoned Maxwell to his dressing room. `Goodman said "You know, pops, I don't think I want anyone in the band who doesn't think we're the best. I'm going to let you go". So Benny put me on notice and started trying out new trumpet players. He kept me on notice for about six months, but for one reason or another he never did get round to replacing me.'

-Steve Voce

Nobody's Perfect

Published in Jazz Journal in September 1994.
added 2011-08-07

Lawrence Brown watched as Duke Ellington left a rehearsal for one of the sacred concerts with a beautiful woman on each arm.

‘That man,’ said Lawrence thoughtfully, ‘can’t write for trombones.’

On an earlier occasion when he had just joined the Ellington band, trumpeter Nelson Williams examined a chart that the band was about to play.

‘Hey, Duke,’ he called, ‘there’s a wrong note here.’

‘Just keep playing it baby,’ said duke. ‘It’ll soon sound alright.’

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in January 1997.
added 2011-08-11

‘Duke and Johnny Hodges had long periods when they didn’t speak to each other,’ Ruby Braff recalled. 'At one time they lived in the same apartment block. I was waiting with Johnny Hodges outside the building for a cab one time when Duke came down, also looking for a cab. They didn’t speak but Johnny said to me loudly “What do you think about a guy who has to have a whole band to say what he wants to say? What do you think about a guy like Louis Armstrong, who can speak for himself all on his own and make the whole world listen?” ’

-Steve Voce

Reimbursing In Tempo

Published in Jazz Journal in May 1999.
added 2011-08-29

Stuart Nicholson has a new book out, Reminiscing In Tempo (Sidgwick & Jackson), a collection of direct quotations about Ellington from the writings of a variety of authors, yours truly included. Many of us were surprised, since we hadn't been asked, nor has any arrangement about payment been made. My writings appear in the book without being credited.

There is a picture of the Ellington band of 1941 captioned `This 1941 photograph was taken just weeks after Jimmy Blanton was forced to leave the band with tuberculosis in October that year'. Standing next to Duke at the front of the of the picture, holding his bass, is Jimmy Blanton. Should he look again in Rex Stewart's autobiography Boy Meets Horn (Bayou Press) from which he also borrowed text at some length, Mr Nicholson will find the same photograph, with the difference that it is actually autographed by Jimmy Blanton.

-Steve Voce

Ben Webster: Hit It With A Big Hammer

Published in Jazz Journal in January 2001
added 2011-08-29

George Avakian recalls `Ben Webster was one of the strongest musicians I ever knew, and that includes Zutty Singleton. Sid Catlett was even bigger than Zutty, but he didn't have muscles like Ben or Zutty.

`Ben and I were listening to somebody at the old Birdland bar, and for the third time since midnight I said, "Ben, I really have to get home." Ben looked at me in the eye, said, "Uh uh"! and picked me up, turned me sideways and held me over his head. But he was a gentleman through and through – the moment I said "I'll stay"! he set me down gently and picked up all the change that had fallen out of my pockets.'

Usually we saw the quiet side of Ben in Britain. He became very odd when loaded, but I don't think he ever did harm to anyone over here. There was a report that on one occasion he chained himself to some railings, and Humphrey Lyttelton has recalled that on one occasion when Ben was being carried out of a club he demanded of the bouncers `But what do you guys really think of Art Tatum?'

On another occasion Ben found himself in a New York lift alongside Joe Louis, who he hadn't met before. Delighted to encounter one of his heroes, Ben playfully tapped Joe in the stomach. Joe laid him out cold with one punch.

-Steve Voce

Johnny Mandel On Duke

Published in Jazz Journal in April 2007
added 2011-09-02

I was delighted to be able to talk to Johnny Mandel on half a dozen occasions for a total of several hours on the radio programme that I presented for the BBC. This was his view of Duke Ellington.

‘I’ve taken some of Duke’s stuff down. He dictated it from the piano. Most of it was technically wrong. If you saw it written out, you’d swear it would sound dreadful, but it was organic to the people in the band. It was the way that they played it. A lot of things went on in that band that were undecipherable, but the music was wonderful.’

-Steve Voce

Mad Lionel

Published in Jazz Journal in July 2007
added 2011-09-02

‘When I was a youngster,’ said Lionel Hampton, 'I’d hang around with Duke. When Duke was off the road in New York he lived in Edgecomb Avenue with his sister, and his sister and my wife were like sisters. We’d all get together and have big jam sessions when he was in town.

‘We’d just fool around trying different things. If I was playing naturally, like in the key of F, Duke would like to play the same thing in the key of F-Sharp! That was great! The only thing he and I couldn’t see eye to eye on was when I got Johnny Hodges to play with me on Sunny Side of the Street and it sold a million records. Duke said to Johnny “You can’t make no outside records no more! If you want to, you have to see me.”’

-Steve Voce

Clark Terry won't give in

added 2011-08-03

Clark Terry should not have been at Nice this year. A few days before the festival he had undergone two major operations, and he was unable to lead on trumpet the potent One O'Clock Jumpers (Nat Pierce, Jimmy Owens, Buddy Tate, Billy Mitchell, George Masso, Eddie Jones and Oliver Jackson). However, he did manage to offer the most spectacular incident of the festival. Despite the fact that he had lost over a stone in weight as a result of the surgery, Clark insisted on singing with the band, and at one point while still in mid-vocal, trumpeter Jimmy Owens stood alongside Clark and Clark fingered a solo on the valves while Jimmy blew!

-Steve Voce

Benny Rides Again

Published in Jazz Journal
added 2011-09-02

In Klaus Stratemann's book on Ellington he recalls an interesting incident on July 10, 1965. Benny Goodman was holding the third annual series of concerts in his home town under the title, 'Benny Goodman Presents - Rockrimmon Festival'. That night, when he had been given an award by the Stamford Museum, sponsor of the series, and was leaving the stage, the Ellington band started Goodman's theme, Let's Dance, and the audience clamoured for Benny to play. Quite uncharacteristically he borrowed Jimmy Hamilton's instrument and joined Ellington and his band in an impromptu performance he announced as The Natural Museum Blues. A tape of this rare musical collaboration is known to have been in Benny's personal collection.

-Steve Voce


The Marquis of Harlem

Published in Jazz Journal in June 1958

added 2011-08-07

The recent visit of Little Jimmy Rushing to this country brings back memories of another great American singer who visited this country not so long ago. Although he has little in common with Rushing, he did popularise a number which is now a standard in the Rushing repertoire -"Evening".

Cab Calloway spent several weeks in the autumn of 1955 playing to cheerless and diminutive variety audiences throughout the country. It seems a pity that he couldn't have put his visit forward a couple of years to the present time when he would probably have gained the acclamation that his talents merit.

Possessing all the attributes of a great jazz singer – a perfect ear, superb phrasing and timing, and the ability to swing a band with his own voice, it is highly desirable that Cab should be unearthed by somebody like John Hammond or George Avakian and restored to the place in jazz that should be his.

Following a decade of virile hot music which placed Cab and his band second only to Duke Ellington for popularity, the Calloway band came to be regarded, in the late 'thirties, as the school for anyone with something new to say. It featured such progressives of the time as Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, Tyree Glenn and Dizzy Gillespie. Later it formed a refuge for such mid-period men as Jonah Jones, Sam Taylor, J.C.Heard, Keg Johnson, Shad Collins and Greely Walton. Among the jazz greats whose talents flowered and matured with Calloway were Chu Berry, Milt Hinton,Danny Barker and Quentin Jackson.

Cab himself, equipped as he was with a strict musical training and natural perfect pitch, required of his musicians that they should be equipped with fluent techniques, a sympathetic approach to section work and the ability to turn out a jazz chorus that was more than just good.

"It's no good trying to be a musician unless you're satisfied that you've had a full musical training. I spent a lot of time at grammar school and all my time at high school studying voice – about eight years in all. "

On such of his records as "St. James' Infirmary", "Harlem Camp Meeting" and "Harlem Hospitality" you can hear a combination of musical abilities not to be found anywhere else in jazz. Along with Ella Fitzgerald, upon whose singing he has had a great influence, he has that technical confidence in his ability that enables him to give free rein to his jazz ideas without stumbling over any technical limitations.

After hearing Cab's observations on the necessity of hard musical study, it was interesting to confront him with the case of Armstrong who has devoted about as much time to the subject as Lady Astor has to drinking draught Bass. But Louis was the great exception: "When you've got that much, man! You don't want any more. "

Louis and Cab have a certain similarity of phrasing, and I asked Cab about this.

"Of course, Louis was singing and playing way before I was, and he influenced me quite a bit. He was the only male singer around at that time, excluding the country boys, who was doing anything other than straight singing, and we became competitors later on. But I don't say that I've ever copied anything from him. Each of Louis' phrases was a thing of beauty on its own. You listened to Louis – you didn't listen to the band. I was concentrating more on swinging and getting the band to swing with me. "

According to Cab his first record was "Miss Jenny Lee", made for the Conqueror label, a subsidiary of RCA Victor, in 1928. Cab says that the band was a pick-up group and he can't recall the personnel. However, this would appear not to be Rust-proof, since the Hot Discography lists "Sweet Jennie Lee" on Conqueror 7769 as his second recording date on 14th October, 1930.

Cab's first band was formed in 1929 and was known as the Alabamians, and he played second alto as well as taking the vocals. It is a fact completely overlooked by most discographies that Cab played alto on several of his earlier recordings.

"I brought the Alabamians from Chicago to New York in late 1928 and we went to work in the Savoy Ballroom. We were a big flop there because we were playing Chicago jazz, and they didn't like it too much in New York. They were playing the Eastern style, and it had a more solid and cumbersome beat to it. The kids couldn't dance too good to our music, and they really didn't like it. But while they didn't like the band. they went for my vocals.

"One night the manager of the Savoy arranged a battle of jazz between my band, the Alabamians, and another band called the Missourians. The Missourians had a leader and vocalist called Lockwood Lewis, and during the battle I out-did Lockwood Lewis but the Alabamians were outplayed by the Missourians. So the manager decided to put the Missourians and me together. Most of us stayed put together for the next seventeen or eighteen years!"

The Missourians changed their name back to the one they had used in 1925 - the Cotton Club Orchestra - and replaced Duke Ellington in the Cotton Club show. Broadcasts followed, and the group built up a large following, second only to that of Duke Ellington himself. Soon Cab was billed as leader and began recording for American Brunswick. With such great soloists as Reuben Reeves and Lamar Wright on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler on trombone and Walter "Foots" Thomas on tenor and baritone, the records sold like hot cakes.

Louis had recorded "St. James' Infirmary" some years before and made a hit with it: a year before, Woolworth's had issued a cardboard disc of the number by Ellington as the pop tune of the week. On 23rd December, 1930, Cab set down the version that was to make it his tune and was to be his first best-seller. Foots Thomas on baritone and Jimmy Smith on tuba laid down a sombre, compelling rhythm for Lamar Wright's pure-toned introduction. The ensemble followed and then Foots' baritone played a surprisingly agile chorus that even Harry Carney would have been hard put to match. Cab's vocal was masterful. Full of blues feeling, it ranks today as one of his most dynamic and convincing recordings.

The reverse, a tearaway version of "Nobody's Sweetheart", featured another vocal, some Bubber Miley-like work from Reuben Reeves, and a clarinet solo, full of vitality, by William Blue, who had previously played with Dewey Jackson's Peacock Orchestra. Blue was at this time making use of a style as pungent and biting as Teschmaker's and yet still fluid and full in the manner of Bigard and Noone.

Reuben Reeves, who joined the band from Chicago's Regal Theatre Orchestra modelled his style on that of Bubber Miley with a dash of Louis thrown in. However, when playing open horn his style was very similar to that of the other two trumpeters, Lamar Wright and R. Q. Dickerson (nobody seems to have bothered to find out his christian names) and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. The fact that Cab insisted on shouting encouragement to "Red" during Reuben Reeves' solos gave rise to the theory that Red Allen was in the band. Harry White, who had done stints with Ellington and the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, shared the trombone chores with De Priest Wheeler. In addition to William Blue and Foots Thomas. Andrew Brown was in the sax section. He stayed there until the late 'forties. Earres Prince played piano until he was replaced in 1932 by Bennie Payne, who was later to become Billy Daniels' accompanist. The rhythm section was completed by Charley Stamps (banjo), Jimmy Smith (string-bass and tuba) and LeRoy Maxey (drums).

With Reeve's trumpet and the Nanton-styled soloing of De Priest Wheeler the band had quite an Ellington flavour. "Ellington had at that time the greatest array of sidemen jazz has ever known" says Cab. "Artie Whetsel, Bubber, Tricky Sam, Bigard, Carney, Hodges and Wellman Braud. Braud was just about the finest bass-player around in those days. He was just about the first bassist to pick the bass, and he really started the style. All the guys patterned themselves after Duke's soloists because they had no one else to pattern themselves after. It was the Duke and his men who started the big band business and throughout the years since he's always been at the top. "

At this time Cab's arrangers were Foots Thomas and Eddie Barefield. Foots, who hasn't played for some six or seven years, is still in the band business running a booking agency in New York. Barefield does most of Cab's arranging today (for a small accompanying group) and is still playing, running a quintet in New York. He also made a recent appearance on a Buck Clayton jam session.

From the 1930 version of "St. Louis Blues" featuring Wheeler and Reeves to the wartime version of "Bye Bye Blues" featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Cab has had only two peers as far as arrangements were concerned - the Count and the Duke. From the superb alto of Hilton Jefferson on "Willow Weep For Me" to the bouncing tenor of Chu Berry on "Three Swings And Out", Cab's men have carved all save the really exceptional.

"Chu had been around with Teddy Hill and Fletcher for some time when I first took him on, and I was lucky because he was just making his turn onto the up grade. People hadn't heard much about his playing, but he got his recognition while in my band. He died in an automobile accident while we were travelling from one job to another. He was in a car that overturned and he never regained consciousness. He hadn't hit his peak when he was killed. He was one of the finest musicians I have ever met in my life. If he had lived he would have been without a question of a doubt a tenor sax immortal like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. He had such a fantastic taste, and his solos were both tasteful and easy for the kids to listen to. And could that boy swing! I used to play second alto parts with the band until Chu joined. After listening to him I just didn't have the heart to pick up my sax. "

Cab was also eloquent on the subject of John Birks Gillespie: "Dizzy came out of Teddy Hill's band to join me a little time after Chu. Whether a lot of people know it or not, Dizzy is one of the finest legitimate trumpet players in the whole of America. The school he started is very complex and is really a very difficult style to play. There's no one come along that has done as well with it as Dizzy has. He's one of the only musicians to come into my band and cut the book. As you know I had some very intricate arrangements, and he had no trouble with them at all. As a rule when you had a new man you had to rehearse for two or three days, maybe a week before he'd be ready for the job. If one man was leaving, we'd normally rehearse a new man from the time that the other man's notice was in till the time that he left. But Dizzy walked in, sat down and just blew his way through those arrangements like he'd been playing them all his life. "

Mention of Tyree Glenn and the wonderful star-loaded session that produced "Are You Hep To The Jive?" (apart from Tyree there were Dizzy, Mario Bauza, Quentin Jackson, Hilton Jefferson, Danny Barker and Milt Hinton together with such faithfuls as Foots.

Andrew Brown Lamar Wright and Benny Payne - 8th March 1940) elicited from Cab the opinion that Hinton was the finest bassist around anywhere. "People are beginning to realise it now, but it's been that way since Blanton died. Milt's present job is staff man with CBS, both radio and television. He's on all the current recordings by Perry Como and Jackie Gleason and he's done a lot with Sinatra and Billy Daniels. He's the top studio man there, and whenever recordings are to be made, he's the man that's in on the session from start to finish. Milt developed from my band, because I took him right out of his first year in college to join me. He came in after Al Morgan left in early 1936 and stayed about thirteen years.

"Tyree is also a staff man in New York at television station WNEW and he does recordings in the same way that Hinton does. I think it was with those boys that some of my favourite of our records were done. Did you ever hear "Ebony Silhouette"? No? That was, I believe, one of the finest bass features ever waxed. And 'Three Swings And Out'? One of Chu's best, that one.

"You know I loved that band, and most of the guys in it are big names now. Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, Dizzy, J.C. Heard. But I don't think I'd have another big band. The Cab Jivers suited me very well. There was Chu on tenor, Jonah Jones on trumpet and the rhythm section - just a nice size.

"It's so difficult to keep a big band together these days. Bands nowadays are more or less concentrating on the ensemble sound in playing, because soloists don't stay in a band too long before they become stars in their own right, and it's pretty hard to keep a man who can take a good jazz chorus in an orchestra. He wants to be on his own, and the result is that most of the bands have to depend on ensemble work to develop a consistent style of their own. "

Recently Cab has resumed his more energetic activities. He is cast with Nat King Cole and Mahalia Jackson in the new film "St.Louis Blues", and there has even been some talk of getting the old band together again. In spite of the fact that a lot of them have become stars, there are still enough about in New York to make this a reasonable proposition.

-Steve Voce

A Laugh With Larry

Published in Jazz Journal in May 1965
added 2011-08-19

Perhaps the most consistent all-rounder in jazz trombone to-day is Lawrence Brown, mainstay of the Stanley Dance Orchestra for most of the time since 1932.

Always an enthusiast of his work, I have met him on each of his visits to this country except the first one in 1933 when I wasn't born (my old man went to hear him, though). On each occasion I have found him very pleasant to talk to, but extremely difficult to pin down. He always insists that, at any particular time, he is hopelessly off trombone-playing form - needless to say he then goes on to blow up a storm.

The first time I met him he had 'flu and had decided to give up music. The second time he had broken a tooth and said he was `all washed up as a trombonist'. This time I decided that the only approach to Mr. Brown was a direct one and, while he drank a cup of tea and I hung onto a pint (sorry, Albert) I tried to find out how he likes his music.

Lawrence was originally trained to be a doctor, and he regrets that he forsook this calling for music. A tee-totaller and non-smoker (you can break teeth and get 'flu that way) he seems to be pretty stern with himself, which is probably why, at 60, he looks 20 years younger than his age.

What, I asked him, would he recommend as being a good recorded example of his work? 'Well, I haven't got a gramophone, and I don't honestly remember ever hearing any record of mine off-hand. But I don't think any of them were anything special.'

I swallowed that one. Had there been any times when he had been playing when he had felt pleased with his work and thought that he had reached a peak, or played something that he would like to have kept on record? `No, I don't think so. I don't enjoy playing in that way. I'm not one of these people who runs off to jam every time the band finishes playing. In fact I never go to jam sessions, never had the desire to.'

Feeling the fences tightening in, I changed tack. Who were his favourite jazz trombonists? 'From a technical point of view, I think Urbie Green takes a lot of beating. Now he, for instance, is a great deal better than I. Then there are a few good youngsters out on the Coast - Dick Nash, Ray Sims and so on. And of course George Roberts.'

If he managed to remain so uninvolved in the music, how did he play with such conviction? 'I'm not a natural jazz musician. When I sit in the band I hear other soloists playing with a natural jazz sound - sort of a growl, I suppose - which they produce instinctively. It's a part of their playing. I don't do this, and have to deliberately contrive a jazz sound in my playing. This is one thing I do envy some of the others for.’

Allowing for the fact that he didn’t have a gramophone, which jazz music did he like to listen to most? ‘Nothing really. I don’t listen to much jazz.’

Serious music? ‘No, not really. The only time I’ll listen to music from choice, it has to be something like Jackie Gleason, with plenty of strings, or some of the big television orchestras.’

-Steve Voce

Cat Eye From KC

Published in Jazz Journal in December 1974
added 2011-08-26

(2011: Buck Clayton was a close friend of mine from our first meeting in 1958 until his death on December 8, 1991. Indeed there is almost as much about Buck in my columns as there was about Duke. He wrote a tune called ‘Steevos’ that Buddy Tate and Humphrey Lyttelton recorded. I was called by that nickname and Humphrey, to Buck, became ‘Sirrumph’. Buck was given his own nickname, ‘Cat Eye’, by Dickie Wells because of his bright green eyes. It was during one of his stays at my home that this lengthy piece was generated. He talks about Clark Terry, Cat Anderson, Duke and Ben Webster. Although most of the piece is about other people I’ll indulge myself, since David Palmquist hasn’t yet created my Buck Clayton internet site).

After three consecutive nights of playing records and drinking until after three in the morning I can tell you that for a sick man Buck Clayton is sure as hell showing signs of recovery. In fact, as he visibly recuperated from jet lag during his stay, I think we passed each other heading in different directions of health. As far as I can see he can eat and drink normally, although there is not a scrap of flesh on him (' I weigh exactly what I was when I joined Basie in 1936'). But that's no bad thing, and it can't do him any harm, as far as drinking is concerned, he's not allowed to get smashed (A little Scotch, a little beer.').

There are no indications that he will play again in the foreseeable future, and the reason for this, despite all the severe stomach and lip troubles he's suffered, is complications from an old hernia operation.

'Clark Terry gave me a flugelhorn a few months ago for when I can start. The flugel's much easier to blow than trumpet. All the guys have them now. The sound is much softer and of course the range isn't as high, but then you're not meant to play it high. Except for Roy Eldridge, who needs to play high on both horns. But he uses a trumpet mouthpiece on the flugel, which loses that soft tone somewhat'.

As the nights spun out the picture of the years since Buck was last here (was it really seven?) came through. They were mainly bad years, but one had to gather that, since Buck as usual wasn't complaining. But then most of the stories came from before that time.

One concerned the much-vaunted and over-rated recordings by the Big Eighteen, a fantastic group of stars playing abominable arrangements.

'With the kind of competition I was up against in that band - they had Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Billy Butterfield and Yank Lawson - I wanted to be just right. But damn me, I couldn't get my horn in tune. I tried everything - took the valves out, the tuning slides, the lot. But it didn't make any difference. If you listen you can hear how cautiously I play my solos on one of the sessions.

`A few days later I got one of those long brushes that you can push right through the horn. I pushed it through and out drops a little mouthpiece brush. It had got into the bell when the horn was in its case and worked its way through'.

There was a lot of talk about Coleman Hawkins, and we played a record of Hawk playing bass sax with the Henderson band of 1924.

'You know the sax section at one time had Hawk, Don Redman, Buster Bailey and Hilton Jefferson, and in the early days the whole section had to do song and dance routines. I sure as hell would have given a lot to see Hawk dancing and singing.

'Hawk and Buster both started very young, when they were in their early 'teens. In fact I remember Buster told me that he was in W. C. Handy's band the first time Handy handed out the parts for St. Louis Blues, which he'd just written. So Buster played it the very first time it was performed. He was eleven at the time.

'Fletcher called me to come into the band when I was still in The Reno with Basie in Kansas City. We were just about to leave K.C. and I wanted to stay with Basie, so I think Emmett Berry went. It was somebody to replace Roy. He'd just left'.

Talking about the various band-leaders brought the conversation round to Duke Ellington and his easy-going nature. And the famous way in which Duke's band filtered back to the stand when the musicians felt like it after an interval, so that sometimes Duke would be on stage all alone.

'He was so nice to work for though. He only ever fired two people in his whole career as far as I know. He loved Ben Webster, but he fired him once for being drunk. But he used to pull the guys into line by making them play a feature number when they weren't up to it. Shorty Baker didn't like to play Mood Indigo with that high C in the middle of it, but Duke would make him come out and play it, if Harold had had a couple too many.

'One night in Oakland when Ben was drunk Duke announced to the audience "Now we're going to hear the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster play Body And Soul". And Ben stood up on stage and said to Duke "Play it yourself, you son of a bitch!” He walked right off the stage.

'But if Harold Baker was loaded, Duke used to make him come out front and play a number that he'd be afraid to play when he was sober.

'Most of the guys liked Duke, because although he commanded such respect. he was really so easy going. I've seen him start the second half of a dance by himself because no-one else had come back on the stand. Johnny Hodges had a birthday party at the Apollo when they were playing there, and he'd asked me. The band was due back on, and I remember Rabbit carefully eating up his birthday cake, not hurrying, then when he was ready he went on stage and played. What a band! I wrote for it a couple of times. I did the arrangement of One O'Clock Jump on the 'Ellington '55' album. When you wrote for him Duke used to change the arrangements here and there, but he didn't change that one much. A bit after the drum break, that's all.

'I guess I've always written arrangements, almost since I first started playing. I wrote for my own band in China in 1934.

That was one hell of a band, although I guess you wouldn't know many of the guys. There was Bumps Myers or tenor, Teddy Buckner on trumpet, Couchey Roberts on clarinet and Reunald Jones' brother. A lot of people think that Teddy Weatherford ran the band for us. But he didn't, he just got the tour lined up, and on the odd date he'd come in and play Rhapsody In Blue with us.

`Then I wrote a lot with Basie, of course. Even after I'd gone into the army in 1943 I still wrote for him. Swing Shift was one of mine which he did on V-Disc. By that time Joe Newman had taken my seat in the band, and that's him taking the solo.

`When we were in the army we weren't allowed to play or record commercially, although I did quite a few times and nobody bothered you much. We often went into town and played. I knew one soldier who had a job in a club and played through till three every morning, then had to get back to camp before five. Then he'd sleep all day'.

I put Shout And Feel It (Saga 6903) by the 1937 Basie band or the turntable. 'Herschel on tenor and me on trumpet. No, that's not Earle Warren on clarinet, despite what it says or the sleeve. That's Couchey Roberts. Earle didn't join until 1938. That was the early band; it was just sorting out after we'd come up from Kansas City the year before.

`When I joined in K.C. the band was a nine-piece. The others had been together a long time. They were earning two dollars and a quarter a night, and when I joined the guys each chipped in a quarter, so we were all on two dollars each. We went north to Chicago to play the Grand Terrace. But the band for the show there had to be a 14-piece, so we expanded. There was a lot of changing round at first when we found that some guys we'd hired couldn't read. Gradually over the next couple of years the band settled and Earle and Dickie Wells and Benny Morton came in. But that original nine-piece was a great band. When we first got to New York we had a lot of troubles. The trumpet section seemed to be very unlucky. One of the trumpets made the mistake of letting the guys in some flophouse hotel he was staying at see his roll, and the next day they found him floating face down in the Hudson. Another wound up in the crazy house and another suddenly went off to Cuba and we never saw him again. Poor old Joe Keyes was unlucky. He had this gap where he had a couple of broken teeth. and he used to play through it. He had his teeth capped and of course the gap went and he just couldn't get a sound out of his horn, so Basie had no alternative but to fire him.

`You know people always assume that my first records were with Basie. but actually they were with Billie. I made that session with Billie, Teddy, Benny and Lester – the one with Why Was I Born?, I Must Have That Man and those a week before Pennies From Heaven, Daisy Chain and the others on Count's first session. Billie's was a good session. When the records came out they were a real hit in Harlem. Lester and I would go uptown and put five cent pieces in a jukebox to hear them, because we'd never heard ourselves on record before. We'd sit right in front of the juke box for two hours.

'In his last years Lester lost his will to live. When he died he certainly wanted to die. He wouldn't let anyone help him. After he'd been out of the army a bit he found so many people copying his style and then when they'd learned it they got all the best jobs. They'll tell you, Stan Getz, Zoot and the others. Lester used to live in a hotel right across the street from Birdland and he'd seen Stan going to work there all the time, and yet Lester didn't have a job. Later, when he started slowing down, he sounded worse and worse. But the best he ever sounded in his life, I believe, was with Jazz At The Philharmonic, one of the early units. He'd just come out of the army and was feeling refreshed. So had I, and I was feeling the same, so I can remember for sure how he felt. Then in that group he was in competition with Coleman, which was very good for him. Neither he nor Hawk wanted to let anything go while the other was around. That was a good band with Kenny Kersey on piano. Kenny Kersey was one of my favourite pianists. He had a stroke 15 years ago which left him paralysed down one side, and he hasn't played since. The guys got together and bought him a trumpet, because he was great on that too, but I don't know whether he ever plays it.

'That JATP was the first one to tour the country. The earlier ones had just moved up and down the West Coast, but with Pres, Hawk, Kenny and me we came east. The next version brought in Roy Eldridge and Illinois Jacquet and then on the third one they had Rex Stewart, Roy and me and Trummy Young. Eventually they ended up with too many people. Of course, those groups never recorded and people have forgotten them'.

I mentioned to Buck that people always thought of him as a soloist. But did he ever play lead trumpet?

'I finally learned to play lead. I loved it, although I never got to do too much of it. Of course, there are so many good lead men, that when you're talking about that job you're talking about a special way of life. Maybe I'd play two or three numbers a night as lead. I liked it because if you'd got a good lead everything under it sounds good. Just like we had a bad lead with Basie when we first left Kansas City and everything under it sounded bad, out of tune. I kinda had an open, pretty sound and the guys used to like me to play lead, but really I'm a third trumpet player more than anything else.

'Conrad Gozzo was the big man for that job out on the West Coast, and in New York Bernie Glow was probably even better than Gozzo. Both could do anything, high and strong and nice. Maybe Bernie might have been a little better. It's hard for me to say which was the best.

'Bernie has been very, very ill. He had an illness where they had to change all the blood in his body for new blood. I think he's much better, but I don't know if he's blowing. Ernie Royal was one of the best leads, too. You've heard him playing those high notes with Woody and all over the place. He had to have a lung collapse, which finished him for that job. He went back to California and I haven't heard anything from him, although I believe he was playing third or fourth trumpet parts, the ones where the load is light.

'Conrad Gozzo and Bernie Glow, they were both big-chested guys, like Billy Butterfield and Ed Lewis – Ed was another great first trumpeter, and it seems like that's one of the qualifications. They've got to be healthy, too, and usually they don't play solos'.

Cat Anderson, I asked.

'No. Cat doesn't have the quality of tone. He's got the power and the range, but not the sound. Reunald Jones? Well, Jonesy was a good effects man, he could play high, but he's been sick with a heart attack. He was in hospital for a long time and I don't think he's playing again.

'Probably, as Billy Butterfield told you, there's a lot of good young lead men coming up. If you're a good technician you can play leads, because you don't have to be a soloist. Of course, now that they teach jazz in all the colleges, there's a lot more good musicians coming along. They teach all kinds of jazz now – Dixieland, New Orleans, mainstream. Milt Hinton teaches jazz in college and Clark Terry does a lot. He was supposed to teach at a college in Florida, drove all the way down there but it wasn't right and he came back to New York. Ray Copeland teaches, and there are many, many jazz teachers across the states that I don't know. And from my field there's still a lot of youngsters playing mainstream which is good. Of course there's still a lot of the older men, too. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make my jam sessions this year.

'How the jam sessions for Columbia started was a bit lucky on my part. The original one, Robbins' Nest, The Hucklebuck and those was just a general date with everyone being paid scale. Nobody had the date, and they just put my name on it when it was over, and so I had the ones that came after, too. On that first one there was nothing written, and what little there was I did on the later sessions. I think it wasn't until the All The Cats Join In date that we had any real writing.

'I don't have any real favourites from the jam sessions, but from that time I like the 'Songs For Swingers' album, which wasn't really a jam session in the sense that the others were. With Sir Charles Thompson on piano instead of Al Williams that band cut a couple of on-stage albums in France. I didn't like them too much because they only used one mike for the whole band, and you can't capture the sound like that.

'The jam session for Chiarascuro should be out any day now. I did the writing for that, and we're thinking about the next one now. As I told you before I dearly wanted to use Harry Carney for that one. Now I guess I'll have to try and get Gerry Mulligan if I can. I want to use Clark and Ruby Braff for that one and Benny Carter. Buddy Tate and if I can get him Stan Getz, and Buddy Rich. On piano I want to have Basie, Teddy Wilson or Mary Lou. But after all these records you’ve been playing me I have to have Hank Jones! He's wonderful. But of course it all depends on who's in town'.

It was great having Buck Clayton in town. I hope he'll come back next year and maybe even bring his horn. Or at least front a jam session unit which could surely make a profitable tour. Kennedy Masters have shown the initiative by putting together the impending jam session with Pee Wee Irwin, Bernie Privin, Johnny Mince, Kenny Davern. Ed Hubble, Dick Hyman, Mule Holley and Cliff Leeman. While that tours the country this month, let's think about the viability of a Buck Clayton Jam Session on tour!

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in 1984.
added 2011-07-26

Phil Wilson is a very good friend of mine. Apart from being a virtuoso trombonist, he is a professor of music and a voice teacher. He has a deep interest in the antecedents of jazz and studied the speech patterns in the playing of various instrumentalists. We had a long conversation one night when he stayed with me in 1984 and in this extract from it he makes interesting observations about Tricky Sam Nanton, amongst others. -

'Benny probably has perfect pitch, but whether that's where the B G Ray comes from, I don't know. Did you ever hear the story about the band Benny took to Moscow? It had Phil Woods, Joe Newman, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis and guys like that. Benny was being a bit temperamental, and I guess he was coming onto these guys. They had a rehearsal without Benny on the day of the big Moscow concert. You know the end of Let's Dance, the opening theme? You know that last note? Well, by mutual agreement the guys in the band moved the last note over one quarter note! Benny, who had been going through a particularly bad period in his relations with the band, never did discover what went wrong, and it set the timing of the whole concert off.

'Duke's way of band leading went to the other extreme, of course. I liked everything about Ellington. I admired his philosophy of band leading which is to use the mood, the personality of the individual at that particular moment. It's as if he was saying – "Well, that's the way my band sounds today, because that's the way the music comes most naturally." You can't force it. You can hear the contrast on the Capitol Ellington '55 album where for some reason the band had rehearsed other people's arrangements and they sound awful. The arrangements themselves aren't bad, but it just sounds wrong for that band, and Duke was smart enough to know that. Duke as a piano player got colours out of the instrument that people never knew of before – the sounds of nature and what he heard, very much like Vic on the trombone and then of course Duke as a writer was unmatched, absolutely unmatched and comparable to Bach in his time.

Add to that the solo team that he'd put together over the years and the combination was unsurpassable. So many great moments. I remember doing a blindfold test once and they played me that long concert version of Black And Tan Fantasy which featured Tricky Sam Nanton more or less all the way through – I think there was a trumpet solo but otherwise it was a trombone feature.

It's surprising how blindfold listening concentrates the mind and how well you hear. My God, what a tour de force that was !

'No that style with the two mutes doesn't limit the range of the instrument. It's just a question of application and practice. We did some with Woody. You remember Wa Wa Blues? That was Joe Carroll's song and my arrangement. Joe was actually imitating Tricky on that one. I did a plunger solo.

'Talking of mutes, Dickie Wells was going to make me one like the one he made for Tommy Dorsey with the ice pick. Unfortunately he never did, which was a disappointment, I always wanted one of those. I love Dickie's playing – speech patterns again! Unfortunately he got beaten up very badly on the streets of New York a few years back and it was a very sad setback. I invited him to play with me in Boston at Sandy's, a very famous jazz club, with my big band for one night and with my small group for the next. I think he felt a bit out of it. He didn't know anybody and they didn't know him. He'd say a few words to me because he liked me and he liked my trombone playing and he remembered me from the Copper Rail in New York with Woody's band. The only reason that he'd left his house in New York was because Sandy sent a car there to bring him to Boston, 200 miles away. So he hadn't played for a while, but the second night, the second solo he played, his chops began to take hold and he played one of those beautiful blues that he can do with just the speech pattern.

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in two parts in December 1986 and January 1987
added 2011-07-25

CLARK TERRY talks to Steve Voce

For someone who must be amongst the most gregarious of jazz musicians, Clark Terry presents an untypically lone figure. For more than 30 years he has been acknowledged as one of the best craftsmen on his horns and has reached an eminence where the myriad of solo bookings he takes across the world each year are taken for granted, very much in the way that his seemingly infallible inspiration is. Promoters programme his name at Nice or Newport without thinking twice. You can stick Clark with anything and it will work, and not only that, whatever it is will reach new levels because of his presence.

Terry is a great teacher with a real interest in the past and present state of the horn, and his was a benign influence on most of the post-bop players. His fluency and tone production are immaculate and something for young musicians to try to emulate. All this mastery comes with an effervescent character and sense of humour that make him one of the musicians most popular with his fellows. Add his strong sense of integrity &Ndash; what you see is what you get &Ndash; and it begins to sound as though we have an exceptional man in our sights.

He seems to enjoy himself so much that his appears to be a life without problems, and it is true that today he is probably happier than at any stage of his life. But he has had his ups and downs likely anybody else: he was shattered by the long illness and subsequent early death of his wife. Then on one occasion he was driving home through New York when his car had a puncture. Clark tried to pull the hub cap off the wheel. The inside edge of the cap was razor sharp and sliced into all his fingertips. Apart from not being able to play for some time, the shock of this perhaps induced his diabetes, which began soon after &Ndash; a blow to one who had so manifestly enjoyed a taste; ever since he has been able to drink only a little red wine.

He loves big bands and ran one of his own for years with great artistic success, but he doesn't have the tough nature that band leading requires. He learned a never-to-be-forgotten lesson when he toured Europe at the head of a team of ex-Basie stars and discovered what it is like to be at the wrong end of a prima donna temperament.

This begins to sound like a sad story, but that cannot be in the case of a man who makes people happy just to look at him, a man who, ironically, is known to thousands as a great and humorous vocalist, rather than one of the greatest of all jazz trumpeters.

'In my hometown of St. Louis there were so many trumpet players, all the way back to Charlie Creath, the King Of The Cornet, Bruz Woods, Baby James, Levi Madison, Dewey Jackson, Mouse Randolph, Sleepy Tomlin. All were fantastic players, and us younger kids always had a bunch of these guys to look up to. Some we could ask questions of, but some we couldn't because in those days the older players thought that the younger players were trying to get in on their scene. You remember even Louis Armstrong back in those days used to keep the handkerchief over his fingers so that the cats couldn't steal his tricks. But fortunately that attitude is really the opposite of the situation today. Those of us who are involved in jazz education feel that it's a very important thing to impart knowledge to young people. Many of the things that are involved can't possibly be documented and if we go down with them so go down most of the secrets.

'Amongst the first recordings that I learned to solo from were Erskine Hawkins' Tuxedo Junction and No Soap. I was very much surprised to find out that the soloist was not Erskine Hawkins, but a trumpeter by the name of Dud Bascomb. He had a unique approach to chords and resolutions and the harmonic structure he used was very original. He would pick beautiful notes out of the chord that the average person wouldn't even think of settling on. He would play flatted fifths, flatted ninths even back then in the early forties. So I was listening to him, and I was trying to use Lester Young's type of articulation.

'I had a different concept of the way the trumpet should sound, and I played with a piece of felt over the horn. Perhaps my fluent technique came partly from the fact that I used to practice on the clarinet book when I was in the navy. The passages in the clarinet books seemed to be more legato and fluid &Ndash; the trumpet ones tended to be staccato. I just loved to get involved in the velocity part of phrases.

'As a result of this I became pretty versatile, so that people hired me to play certain roles. These may not have been roles that I would have chosen for myself, but I tried hard to do everything that was required of me. I suppose that if I had had the security and freedom I would have gotten into a different vein a little quicker. Once I got out of the big bands I was more relaxed and able to get into what eventually considered to be my thing. Most of the time in the old days the big band leaders would ask me to play something similar to the same solos each night so that alone would stymie you. That would put a stumbling block in the path of your ability to create.

'With regard to the so-called half valve thing, it's not true that I derived my style from Rex Stewart. One of my contemporaries mentioned that I derived the style from Rex Stewart and the half valve, which was untrue. I'd never even heard or seen Rex Stewart at this particular time and I never knew what he was doing. After I got into the Ellington band some of the guys in the band played this record where he was talking through the horn with Ivy Anderson singing, and I learned to do that little bit from the record, but it is completely wrong to suggest that I developed a style built around Rex's. Leonard Feather said that I played the half valve style. The only time my valves are half-valved when playing is when they don't come up, when they stick or something. I'm too busy trying to make as clear a note, as full a note or as beautiful a note, as meaningful a note or as colourful a note as I possibly can. I found that there were many other specific ways to create that sort of effect other than to half suppress a valve.

'I spent much of the early days in St. Louis with friends like Ernie Wilkins, although even then I used to travel a lot to out-of-town jobs. There was a pianist from East St. Louis, which is where Miles was raised up. I don't know his last name. Don't think any of us did, but we used to call him Duke. He was a fantastic player who was later killed while he was travelling to New York to start working there.

'One time I got a phone call in the middle of the night. "Hiya, Clark" I'd just been hanging out and I was kind of half-wasted and half sleepy and very annoyed because someone's calling me up between four and five o'clock in the morning. "This is Duke." "Duke? What you doing calling me up at this time? Call me up later in the day,'' I growled. 'What time?" he asked. “Any time after two or three o'clock." He said "Yeah, OK," and hung up. I'm angry and mumbling, "This jive turkey calling me up at this time of the morning, gobble, gobble, gobble." I'm doing my mumbles bit, you know. So I slept until about one or two o'clock and finally the phone rings. "Hello,this is Duke. You told me to call you," and the voice sounds a little different this time so I said "Duke who?" and he said "Duke Ellington. I called you earlier this morning and you told me to call you back this evening after you've had some rest." I said "Oooh yes, that's right!" I felt like crawling under the bed, even though he wasn't mad. I couldn't believe that I had talked like this to Duke Ellington and that he actually called me back. This was of course before I went in the hand permanently and he was calling to ask me to come into the band temporarily. To replace Frances Williams, I think it was.

'The other Duke I mentioned used to work with Miles Davis and Miles will probably recall his last name. Miles' teacher, Elwood Buchanan, was an old buddy of mine. We used to drink beer together in a couple of our favourite watering holes, and he used always to he telling me "Man, you've got to come over to school and hear this little cat Dewey Davis man, he's fantastic." Elwood taught me over in East St. Louis. So I went over one day and sure enough here was this little skinny cat about two inches wide all the way down and very, very shy and timid. When he played you could tell then that he was a very talented person. At this time he wanted to use vibrato and every time he would shake a note Buchanan would slap his wrist and I'm sure that this was one of the determining factors in the puritanical straight sound which Miles developed.

'On one particular occasion I was playing down at Carbondale, Southern Illinois with a pianist by the name of Benny Reid, who had one leg. We called him Dot And A Dash. We were playing this May Day celebration and Miles came down with his high school band from East St. Louis. He came up while I was playing with Benny and asked me to show him some things he wanted to do on the trumpet. "Man," I told him, "I don't want to talk about no trumpet!" I was looking at the little girls sashaying around, so Miles, very crestfallen, said "OK," and walked away.

'About six months later I went to our favourite jazz spot called the Elks Club, where Roy would come and hang out. There were about 90 stairs up to the place and when I was about half way up I heard this fantastic trumpet, very fast. "Wow!" I said, "That's a new horn, I never heard that one before." I ran up the rest of the stairs. Eddie Randall's band was playing and I ran up to the bandstand. This timid little skinny cat was playing and I said "Hey, man! Aren't you the guy . . .?" and he said "Yeah, I'm the cat you fluffed off at Carbondale." We laugh about that quite often now.

'It was through me that Count Basie acquired Ernie Wilkins. We were on Broadway at the Strand with the film Key Largo. I was talking to Basie one day while he was in the steam room. "Hey," he said, "I need an alto player and a trombone player." ''O. K,'' I said, "I'll get 'em for you," because up to that point I'd brought many people into the band and he'd never questioned my choice of any of them. Right away I'm thinking "alto player? I wonder if Ernie can play alto?" He was strictly a tenor player then but I figured he had a big enough sound, he read well and he's a good enough musician. So I called Ernie in St. Louis. "Hey Ernie! You wanna come and join Basie's band?" He said "Aw man, stop kidding me!" I said "Seriously. Can you get here in the next couple of days?" After some time I managed to convince him that I was serious. "And bring Jimmy," I told him. "Jimmy too!" (His brother Jimmy is a fine trombone player). So Ernie and Jimmy came to New York and the next morning I took them into the theatre and I said "Basie, these are your new alto and trombone players. Ernie Wilkins and his brother Jimmy. And in case Jimmy Mundy and the other arrangers get tied up, Ernie can write very well he can help them out.

'So Ernie came in with what we called a grey ghost, an old zinc plated alto saxophone that he had borrowed from somebody who had played saxophone in the church choir! It was held together by rubber bands. Anyway, just as I figured, he went to work right away and he had a good enough sound to sit there beside Marshall. The band was at its lowest ebb because it had just started, so Basie said to me "You say this cat can write?" I said "Yeah!" so he said "OK, we'll let him do something for this new singer we got." A kid named Joe Williams! So he let Ernie loose and the first thing he wrote was Every Day I Have the Blues and that particular tune with Joe Williams is what catapulted the band back into prominence. You know I shudder sometimes when I think about how all of this happened as a result of that big lie that I told Basie when I called up Ernie Wilkins who was working in a little place over in East St. Louis, Missouri, for 75 cents a night!

'Whenever he was ill Count used to call for me to lead the band. And if they would try someone else in front of it he would say "Hey, that's the man you get. Get my man Clark up there!" and that used to make me feel so good. But it never really materialised to anything on a permanent basis after Count had gone because of his adopted son. He and I never saw eye to eye. But I'm happy to see that they got a good man now in Frank Foster. Thad was great too, but they never did too many things with Thad because I think he really wanted to put his own type of band into the Basie band and I don't think that would have worked too well. He asked the guys to bring in sopranos and so forth. You couldn't blame Thad for that, but Frank has decided that he's going to write strictly in the Basie idiom and keep the band swinging and still play himself. I envy him, because I really miss my own big band.

'I ought to tell you how I came to join Duke Ellington. I was with Basie, and Duke had been scouting me and he sent a few people over to hear the band at the Brass Rail and the Capitol Lounge where we were playing in Chicago. He said "I can't just take a man out of my friend's band, so I'm going to put you on salary. Then you suddenly get ill and just go home, OK?" So I told Basie and I went home. Meanwhile I'm getting my salary from Duke and on November 11, 1951, Armistice Day, Duke's band came through, and I just happened to join the band. We were playing a big show that day with Sarah Vaughan, Nat Cole, Stumpy Patterson and Peg Leg Bates.

'When I left Basie's band he had just given me a raise. I was making $125 a week and Basie had given me a $15 raise. I'm making $140 and when I put my notice he took back the raise! I didn't tell Basie this story about going to Duke for years but when I did he said "I knew it, I knew it all the time!"

'There were so many guys in the Ellington band who were fantastic soloists and here I come, a little young upstart who nobody had heard of &Ndash; I was lucky to get a piece to play on like Perdido. I'm just one of the few people who soloed in the band that Duke only wrote one piece for. I think Juniflip for the flugel was the only thing he wrote for me from start to finish.

'When I first joined Ellington, the band was not really too cordial to any newcomer. Many times Duke wouldn't call a tune. He would suggest what he had in mind through an introduction which all the guys who had been there for some time would know. Here I am sitting in the section, which at this time consisted of Harold Baker, Cat Anderson, and Ray Nance. They were nice guys, I can't say that they wanted to freeze you out, but it was just customary for the band members to be that way to new people in the band. So I'd look over to see what they're playing. Then all of a sudden I found I had a friend up in the next row, Butter, so I would look up to Quentin Jackson. "Hey Butter," I'd say through the side of my mouth, "what are they playing?" "Oh, 156," he'd say. Then I'd flip, flip, flip through the book to where 156 was supposed to be. There's 155 and 157 but no 156 so I'd grow] to Butter "It's not here!" "Fake it, baby!" he said.

'The reason Duke didn't write anything specially to feature me was that he was very busy at that period writing all the suites. Another thing, we had a saying that as a new guy coming into the band you didn't dare put your laundry in until after about five or six years because you didn't know if you were going to be there permanently or not. Maybe after about 10 years he would have thought well, I'll write a few things for him.

`He did use me in the suites. In Such Sweet Thunder I had the role of the funster Puck where I had to create a voice effect with the cocked valve and say "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

`I did some writing for the band myself and you can hear my style in things like Jones. Duke gets half composer credit and Barney Bigard always claimed that he wrote Mood Indigo, but the main credit there goes to Duke too.

`He was very well known for that. For instance Cootie had as his warm up before a session the phrases that Duke later turned into Concerto For Cootie and Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me. Duke wrote down his warm up. But Cootie would never have made a tune out of that, so if it hadn't been for Duke there wouldn't have been the two or three very beautiful tunes that fitted right in there with the same set of chord changes. So Duke wasn't really a person who stole things, he used the ideas of his surroundings, which were the guys in his band, and they used to say that Ellington could play his band like an instrument. It's so true. Like he did with me in A Drum Is A Woman. He said "Hey, Sweetie, you're going to portray the role of Buddy Bolden." Obviously I'd never heard Buddy Bolden, but after about five or ten minutes of convincing me that I could do it I thought I was Buddy Bolden. "That's it!" he shouted. "You're Buddy Bolden!" He was very good at that. 1 would say it was very important that he took some of these ideas - perhaps even Barney would never have written down Mood Indigo, but Duke did it and of course with his harmonic structures - neither Cootie nor Barney had the expertise or the know-how to voice and compose and arrange like Duke did, so I think it was a beautiful idea. Now about Jones, it was customary always if a member of the band brought a tune in, Duke would say "OK, we'll play it." If he liked it he'd explain that, in order to record it, he would have to make himself half-composer. But what you didn't realise was that he was going to publish it too - he had his own publishing company. First of all, publishing-wise, half belongs to the publishing company, so he's already got half of it. Now he's half-writer of it as well so whack! There goes another bit, and he's got six bits and you got a quarter!

'I was with Duke for almost nine years. Many many people ask me why I left. It was almost like they thought I'd left heaven to go to hell or something, but people don't realise that a musician is constantly trying to better his financial condition. There were occasions when I went out on a gig for someone else and on just half of the gig I made as much as I would have done in two full weeks with Ellington. It's sad, but it's true.

`I left the band to join the show Free And Easy which Quincy Jones was putting together. We were due to go to Europe with Duke's band, so I went to him and said "Maestro, I don't particularly want to go this time." He said, "Oh, come on! You've got to go!" At that time my salary was $235 a week. I knew I had a deal with Quincy making about $200 a week more. I said "If you need me, just pay me $450 a week." He said "You drive a hard bargain, Sweetie!" "I can get you a guy for $200, Duke," I told him. So he said "Yeah, but he's not you!" We didn't discuss it any longer, but then he came back later and said "Well, I think you win. We'll give it to you." So I was on $450, but just for the European tour.

`When I was with Quincy at first I was the contractor, that is the guy who hires the musicians, but after a lot of politicking Jerome Richardson, who thought he should have had the job, finally got it. All of a sudden I wasn't being called, although I had called him for all the jobs. Same thing happened to me with another good friend of ours. There's an organisation in New York called Mark Brown Productions. Mark and I were very good friends. He needed a couple of guys to write for him and I got Jay Jay Johnson the gig. I had hired Jay Jay on contracts, you know. So Jay Jay got the gig with an office and a secretary, and all of a sudden he's hiring people and Mark comes to him and says "Where's Clark? I don't see him on any of the gigs," and Jay Jay says "I don't know, he's probably busy." So Mark calls me and asked if I had been busy on any of the dates. "No," I said. So then he passes the word down that for all the dates hereafter the first person to be called is Clark. If he's not available make the dates so that he is available.

`The studio work was drudgery to a degree, but we did have a chance to play lots of new and varied music and at the same time we were in a position to do all of the club things. There are many times when there was so much to do that you would start early in the morning and work straight through the day and work your show at the studio. Then if you did a jazz club like Bob Brookmeyer and I used to do the Half Note, we'd finish so late in the morning that we couldn't even go home. We'd have to stay in a hotel close to the next morning's gig. One of the old timers warned me when I first went into the studio: "This is referred to as `The House', but remember, Clark, a house is not a home!"

`Bob Brookmeyer and I got along beautifully and we still do. That band, which included Roger Kellaway, was the product of a sort of mutual admiration society, because I'd always loved Brookmeyer, and my first instrument had been valve trombone. He was a fan of mine so we had it automatically made because we both had great respect for each other. The merger of the flugelhorn and the valve trombone, two illegitimately scaled instruments, played by guys who had put a lot of time into them, seemed natural. It's like the fish horn, the soprano, it had the same difficulties. I first took to the flugelhorn in November, 1957. The horns made a beautiful marriage and Bob and I were good friends so the result was good, happy music. We were fortunate enough to get some good players in the rhythm section and we had some good tunes together. We had a nice `home' at the Half Note where we could go in any time and play as long as we wanted. There were three groups Zoot and Al, Jimmy Rushing and our group used to take turns playing there.

'Bob and I first met when he was on tour with Gerry Mulligan's Quartet and I was on the same tour with Ellington. We shared a dressing room together. Bob was very much in his cups in those days and Mulligan was married to a very strange lady. Then Bob and I were in the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band together just before we formed our own group.

`What was Gerry like to work for? Kinda different! He was very much of a perfectionist. He still is today. He brought a group on a cruise last year. They thought they'd just come on and play a couple of times a day, but he rehearsed them every day for a couple of hours and the guys didn't like it too much. He's a great player and a good writer. He writes some excellent tunes. But 1 think he's made a lot of enemies. Some of the guys who've worked with him are not too fond of him. I like him. He always has superb big bands.

`I've always loved big bands, and of course had my own for a long time. In that first one we had a lot of youngsters who were then on their way up, people like Randy Brecker, Lou Soloff and Lloyd Michaels, as well as veterans like Frank Wess, Ray Copeland, Chris Woods, Ernie Wilkins, Ernie Royal, Ron Carter and Grady Tate. I recorded the band under my own label and fortunately with a Japanese company ordering a couple of thousand and Big Bear in England using a lot more I almost broke even on that!

`As it is I'm very happy because Ursula and I are fortunate enough to enjoy the best of both worlds, Europe and America, and it's nice that way. We spend half the year in New York and half in Zurich. I was directly responsible for the return to manufacturing the flugelhorn. I used to tell Keith Ecker, who was technical adviser on brass at Selmer in Akron, Indiana, "I'd like some kind of horn with a more intimate sound." I used to put the felt hat over the bell of the trumpet to acquire the intimacy which I had always sought. "What about the old flugelhorns they used to use all those years ago?" Now there'd been a couple of guys who used them, Shorty Rogers and Miles Davis, but they both put trumpet mouthpieces in them and played very high because of the larger tubing. They were using them in that fashion and the horns weren't really good models or old models so Keith said "Let's just see what we can put together." We sat in this basement and got some tubing and put it together and tried different curvatures and tubing and so forth, and eventually we put together this horn right in his basement. The very first one that was made by Selmer was the one that I was playing.

`One of the first jobs I had after I had got it was a record date for Riverside. I used Thelonious Monk as a sideman, but when Monk died they brought the record out as by Monk with me as a sideman! I'd played with him on his Brilliant Corners album. It was always a challenge playing with him and I always loved his music. I feel that he was creative and as different from other musicians as Ellington was, although he didn't have the finesse nor was he as knowledgeable as Duke. I think Monk took much of his style from Ellington and he would like to a have been an accomplished pianist who could have articulated in the fashion of Ellington. Ellington was a great pianist, as you know - a lot of people are asleep on that. Monk wanted to play like that but because of his shortcomings he was thrown into another category which, although it was a strange type of playing, created something that was different. We love him for that.

`I was surprised when he agreed to do the gig with me. I thought he would probably say no, but he was happy to and he was very easy to work with. He had his moments, but he was a beautiful person and I loved him very much. I wrote most of the pieces for the session and when they reissued it some years later, they retitled one of my pieces.

`I had a brief foray with the electric trumpet. I was with the Selmer Company. I felt so bad about that because it was teaching young people to rely on a gimmick. But I was being paid to do it and what could I do? I still have the gadget at home in my garage. I look at it with contempt and spit on it occasionally. I made that one record with it, It's What's Happening.

`It's funny, you practise and practise all your life to try to become as near perfect as you can on the trumpet, try to articulate, manipulate and do everything to have the right sound and then you make one record of a stupid song where nobody knows what you're singing and it opens up all the doors that you thought would have been opened by practising legitimate trumpet.

`Brotherhood Of Man? Yes, I recorded it twice. It came from the show How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I did it once with Gary McFarland and the other time was with Gerry Mulligan's group. Both versions were at the same tempo and in E flat. They were pretty much at the same time, because that tune was very popular then.

`Gary McFarland was a fantastic talent. It was such a waste that he went out the way that he did. He was just a beautiful cat. He was in a bar with some friends and he did something very stupid. They were playing Russian Roulette with a poisonous drink. He swizzled it around with the other drinks, and he got the bullet. He was just that daring type of person, like Joe Maini in California doing the same with a gun, spun the chamber around, put the gun to his head and just happened to get the bullet.

`With Oliver Nelson I did that tribute to Louis on Winchester Cathedral and do you know, I haven't heard that thing to this day. I would love to have a copy of it. I was trying to pay tribute to Pops and in retrospect I think about how important that was because later on towards the end of Pops' career I had occasion to go by his house, to tell him that Harvard University wanted to offer him an honorary doctor's degree. He was still in good spirits, but his limbs were very frail and he was very thin - he'd lost lots of weight. It was about three and a half weeks before his total demise. He called me in and asked how I was. "I'm fine, Pops, aside from just the pleasure of coming by just to see you and be inspired and get my batteries charged again. I'm on a special mission because Harvard University wants to offer you an honorary doctor's degree." So he said "The hell with 'em, Daddy. Where were they 40 years ago when I needed them?"

`The last thing he said to me, he said "Yeah, Pops, you know you're my man!" He looked me up and down and he said "I love you, you're Pops' man and I gotta tell you one thing, you know. The people love trumpet playing, but you gotta sing more. People like to hear you sing." I took that as good advice and I try to include a little singing in every performance I do.'

-Steve Voce


Published in Jazz Journal in April 1995.
added 2011-08-07

This is part of a conversation between Ruby Braff and Steve that appeared in Jazz Journal in April 1995.

`I was about 15 when I went with some friends to a dance hall in Eggleston Square in Boston to hear Duke Ellington for the first time. As far as I know we were the only white people in there that night. It was the band with Sonny Greer, Ben Webster, Barney Bigard and one of my most favourite trumpet players in the world, Ray Nance. Also I don't know of anyone who could play the violin like he could. I found it very moving. Much of my playing is influenced by his violin playing, and he was a great singer. I think that his version of I Can't Get Started is greater than anybody's. Was it Jimmy Blanton or Junior Raglin on bass when I saw the band? Later on I played frequently for a while with Junior Raglin when he stopped in Boston.

`I disliked the style of Tricky Sam Nanton. I don't like that muted thing. Everybody was part of Duke's palette and it suited his writing, that's what they were there for. But I would not want to play with someone that growls and makes noises. I hate that sort of thing and I don't like Cootie growling. I like the way he played without the mutes. I used mutes all the time years ago, but Louis Armstrong said "What do you use those things for? Play with your own sound". So I did. Even Louis used a straight mute for effect once in a while-on those wonderful records like La Vie En Rose and things like that.

`Hearing the band that time in Boston was like being in heaven. I didn't meet Duke until much later on when I happened to be in the same touring package. We were in the hotel in Paris when he said to me "You get up for breakfast? You could have breakfast with me tomorrow, but I eat about seven in the morning". What he meant was that he didn't go to bed before then. I stayed awake all night and then went and had breakfast with him. He always wanted everybody to feel wonderful. He was the master diplomat and deliverer of compliments. But if he'd been in the diplomatic service as he should have been, we'd have lost all that great music. "You don't know how much it means to me to have breakfast with you" I said. "It means a lot to me, too," he said, "because I've been trying to be like you for years."

-Steve Voce

Bob and the Piano Players - Duke

Published in Jazz Journal in March 2000
added 2011-08-31
These are extracts from a conversation that I had with Bob Brookmeyer.

`Duke Ellington hired me to play with the band in 1962. We were friends. I was unfortunately involved in a very rugged divorce at the time and so in the end I couldn't take the job. It would have made a big difference to me. Clark and I talked a bit about how it would have changed me, but I can't say. I never knew anybody that played with Duke that came from outside of his sphere, who was not changed by the band. Bill Berry was a good example.

`I would have been the lead trombone player. John Sanders and I were great friends from 1957 on, and the idea that I should join Duke had been talked about for about five years. Jimmy Woode would say "We're talking about you again and Duke would really like to have you."

`It's something you go through that is almost a spiritual education. To be around Duke and know him alone. I'll tell you a relevant story, I knew the great arranger Bill Finnegan and by 1960 we were friends. He used to get stuck, so he called me one time needing a little of my work. I finished a piece for him, and as a result I became his ghost-writer. We never talked about music per se but he was so powerful, his personality was so encompassing and his knowledge so profound, that by osmosis in about a year and a half my colour palette expanded greatly. So by the time I did the Gloomy Sunday album with the big band, and I wrote three or four things for Sauter-Finnegan, my orchestration was much more colourful than ever before, all from being around this man. So you can imagine that being around Duke and the people in the band would certainly have changed me.

`How do I feel about the current fashion for re-creating Duke's music? I don't like to presume or judge it. It's like the old music. We don't play Mozart the way that it was played 400 years ago, we can't. We play Mozart as it sounds now, and that's how it should be. Duke put all his hits in one medley so that he could satisfy the audience's need for his great hits from the early days and in 10 minutes everything is done and he can go ahead and do what he's doing now.

`I think that Duke or any of these people that they lionise or whose music they want to recreate would be the first ones to say "Knock it off." This was done one time and with special people. Wynton or Gunther or David Baker are no Duke Ellingtons - they can't do it. They are not genius musicians like Duke was. They're not being creative, take what Duke did, understand what he did and go from there. It's like Maria Schneider taking what she got from Gil and making that her own and then going on from there. And she took what she learned from me and then went from being an arranger to being a composer.

-Steve Voce



Published in The Independent in June 2003.
added 2011-08-07

" 'Smilin' Jack' Harold Ashby?" said the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges of his acolyte in the Duke Ellington band. Ashby blushed and looked embarrassed. "He's a gambler," Hodges went on. "He plays the old Chinese game 'Chuck-a-Luck'. The more you put down the less you pick up. And he's been putting down a lot lately. . ."

When he became a regular member of the Ellington band in 1958, Ashby took the seat next to Hodges that had been occupied until 1943 by Ben Webster, another tenor-playing friend of the altoist. Webster had been Ashby's idol, and he first modelled his style on Webster's warm and lush sound.

But not for long, because Ashby soon developed a sound of his own - hard swinging, with long lines of ideas broken by swift flurries of notes. He originally joined the band as a replacement for Jimmy Hamilton, a man who played mostly clarinet. As a result the Ellington band was over-endowed with tenor players, for the main soloist on the instrument, Paul Gonsalves, was still a potent force in the band and Norris Turney also played tenor sax amongst his other instruments. Gonsalves and Ellington died in May 1974 and Ashby became the main soloist in the band when it was taken over by Ellington's son Mercer.

Ashby had begun playing alto and clarinet as a teenager but gave up music while he was in the US Navy from 1943 to 1945. On return to his native Kansas City in 1946, he was soon playing again and backed the singer Walter Brown, making his first recording with Brown in 1949. He spent most of the Fifties in Chicago playing in blues bands before moving to New York in 1957 to work in the bands of Milt Larkin and Mercer Ellington.

He then found the fringes of Duke Ellington's band and began deputising for some of the sax players. Accepted as a friend and colleague by Ellington's sidemen, he recorded with Webster (1958), Hodges (1960), Gonsalves (1961) and Lawrence Brown in 1965. Once he joined the band permanently he became a regular in all the small groups that came from the band to record. He was given more prominent roles as the band played across Europe and the Far East and won many fans across the world.

After Ellington's death, Ashby worked with Sy Oliver in 1976 and made brief tours with Benny Goodman in 1977 and 1982. Ashby was always welcomed back to Europe where most of his fans were. He toured there with the Ellington Alumni in 1978 and returned the following year with the Kansas City pianist Jay McShann.

Another European tour paired Ashby with the pianist Junior Mance, and he was also one of the stars of the 1985 Nice Festival. He recorded often under his own name in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but illness curtailed his activities and he confined his work to the New York area.

He made an exception for one of his last appearances at the 2001 Duke Ellington Conference in Ottawa when Ashby played one of Ellington's compositions written to feature him, "Chinoiserie". Happily he was able to regain his top form, but it was his final appearance before an audience of any size.

Harold Kenneth Ashby, saxophone player: born Kansas City, Missouri 27 March 1925; died New York 13 June 2003

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2009.
added 2011-07-24

Although he was with Duke for only a couple of years, Louie Bellson must be regarded as the last of the great Ellingtonians, for he had a lasting effect on the band. He replaced Sonny Greer, who had been the drummer in the Ellington band since it began in the Twenties, and he brought in a new and powerful style that brought Ellington’s music out of the almost classic style of the Forties into the new, more aggressive sounds of the Fifties.

Bellson’s long experience in guiding the bands of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman from the drum chair flowered into maturity with Ellington. His then unique device of using two pedal-operated bass drums gave the band a new power, and yet his playing was always tasteful. He had firm control of the bands and guided them with an amazing technique.

Were it not for the almost supernatural Buddy Rich, Bellson could have been considered to be the very greatest big band drummer. But where Rich was flashy, Bellson was more subtle and complemented the music of the bands in which he played; when Rich played, brilliant though he was, he tended to crowd out the other musicians. In addition, Bellson was perhaps the only man who could play a 15-minute drum solo and sustain the rapt attention of an audience throughout.

The list of the big bands for which Bellson played covered a wide range of the very best in jazz. He changed the character of each of them for the better, and as well as Ellington’s, they included the bands of Benny Goodman – whom he joined when he was 17 – Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, as well as the many fine bands that he later led himself.

As a boy, Bellson spent much of his time in his father’s music store in Moline, Illinois, where over the years he learned to play most of the instruments in stock. But it was the drums that attracted him most, and he was still in school when he developed the technique of using two bass drums at once, one for the left foot and one for the right. He had tap-danced at a local nightclub with the barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red and he thought that this helped him to play the two bass drums with such dexterity.

In 1940, when Bellson was 16, he won a nationwide drumming contest sponsored by Gene Krupa, an idol of swing fans. The Second World War caused a shortage of band musicians and as a result Bellson was swept straight from high school into the Ted Fio Rito band when it passed through Moline. From here, Benny Goodman hired him late in 1942. Three years in the Army interrupted his progress, but he returned to Goodman in 1946. Although not the most famous of his bands, the Goodman band of this time was to have a powerful effect on big band style.

Goodman was a perfectionist. “He taught me how to listen, how to play in a big band, and how to swing. He wanted the sections playing in tempo on their own,” Bellson said. “He needed them to keep time without relying on the rhythm section. We’d have to sit through the entire rehearsal until Benny added the bass, drums and piano.”

When work in the Goodman band dipped, he moved to Tommy Dorsey’s band. Goodman and Dorsey were both, in their separate ways, monsters. Goodman was mindlessly cruel, whereas Dorsey’s sadism was usually calculated. But even amongst such a great band of musicians Bellson’s talent was outstanding and Dorsey valued him highly. Bellson, a slight man, had a huge appetite. Dorsey would show him off to friends by taking him to a restaurant and ordering half a dozen T-bone steaks, which Bellson would swiftly devour.

In 1950, business slowed for Tommy Dorsey and Bellson joined the resurgent Harry James band. He became friends with Juan Tizol, a valve trombonist who had previously been with Duke Ellington.

“We would play before 3,000 at the Hollywood Palladium,” recalled Bellson, “but I remember some of those navy and air force bases where we played to 14 or 15 thousand people.”

Then, in 1951, came what became known as the “Great James Raid”. “The phone rang in Tizol’s flat,” Bellson remembered. “It was Duke and he asked Juan to rejoin the Ellington band and to bring Willie Smith, Harry’s alto-sax star, and me along with him.” This was to tear the heart out of James’s band, but he took it in good part and wished the musicians well.

On the face of it, things didn’t look good for Bellson. He was the only white musician in a black band – then a serious problem – and not only were there no band parts written for a drummer, but most of the music existed mainly because the musicians knew it by heart. Also, the band was about to embark on a tour of the Deep South. “We’re going to make you Haitian,” said Ellington, and that was how Bellson was described to avoid trouble.

Bellson brought an original composition with him that became a permanent part of the Ellington repertoire and took the band’s big band sound into a new dimension. “Skin Deep”, a drum solo set in the band which covered two sides of a 78 record, became a huge hit. Soon after, Bellson wrote another seminal hit, “The Hawk Talks” (Hawk was Harry James’s nickname).

Whilst he had been with James, Tizol and his wife had often told Bellson stories of the singer Pearl Bailey and said that he should meet her. “When we were in Washington DC with the Ellington band this young lady came up and said, ‘Well, I’m Pearl,’ and I said ‘Well, I’m Louie.’ Four days later we got married in London.”

Bellson left Ellington early in 1953 to become Pearl Bailey’s musical director, although he returned to Duke on special occasions over the years. In 1954 he began a long association with Norman Granz, appearing in Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, sometimes in duet with Buddy Rich. Over the years, Granz teamed Bellson with Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of other luminaries.

The drummer joined Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey for a year in 1955 and made a Scandinavian tour with Count Basie’s band in 1962. That year, he also composed a jazz ballet called The Marriage Vows. He rejoined Ellington from 1965 to 1966 and then moved back to Harry James in 1966.

From 1967 he led his own big band based in North Hollywood and this included ex-Ellingtonians and many of the jazz stars from the Los Angeles studios. During the Seventies he also taught at jazz workshops in a variety of universities.

He was shattered when Pearl Bailey died in 1990, but picked himself up, and in 1991 met Francine Wright, a computer engineer, and they were married in September 1992. In 1993, Bellson travelled to New York where he assembled a potent big band of leading musicians to perform and record Duke Ellington’s seminal “Black, Brown and Beige” suite.

“There were ordinary nights when the music was very good,” said Bellson. “But there were others when you had to pinch yourself and ask if it was real. How do you explain that? You don’t. I had moments like that with Duke and Benny and also with Tommy Dorsey and with my dear late wife Pearl."

Louie Bellson, drummer, bandleader, composer: born Rock Falls, Illinois 6 July 1924; married 1952 Pearl Bailey (deceased) (two daughters), 1992 Francine Wright; died Los Angeles 14 February 2009.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2002
added 2011-08-03

Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw wrestled with the insuperable problems of employing black musicians in a white band when, at the end of the Thirties, they hired Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.

Duke Ellington was later to be the first to take on the similarly fraught reverse problem by bringing first Louie Bellson and then Bill Berry into his otherwise black band.

So it was no surprise when the cosmopolitan Berry employed ex-Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton soloists when he came to form his own big bands.

There is a powerful posse of great cornet players stretching back to Bix Beiderbecke in the Twenties. The others included Bobby Hackett, Ray Nance and Ruby Braff. “Stretching” is the right word, for they were all men of small physical stature, who took advantage of the cornet’s shorter length when compared with the trumpet.

Berry’s rugged touring career with some of the most demanding of the big bands gave him an accomplished technique on the instrument. Coupled to his imaginative improvisations this made him well regarded amongst brass players and he ranked highly in the styles of both Swing and Bebop. While Braff, Nance and Hackett, like Berry, played Mainstream, Berry was one of the few to use the instrument also as a Bebop player.

He claimed to have drawn his style from elements in those of all the leading trumpet players from Bunny Berigan to Miles Davis. It was perhaps because he took so little from each that his own playing sounded so fresh and original.

Berry’s father was a bass player in a touring dance band and Bill was born in Benton Harbour simply because that was where the band was working that week. It was the beginning of a life spent largely on the road. Given his first trumpet when he was 15 and the family was based in Cincinnati, he was soon good enough to join in 1947 the ‘territory’ band led by Don Strickland which toured continuously throughout the mid-West.

“All the bands had sleeper buses because they didn’t pay enough to afford hotels. We used to check in once a week on Mondays, just to take a bath.”

When the Korean War began in 1950 Berry volunteered for the US Army so that he could enlist in a service band. After his discharge four years later he enrolled at a Cincinnati music college, but soon transferred to Boston’s Berklee College where he studied under Herb Pomeroy, a trumpet player who also led the college big band. Berry was a voracious student and in 1957 progressed to his first “name” band, that of Woody Herman. More endless touring followed, with Berry’s favourite trombonist, Bill Harris, with him in the brass section for much of the time.

Berry’s ambition was to break into the New York scene and eventually he joined Maynard Ferguson’s Band in 1960 because Ferguson spent six months of each year playing there. This gave him the opportunity to play with other bands in the city and his reputation grew.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1961 he went to see the Duke Ellington band at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. After the show Berry was taken to Ellington’s dressing room and introduced to him.

“There were about a hundred people there, but I was gassed to be in the same room as Ellington.” As he left, Berry was grabbed by the arm by someone who turned out to be Ellington’s manager. He asked if Berry would leave on tour with the band. “Yeah,” said Berry, “I’ll leave town with you. How much money?” The question was never answered but Berry joined anyway.

“My time with Ellington changed my life in every respect, not only musically but socially, philosophically, everything. One of the reasons was that while the guys in Woody’s and Maynard’s bands were about the same age as me, these guys were 20 years older. They were 20 years older and 20 years hipper. Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, everybody took me under their wings and showed me how to live. It was marvellous.”

Berry became the “modern” trumpet soloist with the band and can be seen to good effect in the film Duke Ellington And His Orchestra (1962). He played on innumerable Ellington recordings during the period.

Finally leaving Ellington in 1964 Berry returned to New York and work in the studios. He played in the band for The Merv Griffin Show on television and ghosted the trumpet playing for Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film A Man Called Adam.

Studio work left him lots of free time during the evening and he became a founder member of the highly regarded Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, working with it from 1966 to 1968. Two years later Berry drew on his own vast experience to form the New York Big Band, which included colleagues from his Ellington and Herman days and some of the cream of New York’s finest jazz musicians. But his leadership was short lived because, when The Merv Griffin Show moved from New York to Los Angeles that year, Berry and many of the musicians went with it. It was little trouble to reform as Bill Berry and the L.A. Big Band and the leader found he had an even greater bank of jazz musicians from which to draw. Virtually every member of the band was a star jazz soloist, and Berry’s natural gravitation towards Ellington music was immeasurably helped by the presence of fellow Ellingtonians Cat Anderson, Buster Cooper and Britt Woodman at the corners of his brass section. His trumpets also included Jack Sheldon, Conte Candoli and Blue Mitchell and all that was just the tip of the iceberg as the finest musicians on the West Coast queued to join the band.

In what was to become a remarkably full life, Berry now began to tour abroad and, with the help of his wife Betty, began to organise workshops for young musicians and eventually in 1991 the celebrated International Jazz Party, an annual Los Angeles festival that featured musicians from across the world.

Berry toured Britain as a member of the Louie Bellson Big Band in 1980 and made several visits here where he worked with British musicians, a notable success being in a front line partnership with the Scots tenor player Jimmy Thomson.

Berry became a major name in Japan where he had toured with Benny Carter in the Eighties and Nineties and toured there often with the Monterey Jazz Festival High school All Stars, a group he had worked with since 1981 when he had been appointed musical director of the festival.

William Richard “Bill” Berry, cornettist, band leader and music educator: born 14 September 1930; married (one son); died Los Angeles 13 October 2002.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1988.
added 2011-07-24

WHEN Lawrence Brown joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1932, he changed not only Ellington's music, but the whole approach to jazz trombone playing.

Until his appearance only a few trombonists, like Jimmy Harrison, Jack Teagarden and Jay C. Higginbotham, had managed to break free from the circus type noises which had been accepted as the horns metier. These three had given the trombone a new eloquence and had dispensed with the very basic role developed for the instrument by the earlier New Orleans players like Kid Ory and Honore Dutrey.

Brown brought to the instrument another kind of eloquence, based on a sweetness and purity of tone which he introduced to jazz. Later, too, he became one of the best blues players on his instrument.

His arrival in the Ellington band started a controversy that is still discussed today. The audiences on Ellington's first English tour in the early Thirties were outraged when, as well as the popular "Rockin' in Rhythm and "Mood Indigo", Duke featured Lawrence in a lugubrious version of "Trees". In fact, this was one of the earliest examples of jazz ballad playing, but to the jazz fan of the time, it was "commercial" and not jazz.

Born in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1907, Brown, whose father was a minister, had a strict upbringing. He remained a temperate man, uninvolved and unaffected for 30 years by the boozing and gambling which was the Ellington band's modus vivendi. His nickname in the Ellington band was "Deacon".

"I never smoked, drank or gambled," he said, "but I didn't keep away from those who did. The bar is still the main place where I meet my friends. I have a Coke and buy them a whisky."

The Brown family moved to California in 1914, where Lawrence learned to play piano, violin, tuba and saxophone. He was eventually drawn to the trombone because few people seemed to play it and he tried to model his trombone sound on that of the cello. "It was my own idea," he said. "Why can't you play the melody on the trombone just as sweet as on the cello? I wanted a big, broad tone, not the raspy tone of tailgate."

A trombone solo Brown played on a 1926 broadcast from Pasadena was heard by the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and led to him playing in her Los Angeles temple. "After I began playing professionally," Lawrence said, "the musician I liked was Miff Mole. His work was very artistic and technical. To get the smoothness I wanted, I tried to round the tone too much, instead of keeping it thin. Mine, to my regret, has become too smooth."

Brown consistently denigrated his own playing all his life, although he was regarded as one of the greatest jazz trombonists by Tommy Dorsey and Bill Harris, both of whom he influenced strongly. When Lawrence was 19, he and his older brother Merrill, a fine pianist, both wanted to become professional musicians, but their father objected. Merrill gave up the idea, but Lawrence persisted.

His father gave him an ultimatum: "Either behave yourself and quit disgracing me, or get out!" Lawrence got out. His father was convinced that he would finish up in jail.

Brown was such a good player that, within two weeks of leaving home, he had a regular job playing at a dance hall in Los Angeles. Soon he moved to the band at Sebastian's Cotton Club, where Lionel Hampton was the drummer and Louis Armstrong the featured attraction. Armstrong's playing had a profound affect on the trombonist. "He was the only musician who ever influenced me. I think the two greatest influences in the music of this century were Armstrong for his melodic style and," he added controversially, "Paul Whiteman for making a complete change in band style away from the symphony and dance band."

Hampton and Brown remained at the club in the band backing Armstrong until Brown had an argument with Armstrong's manager , who had called a rehearsal on Easter Sunday. Lawrence always visited his parents on Sundays and, after a confrontation, left the band. Coincidentally, the Ellington band was in town and Ellington's manager Irving Mills, who had heard Brown playing "Trees" as a trombone feature in the club, asked him to join Duke. He did, and stayed for the next 19 years. Ellington's use of his individual musicians was brilliant, and he used Brown's legato sound as a major voice in the band. This was in contrast to that of the other strong character in the trombone section, Tricky Sam Nanton. Nanton used plunger mutes to produce the "jungle" sound, a vigorous style of trombone playing uniquely his. When Tricky died, Ellington sought successors to emulate him – Tyree Glenn and Quentin Jackson. Eventually, during the Sixties when Lawrence had rejoined the band, Duke demanded that Lawrence should use the mutes and play what had been Tricky's very rugged role in the band. Brown's playing depended on a precisely blown and delicate lip technique. Lawrence hated Duke for making him play in the Nanton style as well as his own and always maintained that, in doing so, he had destroyed his own trombone style by making unorthodox demands on his lip. Money was always a problem in the Ellington band. Duke paid the men on an individual basis, and there were jealousies over who was being paid more than his fellows. Johnny Hodges was ahead of the field and pretty avaricious. When, in 1951, Duke finally stood up to him and refused his demands, Johnny left, taking drummer Sonny Greer and Lawrence Brown with him to form his own small band. The Hodges band was very successful and Lawrence's bucketing blues solos matched the powerful solos of the leader for drive and swing. Brown stayed with the band until it broke up in 1955. Jobs in the recording studios of New York, although boring, were very well-paid and extremely hard to get. On leaving Hodges, Lawrence was lucky to take over trombonist Warren Covington's post in the studios of the Columbia Broadcasting System when Warren resigned. At first Lawrence loved the work, particularly since it meant that he could take jazz jobs in the evenings.

The musicians in the studios were of the highest calibre, but any individuality had to be ironed out. "There's a peculiar thing about studio musicians," said Lawrence. "They all sound alike. They're great musicians and any one can sit in another's chair and it doesn't change a thing at all. My sound was too individual, and I couldn't suppress it properly." Eventually the boredom persuaded him to resign. He worked in jazz clubs for some time until he received a call from Ellington, and went back into the band in 1960.

He remained a melancholy man, unconvinced of his talents as a jazz musician. "I can't play jazz like the other guys in the band," he told me. "All the others can improvise good solos without a second thought. I'm not a good improviser." He was totally wrong in this assessment, as innumerable jam session recordings prove.

He finally retired in 1970 with the typically morose remark: 'You have to realise that being popular is nowadays more important than producing anything of value."

During the Seventies, he worked in a business consultancy and took part in Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Before his final retirement, he took up a post with the Hollywood branch of the American musicians' union.

Several attempts were made to persuade him to take up the trombone again after he left Ellington

"When I finally left Duke," he said, "I called in to see my Auntie in Cleveland on my way back home to California. I left my trombone behind her rocking chair. As far as I know, it's still there. It can stay there."

Trombonist Lawrence Brown was one of the most amazing characters in jazz. Although he stayed with the Ellington band for many years, he would never speak to Duke about anything other than music. This was because Duke had seduced Lawrence's wife shortly after Lawrence's marriage in the 30s. The two had a fight at the end of the 60s when, according to Lawrence, Duke knocked some of Lawrence's teeth out and this was the reason he never played again.

Lawrence Brown, trombonist: born Lawrence, Kansas 3 August 1907, died Los Angeles 6 September 1988.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1997.
added 2011-07-24

“Johnny moves by the moment,” said pianist Herbie Hancock. “He plays things with such sheer beauty that I wonder where it’s coming from.”

Johnny Coles would perhaps have been regarded as one of the jazz greats had he not been so close to Miles Davis in his sound and style. The similarities clouded the fact that his inventions were completely original and that he barely borrowed from Davis at all. He was basically a self-taught musician who developed his playing by working in a military band.

He joined a sextet called Slappy and his Swingsters when he was 19 and in 1948 joined the band led by the blues-singing alto player Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Although Vinson played the rhythm-and-blues so popular at the time, he was in fact a sophisticated modern jazz musician, and his band also included future giants of the music in pianist Red Garland and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.

Coles continued to work amidst a mixture of contemporary jazz and rhythm-and-blues during the first half of the Fifties when he played for the drummer Philly Jo Jones, singer-saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson and, from 1956 to 1958, tenor saxophonist James Moody.

He first came to the notice of jazz fans with his remarkable solos with the Gil Evans orchestras between 1958 and 1964. In retrospect this proved to be the ultimate setting for his work. When I interviewed him in 1973 he told me “Gil Evans’s composition was easy to read, but it was the interpretation of it which made the music. I remember once asking Gil how he wanted me to play something and he said ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re going to play it right anyhow.’ He left me a bit mystified, you know.”

The 1960 ‘Sunken Treasure’, one of the most haunting performances in all jazz, best illustrates the inspired perfection of the partnership. Evans’s composition provided an eerie seabed for Coles’s fastidious and plaintive improvisation. “We did it all in one take,” he told me with pride. The album, one of the most magical jazz collections, was called Out Of the Cool on the Impulse! label, and its six tracks brought out Coles’s most effective work on disc. Potent, too was his reappraisal in 1959 of Bix Beiderbecke’s ‘Davenport Blues’, where again his relaxed choice of notes was inspired by Evans’s imaginative setting.

When work with Evans became more sporadic in 1964 Coles joined the Charlie Mingus Workshop and appeared on some of the bassist’s recordings, creating music of great fire with the remarkable saxophonist Eric Dolphy.

In 1968 he became a member of the sextet newly formed by Herbie Hancock. Hancock had earlier given up leadership of his own band to become, for five years, the pianist in one of Miles Davis’s most influential quintets. Coles worked in Hancock’s new sextet for more than two years at the end of the Sixties.

“Herbie Hancock’s was the only group I played in that I got to work ahead of time. I’d warm up for at least a half-hour, ready to play. I had a ball with that band. I really couldn’t tell you in words how gratifying it was.” Coles left Hancock to join Ray Charles’s band. “A man must eat,” he reflected.

Both he and Miles Davis had the ability to express themselves powerfully using a minimal number of notes. It was wrong to punish Coles for having the Davis aura, for his improvisations were both creative and original.

Hancock lionised the veteran. But Duke Ellington took a more detached view of the trumpeter when Coles joined his orchestra in 1971. “I asked Duke’s son Mercer, and he said that Duke was considering writing something to feature me.” At the time of our conversation in 1973 Johnny Coles had been with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra for some years. It seemed odd to me then that Ellington was so remote from the musicians who worked for him that they had to deal with him formally through Mercer.

A few weeks ago the widow of the Ellington trumpeter Ray Nance seemed to confirm this distancing when she told me that her husband respected his leader so much that “Ray would never have questioned a decision of Duke’s, musical or otherwise.” (In contrast, I was once on a coach with the Count Basie band when his trumpeter Thad Jones reached over the back of his seat and, to great merriment all round, swiped the Count over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Nobody could ever have done that to Duke). Nance had been in the band for a quarter of a century.

“I’ll stay with Duke for a while, because it’ll give me a measure of prestige that I haven’t yet had.” Johnny Coles, who was with Ellington from 1970 to 1974, He gave the impression that, unusually amongst musicians, who normally deified Ellington, he considered working for Duke to be a routine job. “As far as Gil was concerned, Ellington was the biggest influence on his writing. I enjoy playing in both bands, but I had more freedom playing in Gil’s band,” he said. “

Coles found Ellington’s music too confining. “I like to play,” he said. This was a rueful reference to the fact that his solo work with Duke was confined at each concert to a fluent two-minute improvisation on ‘How High The Moon’ played on trumpet over a backing of sprightly Be-bop piano from Ellington. There was little or no orchestration involved.

“Some of Duke’s writing is sparse. Sometimes he might write twelve bars and leave it to the guys in the band to fill it up. He has musicians in the band who have been with him for many years and they just about know what he wants without him having to tell them. “ Coles was lonely because Ellington’s band was made up of cliques and he wasn’t accepted into any of them.

When Ellington died in 1974 Coles rejoined Ray Charles and in 1976 worked with drummer Art Blakey’s quintet.

Settled in San Francisco, he worked in the Count Basie “graveyard” band (Basie had died in 1984) in 1985 and had also been a member of “graveyard” bands devoted to the music of composers Charlie Mingus and Tadd Dameron.

His health declined during the Nineties and he moved to Philadelphia where he died after a long illness.

Coles had shown enormous talent as a trumpet player. He mentioned Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis as the line of players who had influenced him. He also acknowledged the fiery work of Freddie Hubbard.

“But I’m more of a melancholy player,” he said.

Johnny Coles, trumpeter: born Trenton, New Jersey, 3 July 1926, died Philadelphia, 21 December 1997

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in June 2001
added 2011-09-07

Helen Oakley and her husband Stanley Dance were very rich patrons of jazz. They didn't suffer from the arrogance that often went with the role. Nor were they mean or mean-spirited, characteristics displayed at lunches between the ultra-rich John Hammond, the most famous jazz patron of all, and his only very rich protégé Benny Goodman that went on for hour after hour whilst each waited for the other to pick up the bill. Nothing like that with the Dances, although Stanley Dance, Helen's husband, had tunnel vision directed at the narrow field of jazz that he enjoyed.

Helen Dance was the first woman jazz entrepreneur and was responsible for organising jazz concerts and recordings during the Thirties for musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Red Norvo and Chick Webb.

It was she who brought together for the first time, in one of the first ever jazz concerts, given at the Congress Hotel in Chicago in April 1936, the Benny Goodman Trio. The group included the black pianist Teddy Wilson, and this was the first appearance by a mixed-race group of musicians in such a setting. Along with John Hammond, she was the main organiser of Benny Goodman's sensationally successful concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. She played a similar role in the slightly less renowned "From Spirituals to Swing" concert.

Educated in Toronto, Oakley had been born into a family already rich as clothing manufacturers in Canada. She already took a serious interest in jazz as a young girl and her year as a debutante in 1933 was marked by a visit to London where she saw Duke Ellington on his first appearance at the London Palladium.

Settling in Chicago in 1934 she founded the Chicago Rhythm Club and wrote pieces on music for the Herald Tribune and for Downbeat magazine. She produced her first recording sessions for the Okeh label in 1935.

Irving Mills, entrepreneur to Duke Ellington, invited her to join his organisation in New York in 1937 and this was the beginning of her long association with Ellington's musicians. She produced immortal small-band recording sessions led by Ellington's soloists Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Barney Bigard and Johnny Hodges. She was to be invited to innumerable Ellington recording sessions over the succeeding years and was with Ellington when, in just 20 minutes, he wrote his classic song "Solitude".

She became entwined in the affairs of the Bob Crosby and Chick Webb orchestras, and organised many of the legendary "Battles of the Bands" when the Webb band took on all comers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. When Webb died in 1939 she joined the office of Joe Glaser, a man on the darker side of jazz management, who had complete control of the affairs of Louis Armstrong from 1935 until Armstrong's death in 1971.

By now highly respected for her articles on jazz, she befriended many other writers on the subject and met her future husband Stanley Dance, already established as a jazz expert in Britain, when he first visited New York in 1937.

In August 1942 Oakley volunteered for the Women's Army Corps and was assigned to the fledgling OSS. She was posted to Algiers where her job was to send agents and radio operators into enemy occupied territory. She returned to the US, where she trained German prisoners as potential American spies. For a brief period at the end of the Second World War, she acted as an undercover courier.

She and Dance married in 1947 and their partnership included collaborations on articles, books and in record production. They moved to live in Braintree, Essex, where they stayed until 1959. Oakley's dislike of the English climate was the main reason for their subsequent move to Rowayton, Connecticut.

In 1964, when the career of the jazz piano virtuoso Earl Hines had dwindled to nothing, they took him in hand and re-established him as a major star.

Oakley conducted interviews with musicians for the Smithsonian Institute and for Rutgers University and wrote the book Stormy Monday (1987), a biography of the blues singer and guitarist "T-Bone" Walker.

By now the Dances had had four children, but Oakley found time to work in the civil-rights field and for the Catholic Church, as well as being involved in her husband's jazz activities. Eventually the two decided to retire to California in 1978, but both continued to work in jazz until Dance's death in 1999.

In 1988 Yale University created the Helen Oakley Dance and Stanley Dance Archive, which contained all their writings that could be collected. The distinguished Duke Ellington scholar Patricia Willard conducted an exhaustive interview with Oakley that is part of the Ellington Collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

Helen Oakley, writer and record producer: born Toronto, Ontario 15 February 1913; married 1947 Stanley Dance (died 1999; two sons, two daughters); died Escondido, California 27 May 2001.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1999.
added 2011-07-24

It’s probably a testimony to their ability to write well and to communicate lucidly. Leonard Feather and Stanley Dance, both British writers, were able to move to the United States and rise to the top of the heap as experts on jazz, a completely American art. The textbooks say that Dance went to live in Connecticut in 1937. He found this suggestion offensive and in fact had stayed in England throughout the war. Total deafness in one ear precluded him from army service and he worked in his father’s business until, having inherited it, he sold it up and went to live in the United States in 1959.

His interest in jazz began when Dance was a pupil at Framlingham College from 1925 to 1928. The progressive jazz records that he heard in this period included the first made by the pianists Duke Ellington and Earl Hines. Dance was later to become very close to both men.

He wrote his first essays in the French magazine Jazz Hot in 1935 because “so much of what I read about jazz was so ill informed and so bad” and over the next two decades continued to write often for collectors’ magazines when his work in the tobacco industry allowed. Dance’s own tastes were set in the jazz playing, that at that time had no title, of black players and in the music that, when white musicians played it, became known as Swing (in practice both were the same).

Dance’s writings continued to appear copiously until his death. Over the years he was one of the most influential of authors who, through his friendship with Ellington, Hines, Count Basie and other musicians, became more involved with the music than any other non-instrumentalist was. His chronicles, well composed and lucid, made him one of the major jazz historians and he had a hand in shaping the direction taken by the music that he loved.

In 1970 Duke Ellington wrote “Stanley is well informed about my activities and those of my associates. He has been a part of our scene for a long time, maybe longer than he cares to remember. He and his wife Helen are the kind of people it is good to have in your corner, the kind of people you don’t mind knowing your secrets. In other words they are friends - and you don’t have to be careful with friends.”

Dance, working in the tobacco importing business, wrote his pieces in his spare time. “I didn’t like business, but I was fairly good at it.” He contributed a monthly column, “Lightly And Politely”, to Jazz Journal from 1948 to 1976. In it he used the royal “we”. As his fellow columnist I found this an irritating flaw in such a stylish writer and I tackled him about it on a couple of occasions. He explained only that it lubricated the flow of his prose. He continued to have articles published in the magazine until his death.

The so-called Bebop Revolution of the mid-Forties was perhaps not the cataclysmic change that critics like Dance made it out to be. It mostly concerned the speeding up of musical thought and the apparent changes in the music were not as radical as at first appeared. But they were more than enough for Dance, who pulled the blinds down at the appearance on the scene of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and as far as developments in the music were concerned kept them down ever after. Additionally, since the best players of the Twenties had been black, Dance believed that this would always be the case, and this further limited his views.

In 1957 the bandleader Johnny Dankworth created an incident when, appalled by the showmanship and general hysteria of Lionel Hampton at a Royal Festival Hall concert he shouted from his seat in the audience “How about playing some jazz?” Dance’s support in Jazz Journal of the black Hampton gave him the chance in passing to clobber a white modernist.

“What we would like to know is whether Dankworth attended the (Stan) Kenton concert. If he did was he heard to bawl the same question? If not, why not? We sat through the Kenton concert indignant and incredulous without bawling once, because we knew that in the audience there were several hundred jackasses who had come long distances to hear the noise.” Kenton’s music had far more depth and cerebral activity than the direct and raw passion of Hampton’s and hindsight suggests that Dance’s assessment was diametrically wrong. However, a paragraph from him in the current edition of Jazz Times suggests that it hasn’t changed.

“I liked Stan Kenton personally, but invariably found his music too grandiose and heavy to swing. It was no surprise when he made a Wagner album. Teutonic ambitions having cost me friends and relatives in two world wars, I was doubly prejudiced against such contra-jazz ventures.”

Only Leonard Feather had ever made a living out of jazz journalism. Dance needed the financial cushion that he got from selling up the firm that he had inherited from his father when he decided to move to the United States in 1959 to be a full-time writer. The move was prompted also because his Canadian-born wife, Helen Oakley, a jazz authority and record producer in her own right, didn’t like the English climate. Oakley, who survives him, had organised concerts for Benny Goodman and had recorded small jazz groups, including some made up of Ellington musicians, from 1937 onwards. She and Dance married while she was in England with the OSS during the war.

In 1958 Sir Edward Lewis, the chairman of the Decca Record Company’ had sent Dance to New York to make a series of albums by outstanding jazz musicians who Dance felt had been under-recorded. It was not a coincidence that they were all black, for, although he never spoke of the matter or engaged in racial politics, Dance felt that black players made superior music to their white counterparts. On one occasion he wrote that Ruby Braff was the best of the white trumpet players. “Why did he have to say that I was white?” Braff wonders.

The Decca albums, issued on the Felsted label, became classics and with them Dance established a new jazz context that he called Mainstream. The categorisation caught on because it was useful. Dance defined it: “Primarily it is a reference term for the vast body of jazz that was at one time in some danger of losing its identity. Practically it is applied to the jazz idiom which developed between the heyday of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton on the one hand and that of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the other.”

Dance regarded Swing as the purlieu of white musicians like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. He thought that the term Swing didn’t cover the music of black musicians including Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins and Buck Clayton. It was for them that Dance coined the term Mainstream. The music and its roots were similar. The unspoken reverse discrimination on grounds of colour was hard to reconcile. Although Dance’s actions helped to bring them new prosperity the subjects of his new category were not impressed and some felt that he was being patronising. Later, when Dance travelled with Duke Ellington, closer to him than anyone else as he helped him with day-to-day matters and wrote continuously about the band’s activities, the trumpeter Buck Clayton said to me “Every time that Duke wanted a pee, Stanley was there to unzip his fly for him.”

In 1964, when Earl Hines’s career was at a low ebb, Dance persuaded some promoters to support three concerts by the pianist at New York’s Little Theatre. They were sensationally successful and as a result Hines, with Dance’s support, resumed his rightful place at the head of the jazz pantheon. “I always say I’m an amateur manager,” said Dance, but his guidance of Hines and Ellington was faultless. He was largely responsible for the surge of recordings by the two men, and contributed endless informed and enlightening notes to their albums. He had already won a Grammy Award in 1963 for his liner notes to the record set The Ellington Era.

His output of articles and books was breath taking in size. Already a contributor to “Down Beat”, “Metronome”, the “New York Herald Tribune” and “Saturday Review” he began to collect together his pieces in books such as The World of Duke Ellington (1970) The World of Swing (1974) The World of Earl Hines (1977) and The World of Count Basie (1980). He won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1979 for his book Duke Ellington in Person: an Intimate Memoir, on which he had collaborated with Ellington’s son Mercer. He had probably also been responsible for writing Duke Ellington’s biography Music Is My Mistress.

He wrote for the American Jazz Times from 1980 until his death, being in charge of the book review section. Many of the reviews were his own and because he was so well-informed and because his writing style remained so vivid it was not possible to detect any deterioration in his skills as he reached his great age. He was as eloquent as ever when he joined me for a BBC North radio programme last year. His love of his music and his insights into it shone through to show that he would also have been an excellent broadcaster, had he had time to turn his mind to it.

“When you get somebody like Stanley in your corner,” said Earl Hines, “you’re a very lucky fellow.”

Stanley Frank Dance, author, journalist, record producer: born Braintree 15 September 1910, married Helen Oakley (two sons, two daughters); died Rancho Bernardo, California, 23 February 1999.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1995
added 2011-08-23

The boom in the popularity of the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument, almost an obsession in the United States, was created in 1950 by Wild Bill Davis and has burgeoned until the present day.

Davis led the way for Milt Buckner, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith and the multitude of pianists who switched allegiance. In the early days Davis suffered criticism from churchgoers who considered the instrument had sacred connections. "Who wants a church organist in a night club?" But the church organ is a mere wind instrument and the Hammond could achieve all-pervading power through the use of electricity.

Bill Davis, paradoxically, was a quiet and gentle person who completely belied his nickname "Wild Bill". But when it came to music Davis was transformed. He will best be remembered for his foundation-shattering arrangement of "April In Paris", written for and recorded by the Count Basie band of the Fifties. The arrangement alone forced the band to swing, not that it needed any coercion, and the recording was probably Basie's biggest ever hit, copied to this day by big bands across the world.

But Davis was best known for his friendship with and employment by Duke Ellington. Davis's first records under his own name were made in 1951 for Ellington's own record label Mercer and, uniquely for a non-Ellington musician, he had Ellington to accompany him on piano. British fans were dismayed when the Ellington band of 1969 arrived with Wild Bill added to its ranks. In Britain the organ was regarded as vulgar, and potentially destructive of the fine-tuned sound of the world's greatest jazz orchestra. They need not have worried. Davis's was a token role and in fact Ellington had employed him mainly for his company, for his writing abilities (he wrote arrangements for the band) and to be the pianist when Ellington, as sometimes happened, failed to arrive in time for the beginning of a concert.

Since the organ was such a brute to transport, Bill Davis owned several of them, keeping one in California, one in New York and another for when he had to take it by road.

The Davis family moved to Parsons, Kansas, while Bill was still a baby. His mother was a piano teacher and she taught her son intermittently – he was never very interested – until an orphaned relative came to live with the Davises and brought a Victrola with him, along with some Fats Waller records.

"I played those records over and over, and they developed a new interest for me," Davis remembered. "I was in a remote area and radio was in its infancy, but you heard actual performances then ... One night, by chance, I heard Art Tatum, and I couldn't believe it. He sounded like a person with four hands and two pianos."

In 1937 Davis won a music scholarship to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, after two years transferring to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. "I had been gaining experience in the school hands but found that I could express myself better in writing than in playing. So I got a couple of good books and learned the voicing of instruments. When they heard some of my work at Wiley, I was offered a position with Milt Larkin's band, playing guitar but principally as a writer." The band included Arnett Cobb, Eddie Vinson, Russell Jacquet, Cedric Heywood and several musicians who later made big names for themselves. When he left, Davis moved to Chicago where he wrote arrangements for Earl Hines and for Sarah Vaughan.

"I finally joined Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five in 1945. He was about at his peak then. At first I worked for him as an arranger, writing all his things like 'Choo, Choo, Ch'Boogie’ and `Don't Worry 'Bout The Mule'. One of the first engagements I played for him was at the Club Zanzibar, in New York. We were there three months, on the same bill as Duke Ellington, and that was when I got to know Duke. `Love You Madly' was one of two arrangements I remember doing for him."

The Hammond Company had been engaged on war contracts and hadn't been making organs: "When I ordered mine in 1945, I had to wait almost two years to get it. It cost me $2,290 and it was a gamble, absolutely. I was making $175 a week when I left Louis, and I started out on organ making $45 a week." He rejoined Jordan, this time on organ, in 1950, but from 1951 onwards worked in the leading clubs with his own trio and later in Europe.

As the leading player of the Hammond, Davis became much in demand in the recording studios and made fine albums with Ella Fitzgerald (1963) and with another longtime friend, the Ellington alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, with whom he worked often during the Sixties. Hodges liked the freedom of working with the Davis trio as opposed to the more demanding surroundings of the Ellington orchestra. Davis played a prominent part in Ellington's 1970 "Blues For New Orleans" which was a feature for Hodges and, since he died a few days later, his last recording for Ellington.

Davis spent much of the Seventies in Europe working with musicians like Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart and Illinois Jacquet. He joined Lionel Hampton's band in 1978 and stayed until 1980. From then onwards he appeared frequently at jazz festivals throughout Europe.

William Strethen "Wild Bill" Davis, organist, pianist, composer, arranger – born Glasgow, Missouri, 24 November 1918; died New Jersey 22 August 1995.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in February 1996.
added 2011-08-07

The day after Duke Ellington's funeral on 27 May 1974, his son Mercer took over the Ellington band and left with it on a tour of Bermuda. This was not, like the still proliferating Glenn Miller Orchestras, a "graveyard" band. It was simply a continuation of Duke's band with the same men playing the same music.

Mercer Ellington had been in the band's trumpet section since 1965 and, although he had led his own band in the recording studios as early as 1958, he had none of the musical genius and instinct of his father. In fact their relationship was often not like that of father and son, and Duke often thrust Mercer into menial roles, elbowing him from the limelight. Another Ellington trumpeter, Rex Stewart, recalled being at an Ellington recording section in 1966 when Duke asked, "Where's the other trumpet player?" He meant Mercer. Duke lived for his music, not for his family.

Hampered in the shadow of his father, Mercer had struck out on his own, and had worked as a disc jockey, owner of a record company and as leader of his own bands before eventually becoming Duke's road manager. Never a soloist, he also played in the band's trumpet section and, despite the turbulence he had to ride in seeing to his father's affairs, remained of a placid and likeable nature. He went grey early, and for some time the vain Ellington senior didn't like to be seen in company with his mature son since it constantly reminded him of his advancing years. He later came to terms with the problem as Mercer took the administration of the band from his shoulders and allowed him more time to write music.

When Mercer was born in 1919, Duke was not a fully professional musician, earning much of his income as a sign-writer. By 1927 he had become a world figure and lived the rest of his life on the road, often barely able to remember where his home was at any one time. His role was not that of a father.

The Ellington band declined when Mercer took over as leader. It worked less and of course had lost the fount of all its great music. There should have been enough of Duke's wonderful creations to keep it going indefinitely, but the older man had spent the money he had earned over the years in subsidising the band - he loved to be able to write music and then hear what it sounded like when the band played it back to him the next morning.

The Ellington organisation was not properly geared to make money as, for example, the Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey bands had been. Mercer inherited a musical treadmill. Duke had died without making a will. "All Pop left me were Harry Carney, Cootie Williams and a few scraps of paper," he once said, referring to two of the star instrumentalists who had been in the band since the Twenties.

The band library of Ellington's compositions had deteriorated over the years; many sheets had been lost and the music survived only in the memory of the Ellington musicians. Many of the older players were also in poor health by this time - the tenor saxophone player Paul Gonsalves, a key member of the band since 1950, had died the week before Duke did, and as they fell by the wayside the magic character with which Duke Ellington had invested the band quickly dropped away. Cootie Williams remarked that the band now sounded like a bunch of musicians trying to sound like the Ellington band.

However, Mercer showed great fortitude and kept the orchestra on the road into the late Eighties. In 1978 he wrote a biography of his father, Duke Ellington in Person. Between 1981 and 1983 he and the band worked with unusual success on a Broadway musical of Duke's tunes, Sophisticated Ladies.

When Mercer disbanded he settled in Denmark with his family. At this time he handed over to Danish Radio a colossal archive of unissued Ellington recordings which his father had made over the years. These were broadcast in their entirety and the many hours of previously unknown music caused a sensation amongst Ellington enthusiasts throughout the world.

Had his father not been such a great and prolific composer, Mercer Ellington would have been held in high regard for his own writing. He wrote "Pigeons and Peppers" in 1937 and Cootie Williams recorded it under his own name with Duke on piano. Mercer's most famous composition, featured over the years by the Ellington band, was "Things Ain't What They Used To Be", but some of his lesser-known pieces like "Moon Mist and Jumpin' Punkins" had considerable merit.

He visited Britain as recently as last month for a television appearance and last year had produced an album featuring Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.

Mercer Ellington, trumpeter, composer, arranger: born Washington DC 11 March 1919; married (two sons, two daughters); died Copenhagen 8 February 1996.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)


Published in The Independent in 1997.
added 2011-07-24

There are three European trumpeters who ranked with the classic great Americans – the Scot Jimmy Deuchar, the Yugoslavian Dusko Goykovich and the Swede Rolf Ericson. All could easily make their way in the home of jazz, and indeed Ericson did from the time he emigrated to New York in 1947.

Drawn to jazz at eleven when he heard Louis Armstrong play in Stockholm, Ericson turned professional in 1938 and during the Forties recorded with the eminent singers Valaida, who was also a trumpeter, and Alice Babs. Once in America Ericson was soon called on to play in the sections of the top name bands, including those of Stan Kenton, Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman. He also had radio work with Benny Carter and played with Wardell Gray, Elliot Lawrence and Charlie Ventura.

By the time he returned to Sweden in 1950 he had established himself as an accomplished soloist and he toured in Scandinavia with Charlie Parker that year, as well as forming his own band with the eminent saxophonists Arne Domnerus and Lars Gullin. ‘It was a good group, and we had a ball, but the interest in jazz in Sweden was too limited, and I missed the United States.’ After a year he returned there. ‘It may be a rat race, but it’s where it’s happening.’ Although he worked in small groups with the saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Harold Land, he had to re-enter the sections of the big bands to make his living. This time he played with those of Charlie Spivak, Harry James, Les Brown, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and once again with Woody Herman. Ericson put together a quintet which included the notable bassist Scott LaFaro and other well-known names, but it wasn’t heard outside the Los Angeles area.

In 1953 he replaced trumpeter Shorty Rogers in the eminent Lighthouse All Stars band which played regularly at a club in Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles.

Ericson returned to tour in Sweden with his own American musicians in 1956. It was a fine group which included the baritone player Cecil Payne, drummer Art Taylor and pianist Duke Jordan, but it fell apart due to complications with the personnel.

Leaving Stan Kenton in 1959 he joined trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s lively big band for a year. In 1961 the drummer Buddy Rich was invited by President Kennedy to take a sextet on a tour of the Far East for the State Department and he chose Ericson on trumpet. At the end of the trip the band recorded in New York.

Returning home again in 1962 Ericson played with a rhythm section at the Golden Circle, a Stockholm night club, also working with the American tenorist Brew Moore in Copenhagen, where Moore lived. ‘Rolf is one of the best trumpet players I’ve worked with,’ said Moore, ‘and I’ve worked with a lot of them. He’s trying to do his own things and he doesn’t copy anybody.’

‘I like to be part of the whole thing in the States,’ Ericson said at the time. ‘There are a lot of good jazz musicians in Europe, but they don’t get together like they do in New York.’ As he spoke he had a ticket for the trip back to the United States in his pocket.

Back in New York he played with Benny Goodman and Gerry Mulligan and joined Charlie Mingus’s ten-piece band from 1962 to 1963.

In the meantime his girl friend became pregnant. Ericson had no money and approached Duke Ellington for a loan. ‘How much do you want?’ asked Ellington, opening his wallet. ‘I don’t know how or when I can pay you back,’ said Ericson. ‘Come into my band and work it off,’ said Ellington.

He joined Ellington’s band on 18 April 1963 and stayed for two years, concurrently working as the trumpeter in Rod Levitt’s distinguished octet in New York. The pay in the Ellington band was low (‘But you get the chance to play with me, Sweetie,’ Duke used to wheedle).

On one occasion the trumpeter Leo Ball had just come out of customs at Amsterdam Airport when he saw Ericson, an old friend of his, talking to someone outside. He rushed down the stairs and threw his arms around Ericson. The other man vanished swiftly. ‘Leo, I love you,’ said Ericson. ‘But I’m not glad to see you right now. I’ve been trying for a year to get next to Duke Ellington to ask him for a raise. I finally had him cornered, and because of you he got away!’

From 1965 to 1970 Ericson worked in the studios as a freelance musician in radio, television and in the Hollywood film studios before returning yet again to Sweden where he was able to form his own big band for a while.

Staying in Berlin for most of the Eighties, he made return visits to the States before settling permanently in Los Angeles. His life was disrupted when his German wife Evelyn, an accomplished vocalist, returned home to the States from a tour of Europe in the early Nineties. The American immigration authorities discovered that she didn’t have citizenship and she was refused permission to re-enter the country. She was sent back to Europe and Ericson had no alternative but to sell up everything he owned and follow her. They lived in Stockholm where Ericson’s health eventually deteriorated.

Rolf Ericson, trumpeter, band leader: born Stockholm 29 August, 1922, died Stockholm, 16 June, 1997.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2001.
added 2011-08-06

Norman Granz began as a fan and record collector during the Thirties and rose to be the first jazz millionaire. The empire that he built for himself included control of the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Art Tatum and Dizzy Gillespie, and, at one time or another, of other top artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan. His Jazz at the Philharmonic unit became the most popular touring jazz group in the world.

He was a big man with, as the critic Whitney Balliett wrote, "bullying eyebrows". He was a bully, a benign one who always got his way and who always had a good reason for exerting his clout. His wealth, generated by his intelligence and his enthusiasm, gained him unpopularity as "a capitalist", but he did more for liberal causes than did any of his critics. In the unequal society that was America during the Forties, he demanded and got equal pay and accommodation for his black and white artists. He refused to let them work where there was segregation and promoted the first mixed-race concerts and dances in the Deep South. He cancelled a concert in New Orleans where all the tickets had been sold when he found out that the theatre seating was segregated and, as he told Down Beat magazine, he lost $100,000 in 1947 by refusing bookings in segregated concert halls.

He was a generous man without hubris, who loved musicians and fearlessly guarded their interests. When we were raising money for the trumpeter Buck Clayton when he could no longer play, Granz sent me a cheque for an amount that was larger than the rest of the fund, with instructions that neither Clayton nor anyone else should know what he had done.

The Granz family business had gone broke during the Depression, so Granz had to take a variety of small jobs to pay for his education at the University of California at Los Angeles. When he left the army he worked as a film editor at MGM and began putting on desegregated jam sessions on Sunday nights at Billy Berg's Trouville Club in Los Angeles.

The club was segregated during the rest of the week but Granz soon broke those nights down, too. The sessions filled the club every week, and Granz expanded to put on a Sunday-afternoon concert in July 1944 at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. He used rising stars such as Nat "King" Cole, the saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and the guitarist Les Paul, later adding established players such as Benny(*) and Lester Young. The music was played as a jam session with the trumpeters being ordered by Granz to play high notes and the saxophonists to make their instruments squeal and scream to arouse the audience. This became the Granz concert formula.

Trying his hand at film production, Granz used Young, Jacquet and the trumpeter Harry Edison in Jammin' the Blues (1944). It was easily the finest jazz film to date and was nominated for an Academy Award.

The Philharmonic Auditorium concerts were stopped in 1946 when the management realised that jazz was beginning to bestride the "Philharmonic" aspect. But the concerts had been recorded, and when Granz arranged for their issue as by "Jazz at the Philharmonic" (JATP) on the Asch label the sales were phenomenal. Granz kept the title for his various collections of stars over the years and sent one out on a tour of the West Coast. It lost money, but he tried again. Tour bookings rocketed, and in 1949 he added Ella Fitzgerald to the concerts, and in 1954 became her manager. By then he had also fostered the talents of Oscar Peterson, and the two artists became the heart of his promotions.

At first he sold his recordings to other labels but in 1946 he formed his own, Clef, followed in 1953 by Norgran, later combining the two as Verve. With a captive stable of artists for the concerts he had no shortage of people to record, and he saved the careers of Gillespie, Getz, Holiday and Fitzgerald at times when they would otherwise have fallen away to obscurity.

Granz was a rugged record producer. He scorned the fashion for hi-fi, sending it up by putting on his album labels the legend "Recorded in Muenster Dummel Hi-Fi". This was nonsense for the recording quality was usually awful, and Muenster and Dummel were the breeds of two dogs that he owned.

George Avakian, unarguably the greatest jazz record producer of them all, said of Granz,"His concert programming may have been numbingly repetitious and the many live recordings it produced may have been overly slapdash but I have always defended them on the basis of this simple truism – without them, many prize nuggets of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter et al would have been lost."

"A man from Izvestia wanted to know what qualities I look for in a jazz musician," said Granz (a non-musician), and in particular, which musician most typifies jazz for me. Oscar Peterson was whispering to me, "Tatum, Tatum, tell him it's Tatum." I said, "No, it's Roy Eldridge." Every time he's on he does the best he can, no matter what the conditions are. And Roy is so intense about everything, so that it's far more important to him to dare, to try to achieve a particular peak, even if he falls on his ass in the attempt, than it is to play safe. That's what jazz is all about.

At one concert, when Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge were having a high-note duel, I was backstage with Granz. "I like my musicians to be friends off stage," he told me. "But when they're on stage I want blood."

The original JATP tours ended in 1957 as rock 'n' roll burgeoned, although Granz continued to promote tours with Fitzgerald and Peterson for many years. His Verve label moved into more commercial music with albums by Bing Crosby and others.

Granz moved to live in Geneva in 1959 and sold Verve to MGM in 1960. He promoted European tours, reviving JATP for a time and also working with Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. In the United States, he formed the Pablo label in 1973 and added Zoot Sims and Sarah Vaughan to his stalwarts Fitzgerald, Peterson, Basie and Gillespie. Again he sold his label, this time to Fantasy Records in 1987.

Norman Granz, producer and impresario: born Los Angeles 6 August 1918; married; died Geneva 22 November 2001.

-Steve Voce

(*) Benny Carter


Published in The Independent in 1993
added 2011-08-23

ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL provided an appropriately majestic setting for the memorial service to Duke Ellington in 1974. There was an aura of pomp not usual to a jazz occasion, as could be deduced from the embarrassed looks on the faces of Tony Coe and Ronnie Scott as they sat in the orchestra, apparently unable to adjust to the idea that it was one of God's occasions as well as being a jazz one. Adelaide Hall was to sing Ellington's beautiful anthem "Come Sunday". She processed through the cathedral on the arm of the gallant Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. As he led her up the steps of the dais she leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I knew your daddy, you know."

You bet she did. In a 70-year career which took in golden ages in Harlem, Hollywood, Paris and London, she knew just about anyone worth knowing. Her great beauty, wonderful voice and bubbling personality must have made her irresistible to the night-clubbers of the time, and, even in her late eighties when she still performed, she would swing or, by then, lurch an ankle in such a way that made it clear that she had been a skilled dancer too. Her name was always linked with Ellington's, although in truth she never worked regularly with his band, and recorded with it on only two occasions, in 1927 and 1937.

Adelaide Hall's father was a music teacher at the Pratt Institute in New York. Her mother was of American Indian stock. Professor Hall died early and, whilst still a teenager, Adelaide had to become the breadwinner for her rather naive mother and younger sister.

She seemed to find no difficulty in entering show business at a fairly elevated level and in 1921 began her stage career in the show Shuffle Along on Broadway. In Running Wild (1923) she was given James P. Johnson's hit song "Old-Fashioned Love" to sing. The next year she was in Chocolate Kiddies and became an established star.

Explaining how it happened she said, "This is how you do it, my dear. You get to know the musicians. You're in the places where they are. And then you ask them if you can sing a song. Be very charming, not too pushy. And be prepared. Know your song, know your key. And sing it. And then someone will hear you and take you out to dinner and give you a job. And there you are."

In 1924 she met her future husband Bert Hicks in New York. He was born in Trinidad and educated in London and Edinburgh. He had been an accountant and was now a ship's doctor, but gave up the sea when they married. They remained together until his death in 1963.

Chocolate Kiddies was such a success that in 1925 it was taken to Europe, touring in Scandinavia and Austria before running for two years in Berlin. "Josephine Baker was at one end of the line, and I was at the other." The tour went on to the Soviet Union, but Hall decided to return to New York.

"I went to work in the Cotton Club, which was managed by the underworld. Coloured people weren't welcome in the audience – I don't like the word `black': we're all different colours.

"When you finished at the club on Saturday night you had your money, you put your coat on and then you were off until Tuesday. Among the people I worked alongside there were Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Snake Hips Johnson and Peg Leg Bates. The costumes were fantastic.

"I also starred in Cotton Club Parade, where I sang `Ill Wind', which Harold Arlen had written for me. There were 24 girl dancers behind me, all dressed in grey, and I was in pink. It was the first show ever that they had nitrogen smoke from the floor on stage."

She first met Duke Ellington in Harlem and by 1927 they were touring in the same show. "I closed the first half of the bill and Duke was on in the second." Ellington had a new number, "Creole Love Call". He had composed it in typical fashion by creating sophisticated elaborations on a clarinet solo which Jimmy Noone had recorded on King Oliver's Camp Meeting Blues.

"I was standing in the wings behind the piano when Duke first played it. I started humming along with the band. Afterwards he came over to the and said, `That's just what I was looking for. Can you do it again?' I said, `I can't, because I don't know, what I was doing.' He begged me to try. Anyway, I did, and sang this counter melody, and he was delighted and said 'Addie, you're going to record this with the band.' A couple of days later I did."

"Creole Love Call", with its expansive and melancholy theme, was intended as a vignette of the great blues singer Bessie Smith. But Hall's contribution was so fundamental to the performance that it has rightly been always linked to her. Her voice growled and swooped on her wordless theme in the manner of a jazz trumpet, and even Bubber Miley, the great expert who followed her with a pungent muted trumpet solo, was easily upstaged. At the same session she recorded another vocal with Duke which also became a hit, "Blues I love to Sing".

Adelaide Hall took over Florence Mills's leading part in the show Blackbirds at the Liberty Theatre on Broadway when Mills died in 1927. She judged this to be the role which confirmed her as a star. The cast included "Bojangles" Robinson again and Hall sang two more numbers which became forever associated with her, the novelty "Diga Diga Doo" and the beautiful "I Must Have That Man", the latter being one of the two songs she recorded with Ellington in 1932. Both songs were written by the talented team of Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields.

Hall toured in the US using a pair of pianists in her accompaniment. The most regular of these was Francis Carter and his partners included the jazz pianists Alex Hill, Joe Turner and Art Tatum. She made some recordings with Tatum which let us hear her voice in conventional interpretations. It is delightful, and there is no doubt that she could have been successfully trained as an operatic singer.

Hall first came to England in 1931 to star at the Palladium, where she was billed as "The Crooning Blackbird" and she recorded in London with Joe Turner. She and her husband emigrated from the United States in 1934 and went to Paris, where Hicks opened a night-club called La Grosse Pomme. "It held about 200 people. I made this dramatic entrance coming down the stairs from the attic. Nobody knew that all the boxes of wine and tinned food were stored up there with me. I came down the stairs in the most gorgeous costume you'll ever see, floating in feathers and plumes."

In Paris she sang with the orchestras of Willie Lewis and Ray Ventura. She also recorded again on a trip to Copenhagen in 1937. In 1938 the couple moved to England and took British nationality. Hall starred in London in Edgar Wallace's play The Sun Never Sets and had her own radio series, in which she was accompanied by Joe Loss and his orchestra. Hicks opened the Old Florida Club in London. That autumn Fats Waller was in London and Hall recorded another Fields-McHugh song which she had introduced in the Twenties, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", with Waller on Hammond organ.

Early in the war the Old Florida Club was destroyed by a land-mine. "I joined Ensa. I had a lovely uniform made by Madam Adole of Grosvenor Street, and it was smart! My husband joined the Merchant Navy." After the war she continued to appear in theatres all over the country in revue, musicals and variety. She had a big role in the eventual return of cabaret to top-class London hotels.

Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate came to the London Coliseum in 1951 and Hall starred in it for 18 months before moving on to Love from Judy, also in London. In 1957 she went back to New York to co-star with Lena Horne on Broadway in Jamaica.

She returned to the US to sing on several occasions, once, in May 1980, to star in Black Broadway with Elizabeth Welch and Buck and Bubbles in the New York cast.

In 1988 when Bob Wilber and his orchestra played what was claimed to be the public premiere of Duke Ellington's Queen Suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Hall was on the bill. (There was controversy over the claim, because the suite had been performed earlier at the Ellington Conference of that year in Oldham, but Wilber claimed that the conference was not "public".)

Hall continued to tour and record throughout the Eighties and in April 1989 was the subject of Sophisticated Lady, a television documentary produced by John Jeremy for Channel 4 where the singer reflected upon her life and sang with skilled and sympathetic accompaniment from the pianist Mick Pyne and the bassist Dave Green, musicians half her age. June Knox-Mawer presented a Radio 4 series on the singer called Sweet Adelaide and she was the subject of a Desert Islands Discs programme.

In the early Nineties she made a brief appearance in cabaret with the pianist Keith Ingham at the King's Head pub theatre in Islington, north London.

Adelaide Hall appeared in several films, including Dancers in the Dark with Duke Ellington (1937), All Colored Vaudeville Show (1935), Dixieland Jamboree with Cab Calloway (1935) and Dixie Jamboree with Calloway again (1944). In 1940 she appeared and sang in the British film The Thief of Baghdad. Cleo Laine was an extra in one of the crowd scenes.

Adelaide Hall, singer, dancer, actress: born New York City 20 October 1901; married Bert Hicks (died 1963); died London 7 November 1993.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent on September 27, 1994
added 2011-08-24

As he took the alto saxophone solo Johnny Hodges's eyes swept the auditorium like beams from a lighthouse. The audience didn't know he was counting.

"Eleven," said Jimmy Hamilton as the Duke Ellington Orchestra trooped off stage for the interval. "Twelve," grunted Johnny Hodges. "What was all that about?" I asked Hamilton. "Exits," said Hamilton. "We get bored during concerts and one of the things we do is count the exits."

Hamilton and Hodges were the leading figures in a rigid subculture that ran through the Ellington band and contrasted with the total lack of respect for discipline within its ranks. The two were sometimes friends and always rivals. They battled with each other each night to see who would be last to take his seat when the band came on stage. The theory prevailed that whoever rushed to take his seat first was the man most afraid of losing his job. Eventually the whole band developed a reluctance to take to the stage and Ellington, a hopeless disciplinarian, couldn't do much about it.

Hamilton was not casual about the music, however. He was probably the most dedicated musician in Ellington's band. He was phlegmatic and fastidious about his clarinet playing, and in this respect very different from his rival, the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, a soloist of genius but, unlike Hamilton, a poor reader.

Hamilton's mere 25 years with Duke still qualified him as a senior member and, in the code adhered to by the musicians, guaranteed him one of the four front seats on the band bus. Hodges, Lawrence Brown and Russell Procope occupied the others. The baritone saxist Harry Carney and Ellington himself travelled in Carney's car.

"We had this one guy who used to drive the bus sideways," said Hamilton. "Used to sit up there with his feet out in the aisle. I guess he was afraid he was going to miss something going on in the bus. We used to call him `Old Side-Saddle', and he sure scared me some, driving that way."

Hamilton was five when his family moved to Philadelphia and his father, also a clarinet player, arranged for him to study piano and brass instruments. He joined the local band led by Frank Fairfax in 1934 as a trumpeter and played in the same section as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Shavers.

Switching to clarinet a year or so later he began working with "name" bands led by Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Mundy and Benny Carter. "I liked anything that was a challenge, and Benny Goodman was a great influence on me. I listened to Barney Bigard, Buster Bailey and Artie Shaw, but it was Benny who inspired me, and soon I could play many of his solos note for note."

Hamilton continued his classical studies and as a result developed an immaculate jazz style, low on both vibrato and passion. When he joined the pianist Teddy Wilson's band in 1940, Wilson used him in a trio like the one that Wilson had helped make famous as the Benny Goodman Trio and in this setting it was difficult to distinguish Hamilton's playing from that of his idol.

Barney Bigard's fat and voluptuous clarinet sound had graced the Ellington band for 14 years when he left in 1942. Ellington tried a couple of replacements who were not a success and then plumped for Hamilton because of his great musical skills rather than for his jazz method. On the face of it Hamilton's style and tone were incompatible with Ellington's music. Additionally the job required that he played tenor sax. As a student of classical playing - he studied at the Juilliard conservatory at the time - Hamilton felt that the tenor interfered with his clarinet proficiency. This may be why he developed a rugged, almost rhythm-and-blues way of playing the tenor which was far removed from the poise of his clarinet work. "The characters of the two instruments are quite different," he said. "The tenor is more flexible so far as bending notes is concerned, and it's very easy to play so you are less tense and can take more liberties."

His smooth clarinet detached him from the rest of the band, and Ellington had to write music to accommodate him.

Hamilton, by now one of the four outstanding clarinettists in jazz, became a composer of substance and with Ellington wrote Air-Conditioned Jungle (1947) to feature a daunting display of his orthodox style. Later he contributed Ad Lib on Nippon and his own concerto-like feature Clarinet Melodrama. He was also responsible for the introduction of the be-bop influence into the band and his arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose used lines borrowed from Charlie Parker.

During his time with Ellington he studied flute and became extremely proficient, although Ellington never asked him to play it with the band (Ellington later used the instrument when Norris Turney played it).

Hamilton left Ellington in 1968 when he won a substantial first prize in a lottery and he and his wife moved to St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where he taught clarinet in public schools and played in a local hotel. He headed the Down Beat poll as clarinettist of the year in 1969.

In the later years, he gave up the clarinet as a regular instrument and when he was asked to play it, had considerable difficulty in getting back into shape. "When he flew over to New York to play with the Lincoln Centre Orchestra in the mid-Eighties," recalled Joe Temperley, "he was usually a quarter-tone flat when he arrived and it used to take him a week to get that sorted out." The illustrious sax section in that band included, apart from Hamilton and Temperley, Norris Turney and Joe Henderson.

During the Eighties Hamilton worked again with the Ellington band, led now by Duke's son Mercer, and toured Europe, briefly as a soloist. He visited England for the Ellington Convention held at Oldham in 1988 but illness prevented him from accepting an invitation to this year's similar meeting in Stockholm.

James Hamilton, clarinettist and saxophonist; born Dillon, South Carolina 25 May 1917; died St Croix, Virgin Islands 20 September 1994.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2001
added 2011-08-24

Over the years, Duke Ellington hired more than 30 vocalists to sing with his bands. Al Hibbler, a rich-toned baritone whose over-stated style was full of idiosyncrasies, was undoubtedly the best of the men. Blind from birth, Hibbler formed a special relationship with Ellington during his eight years with the band. "He has ears that see," Ellington said.

"He'd guide me out to the mike from the wings by talking," Hibbler said. "I'd walk straight to his voice. I'm the straightest walker you'd ever see, and I never used a cane. When it was time for me to come off, Duke would talk from the wings, and I'd follow his voice again. When we walked in the street, he'd put his shoulder to mine every so often, and I'd follow again. That way a lot of people never knew that I was blind."

Ellington was not always able to protect his protégé, however. On one occasion whilst the band was playing on-stage at the San Francisco Opera House, Hibbler stepped outside the stage door for some air. The band heard his screams and when the musicians rushed out they found that someone had sneaked up to Hibbler, squashed out a cigarette in his face, and run off.

It's not quite clear whether it was the pianist Mary Lou Williams or the trumpeter Ray Nance who brought Hibbler to Ellington's attention. At the time, in 1943, Ellington already had four girl vocalists and certainly didn't need another. "A smart business mind would never have considered it," said Ellington. "But the first time I heard him I told him `You're working for me.' He learned song after song, and soon he was our major asset."

"I liked Hibbler with Duke," Quincy Jones said. "He had the same sound as Harry Carney's baritone sax in the band - that coarseness, the deep-rooted earthiness and warmth."

"I learned a lot from Hibbler" Ellington said. "I learned about senses neither he nor I ever thought we had. He had so many sounds that even without words he could tell of fantasy beyond fantasy. Frank Sinatra calls Hibbler and Ray Charles his two ace pilots." When Sinatra established his Reprise record company in 1961 Hibbler was one of the first solo artists he recorded.

Hibbler had perfect pitch and demonstrated it to me once as we walked along Lime Street in Liverpool, when he called out the notes in the cries of circling seagulls. He was proud of his unsighted abilities, and when someone asked him if he would ever want to see, answered, "No, I want to see the world as I see it in my mind and not see it like it actually is."

In 1972 Hibbler made an album with another fiercely independent blind musician, the multi-instrumentalist Rahasaan Roland Kirk. Kirk used to insist on choosing his own postcards and then dictating the written message. I have a card from Tokyo printed with congratulations on being a big girl now that I am three and another from Paris showing the Duke of Wellington examining the corpse of Napoleon. Playing three reed instruments simultaneously to accompany Hibbler, Kirk sounded like the entire Ellington band.

Hibbler studied voice at the Conservatory for the Blind in Little Rock. After working with local bands he was granted an audition with the Ellington band in 1935 but turned up drunk and didn't get the job. He returned to working with local bands until he joined the one led by Jay McShann in 1942. "It was a gas to have Hibbler on the stand," McShann remembers. "He was outgoing and he loved people."

In May 1943, eight years after the first disastrous audition, he finally joined Ellington. Never a jazz singer, he recorded a string of hits with Ellington that included "Don't You Know I Care?", "I'm Just a Lucky So and So", and "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues". In 1947 he sang the opening part of Ellington's Liberian Suite, "I Like the Sunrise", which turned out to be one of his best recordings. That same year he recorded two instrumentals that Ellington had written in 1940, now with added lyrics and retitled "Don't Get Around Much Any More" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me".

"Duke's tenor player taught me a lot about singing," Hibbler said. "I would sit beside him and he'd take that horn and blow low notes right in my ear. `Get down there, way down,' he'd say." Whilst with Ellington Hibbler won the Esquire New Star Award and the Downbeat award for Best Band Vocalist.

In 1950, when Mercer Ellington, Duke's much less talented son, formed his own band, Duke gave him Hibbler to be his singer and that year Hibbler had a hit when he recorded "White Christmas" with Mercer. Frightened that Mercer was doing too well, Duke snatched Hibbler back. But their long association ended unhappily in September 1951 with a squabble over whether Hibbler, who had taken a job as a solo at the Hurricane Club in Boston where Duke had first heard him, was allowed to freelance. Ellington was furious. "How dare you sing without me? Who d'you think you are? Billy Eckstine? Frank Sinatra?" Hibbler's reply was imaginatively obscene.

He took off on a successful solo career which included recordings with Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Gerald Wilson and his records under his own name figured highly in the charts. The million-seller "Unchained Melody" (1955) went to No 5 in the Hit Parade and four other songs of his won places in the US Top Thirty. In all he made 18 albums under his own name between 1952 and 1982.

Albert Hibbler, singer: born Little Rock, Arkansas 16 August 191: married; died Chicago, Illinois 2 April 2001.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2001.
added 2011-07-24

Wendell Marshall learned to play the bass from his cousin, Jimmie Blanton. Blanton had revolutionised jazz bass playing in the Forties and Blanton’s instinctive use of counterpoint and harmony led him to influence the whole of the music. He was virtually the first sophisticated bass player to swing by instinct (the little known Israel Crosby had also done it in the late thirties). Blanton played “lines” on the bass rather than simply keeping time and his adventurous improvisations came to dominate the band. He glowed brightly but briefly for he died from TB at 21. The fact that Blanton developed his innovations in the 1940 Duke Ellington band, one of the greatest bands of all time, assured him of eminence and jazz immortality.

Wendell Marshall inherited not only his cousin’s instrument, but also, more importantly, his big tone and ability to swing. Eventually he succeeded to the job in the Ellington band in 1948. His ability to second-guess Ellington made him vitally important and during his stay the Duke, a reluctant soloist in the form, recorded a dozen of his best piano trios.

Marshall was comparatively reticent, preferring to prop up the edifice rather than being the red-painted front door as Blanton had been. When he left Ellington he became one of the major players in the New York studios.

Raised in St. Louis, he left Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri to join the U.S. Army in 1943. He returned to St. Louis and played there on his discharge in 1946, making his first record around this time with the jazz violinist Stuff Smith. He moved to New York in 1948 and joined the band led by Duke’s son Mercer Ellington, but was swiftly purloined by the father for the major organisation.

At the time Marshall joined him in late 1948 Ellington had been much criticised in the press for the new directions that his band was taking. In the event as always he knew better than the critics and the last years of the Forties saw a radical and potent advance in his music. Marshall joined at the same time as the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, friend of Blanton’s in the 1940 band, returned. Marshall played in the band for the difficult period when the drummer Sonny Greer, an Ellingtonian since 1927, gave way to the lightly swinging and more creative modern outlook of Louie Bellson. Marshall was happy to be part of what became a revolution in the rhythm section. He played on Ellington’s multitudinous recordings that included various famous concerts given by the band and in 1952 appeared in the band’s Snader Telescriptions short, five-minute films done for juke boxes. Ellington rarely rested and the band toured continuously over the years. After seven years of the life Marshall decided to leave in 1955 and to settle in New York. He found work immediately as bassist in the house rhythm section with the Savoy record label. This jewel of a group was made up of Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar) and Kenny Clarke on drums and its backing for the various soloists who recorded for the label was both masterly and tasteful. In retrospect it was one of the major jazz groups of its time, rivalling the more eminent Modern Jazz Quartet, the Oscar Peterson Trio or the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In his first year away from Ellington Marshall recorded with Clark Terry, Carmen McRae, Mary Lou Williams and the now ex-Ellingtonians Louie Bellson and Lawrence Brown. He also recorded an album for RCA Victor with an orchestra led by Billy Byers on which Marshall was the featured soloist. The album with pianist Mary Lou Williams, called “A Keyboard History”, used his bass work prominently and for the first time on record showed the full range and ingenuity of his playing.

In 1956 he added work as the house bassist for the Prestige record company and worked with a multitude of great names from the folk-blues singer Lonnie Johnson to the more progressive Coleman Hawkins, Oliver Nelson and Lucky Thompson. It was for Prestige that he recorded with the classic quintet led by Pee Wee Russell and Buck Clayton. Occasional returns to the Ellington orbit included later recordings with both Duke and Mercer as well as with Johnny Hodges. Whilst playing in the pit bands for Broadway shows over the next decade he recorded with more adventurous groups led by Art Blakey, Tal Farlow and Roland Kirk. He was also a member of the quintet led by Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1968 Marshall retired early and returned to St. Louis. He had been due later this month to be interviewed by the distinguished American writer Patricia Willard on behalf of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

Wendell L. Marshall, bassist and pianist: born St. Louis, Missouri 24 October 1920; married, three daughters; died St. Louis, Missouri 6 February 2001.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1992
added 2011-08-24

DEVOTEES who remember Duke Ellington for his classic compositions like "Creole Love Call" and "Black and Tan Fantasy" often think that Duke destroyed his later music by hiring the young musicians who infused it with bebop during the Forties. Nothing could be further from the truth, for although he often refurbished his earlier classics, Ellington's music never conveniently stood still to be appraised, and he was always open to young contemporary thought.

However, it is true that he made the young men's innovations fit into his music, rather than bowing to their influence. So that, into the Fifties, young virtuosi like the trumpeter Clark Terry and the clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton were writing bebop lines for the band (which the Old Man usually acquired as his own compositions, but that's another story).

The trend continued until the end of Ellington's life and competent soloists (they had to be thus qualified in the line from the unmatchable Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and Tricky Sam Nanton) continued to join Duke's band until his death in 1974. The alto saxophonist Harold "Geezil" Minerve and the accomplished ex-Gil-Evans trumpeter Johnny Coles were amongst Duke's final additions.

Minerve seemed to join the band as an afterthought on Duke's part. His advent in 1971 came when Duke already had a formidable five-piece sax section, and on the face of it, it was hard to see what he needed Minerve for, since five reeds are usually sufficient to play any score. The truth was that Ellington delighted in the new colours Minerve was able to give to Duke's writing, for he also played both flute and piccolo, neither of which had ever been used in the band before.

Ellington hedged his bets in the sax section after the death of the irreplaceable altoist Johnny Hodges. Norris Turney was brought in to play the Hodges role, and Harold Ashby had already been duplicating the Webster-inspired solos of Paul Gonsalves in a rare period when there were two tenors in the band. The advent of Minerve was to be more than the gilding of the lily.

Minerve was an astringent, explosive post-bebop soloist who had no Ellington tradition about his playing and his solos, as demonstrated on Addi from the spectacular concert recorded at Bristol in October 1971, where this showcase for him impacts like a dose of smelling-salts.

Minerve remained in the band until Duke's death and stayed with it when it continued under the leadership of Duke's son Mercer. But, in the welter of comings and goings into that band and the inevitable drop in quality, Minerve was perhaps rather overlooked and wasn't given as much solo space as he deserved.

When he left it was to freelance around New York and he frequently worked with that other ex-Ellingtonian, the baritone saxist Joe Temperley. Minerve had begun his music studies when he was 17, his family having come from Cuba to settle in Florida. He worked as an alto player in New Orleans and also belonged to the group which accompanied Ida Cox, one of the classic blues singers from the Twenties. He was working in Ernie Fields's band when he was drafted into the army in 1943, and returned to Fields after his release, recording with the band in 1949.

Leaving Fields, Minerve settled into the rhythm and blues band led by Buddy and Ella Johnson, a group which was to have a profound influence on the emergence of rock 'n' roll. He stayed with Buddy Johnson until 1957 and worked for Mercer Ellington as early as 1960 before enlisting in the band of another blues singer, Ray Charles, for two years from 1962.

An accomplished musical director, he worked in that role for the singer Arthur Prysock, and his multi-instrumental abilities ensured that he was able to weather the variable tides of work in New York.

Harold "Geezil" Minerve, alto saxophonist and woodwind player, musical director, born Havana 3 January 1922, died New York City 4 June 1992.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1999.
added 2011-07-24

If ever anyone was at the right place at the wrong time, then it was Betty Roché.

Despite the inspiration and sure-footed nature of his music, Duke Ellington’s taste in band singers proved controversial, and most of them only found grudging acceptance from jazz fans. But nobody argued over Betty Roché. She had a particularly clear diction, and her style was light and swinging, particularly suited to Ellington’s music of the Forties. Her recording of Ellington’s signature tune “Take The A Train” with the band in 1952 has remained one of the most famous of Ellington’s recordings. Despite it, Roché slipped through a crack in the floorboards.

Ivie Anderson had been the singer with the Ellington band throughout the Thirties. “Poor health” was the altruistic reason given for her leaving the band in 1942. But in fact she left to oversee the running of her Los Angeles restaurant “Ivie’s Chicken Shack”. Ellington replaced her with a trio of girl singers. One of them, Phyllis Smiley, left fairly quickly. Another, Joya Sherrill, had to leave the band at the end of the summer to go back to school. The third girl, Roché, stayed on.

Like so many future stars, Roché had started off by winning a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre when she was 17. This led eventually to her joining the Savoy Sultans, the resident band at the Savoy Ballroom, in 1941. Typifying the episodic nature of Roché’s career, the band broke up soon after she joined it. She made her first record on the band’s last recording session, a song called “At’s In There”. She also sang briefly for bands led by the tenor sax player Lester Young and trumpeter Hot Lips Page

She travelled to Hollywood with the Ellington band to make the film “Reveille With Beverly” in October, 1942. The film also featured Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie and Bob Crosby bands as well as Ellington’s. Roché was to sing “Take The A Train”. The A Train was a subway train that famously travelled through New York to Harlem. Roché ‘s lyrics said of the train “You’ll find it’s the quickest way to get to Harlem.” In a typical Hollywood generalisation the train in the film as she sang was shown racing across the open prairie.

The American musicians’ union (the AFM) had imposed a ban on recording that lasted throughout Roché’s period with Ellington and she was thus denied the fame that would undoubtedly have come to her had she featured on the band’s records..

In January 1943 Ellington ‘s became the first black band to give a concert at Carnegie Hall. That evening he gave the first performance of one of his most controversial compositions, his 45-minute “Black, Brown and Beige” suite. Roché sang the famous “Blues” section, with its pyramid-like construction of lyrics. This piece was designed to express the feelings of black life in the cities of America at the beginning of the century. The concert was recorded, but the results were not issued until 40 years later. By the time Ellington was able to record a studio version in 1944, Roché had left the band.

Roché’s attitude to working tended towards the feckless and she left Ellington during 1943, eventually joining the band led by pianist Earl Hines in 1944, with whom she also recorded. Again, she didn’t stay long, and left music altogether for a number of years, unexpectedly rejoining Ellington in 1951. In June 1952 she recorded the extended version of “Take The A Train” with the band, and this became so successful that Ellington repeated it in all his broadcasts of the time. It was to be the high point of her career, and when she left the band again in 1954 Ray Nance, a highly original trumpeter and singer with the band, continued to use the version of the song that Roché had created. The album that included Roché’s performance of the song is still a big seller to day, and it is this version, rather than the original solely instrumental version that most people remember.

Roché’s career remained erratic. She recorded an album for the Bethlehem label in 1956, predictably called “Take The A Train”, and another, “Singin’ And Swingin’” for Prestige in 1960. Her last album was done for Prestige the following year, and both the albums for the label remain in the current catalogue. Although she worked sporadically in clubs, she seemed to be half-hearted about her career, and eventually slipped into obscurity a few years later.

Ellington wrote of her in his biography “She had a soul inflection in a bop state of intrigue and every word was understandable despite the sophisticated hip and jive connotations.”

Mary Elizabeth Roché, singer: born Wilmington, Delaware, 9 January, 1920; - died Pleasantville, New Jersey, 16 February 1999.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in April 2007
added 2011-08-06

World music, always an uncomfortable genre to pin down, probably began with Tony Scott. He was a man who revered the iconic figures at the centre of jazz - Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lester Young and Charlie Parker - but was nevertheless happy to blend his jazz clarinet into any kind of music, religious or secular, that he found in his travels all over the world.

By the time, in the early days of bebop, that he had developed his clarinet style the flash days of clarinet players such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were over. Tony Scott was a fine clarinettist and a good self-publicist, but the instrument had gone out of vogue. His efforts on baritone sax and piano showed his ease with musical challenges but he was fated to play with or employ the most famous jazz musicians without joining their ranks.

In 1959 he left the United States to travel in Europe and Asia and applied his jazz to the enormous variety of ethnic music that he encountered.

His parents had migrated from Sicily at the turn of the century and settled in New Jersey. His father was a barber and amateur guitarist and his mother had studied the violin. Anthony Sciacca, as he was born in 1921, showed his inherited musical gifts at seven, singing and imitating jazz instrumentalists:

"The first time I heard jazz was the first time I heard freedom. I heard a big band playing in 1933 . . . it was like a big bush, a big tree and then suddenly this bird came flying out of the tree. It was a clarinet."

Scott began playing a metal clarinet when he was 12 and by the time he was 14 had his own quartet in which he also doubled on alto saxophone. Until he was 18 he was influenced most strongly by the playing of Benny Goodman, whom he idolised.

In 1939 Scott first played in jam sessions at the legendary Minton's Playhouse, a New York night-club that gave a platform to the then little-known progressives of the day - Charlie Christian and Thelonious Monk amongst them. Scott sat in with them and with Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young and, crucially, the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster:

"The older men were interested in young musicians in those days. Ben Webster took me under his wing. He watched over me and became my teacher. At his suggestion I moved from club to club each night, picking up much that I could use in my own playing. Just being around provided the sort of experience that young players can't get today."

He studied at the Juilliard from 1941 to 1942 before spending three years in the US Army. Joining the 1st Army Band, he was stationed in New York and managed to continue sitting in at the jazz night-clubs on 52nd Street. He played with and befriended a multitude of black musicians but prominently Billie Holiday, Charlie "Bird" Parker and Lester Young.

The first time Scott heard him, Charlie Parker had the same irresistible and overwhelming effect on Scott that he had on all the young moderns:

"My jaw dropped. He played so many notes, up and down, all around, that it sounded like a hundred chickens going mad when a fox enters the coop. Like Chinese music from the moon. I had never heard any music like this in my life. And I was supposed to play after him. What the hell could I play after this musical madman? I walked up on the stage to be near him and played as usual in the style of Benny Goodman, but from that day on I wanted to be like Bird."

Scott developed a soft sound that he combined with Parker's phrasing. He and Buddy de Franco were the only clarinet players in bebop - the instrument sat awkwardly in bebop ensembles. But Scott was good at propaganda and soon wielded a lot of influence and brought himself regular work.

He made his first recording as a leader in 1946 and out of friendship his star musicians played for reduced fees. They included Ben Webster, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie, who, because he was under contract to another record company, appeared on the label as "B. Bopstein". In 1950 Scott graced another superb recording session under Sarah Vaughan's name, this time playing alongside Miles Davis. In February 1953 he joined the Duke Ellington band for two months, playing tenor saxophone and flute and recording with the band.

By now an accomplished composer as well, Scott established himself with the RCA record company during the Fifties. He was able to make a handful of big band records using the finest of the New York jazz musicians. In 1957 he recorded a tribute to 52nd Street, 52nd Street Scene, drawing together small groups made up from musicians from various fields. He found himself playing duets with the eccentric clarinettist Pee Wee Russell.

"Blues for the Street" from this album was in fact the emotional all-purpose slow 12-bar blues that graced most of Scott's performances for the rest of his life as "Blues for Charlie Parker". It was as traditional as could be and its soft-toned clarinet, so redolent of Ben Webster's saxophone influences, is probably what people remember best of Scott's oeuvre.

In the same year, Scott made a groundbreaking visit to South Africa, where his insistence on playing to multi-racial audiences at a time when such radicalism was unheard of caused much trouble with the police for him and for those who promoted his visit.

Deciding that there was no future for the clarinet in the American jazz climate, Scott left in 1959 for a two-year trip (it lasted for six) around the continents. He made a seven-month stay in Europe and Africa, finding plenty of work in clubs and at festivals before leaving for the Orient, where he studied and taught in the various cultures that he encountered.

Scott found no shortage of work across Asia and became a big name in Japan, where he spent some considerable time. He recorded frequently in various esoteric situations and was always surprised, on his brief return trips to the US, at how hard it was for his fellow musicians to find rewarding work. He brought back his Asian experiences and recorded in New York albums for yoga meditation. He also recorded there in 1967 with the visiting Indonesian All Stars.

Finally disillusioned with his homeland, he settled in Italy during the Seventies and used Rome as a base from which to tour and record in Europe. In the Eighties he recorded African Bird, an album with a group of European musicians of his own compositions that reflected his experiences in Africa. Quirkily he insisted that, for his album Homage to Lady Day in 1995, his Italian rhythm section should record the pieces beforehand with the leader dubbing on his solos afterwards. This made the interpretation of Billie Holiday's songs a little stilted.

On his 75th birthday in 1996 he recorded The Old Lion Roars in Milan, which included the ever-resurgent "Blues for Charlie Parker".

In 2003 Scott returned to the US to play at some successful recitals with Buddy De Franco. Both had been present at the dawn of bebop and by now had taken their places as the old men of the clarinet. De Franco's playing remained sharp and rooted in the style of Artie Shaw while Scott, by now playing without teeth, still reflected softly the music of Lester Young, Parker and Holiday.

Anthony Joseph Sciacca (Tony Scott), clarinettist, saxophonist and composer: born Morristown, New Jersey 17 June 1921; thrice married (two daughters); died Rome 28 March 2007.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 1991
added 2011-08-23

It’s true that there were the odd one or two musicians who declined to join the Duke Ellington orchestra when invited to do so, but the trumpeter Jabbo Smith was the only one to turn Ellington down because he thought that he was too good for Duke’s band.

"I had made a recording of `Black and Tan Fantasy' with Duke and he asked me to go into the Cotton Club with him. He'd offered me $90, but by that time everybody claimed I was the best in New York. I could get a hundred and fifty a week. I said no and he hired Freddie Jenkins instead."

Jabbo recorded the two titles with Ellington on 3 November 1927, replacing the usual trumpet soloist Bubber Miley. He was only 18, and brought a completely new approach to "Black and Tan", replacing Miley's standard solo with a completely new concept of the muted trumpet role.

"The night before I recorded with Duke, somebody stole my horn. I had to go to a music store and get a replacement. and the mouthpiece was way too big. I had a hell of a time hitting that opening high C in my solo on `Black and Tan', but I made the session."

"Jabbo was as good as Louis then," said his friend the bassist Miit Hinton. "He was the Dizzy Gillespie of that era. He played rapid-fire passages while Louis was melodic and beautiful. He could play soft and he could play fast.

"But he never made it. He had delusions of grandeur and he'd always get mixed up with women. If he made enough for drinks and chicks in any small town like Des Moines and Milwaukee, that would suffice."

Despite the brilliance of his technique, Smith was a flawed player. While Armstrong was serene and lyrical, Smith prodded twitchily at the boundaries of the trumpet's range, often trying to play things that Louis couldn't have managed either. The recordings he made with his own band in 1929 were designed to emulate the success that Louis had had with his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings a few years earlier, and they did cause a sensation. particularly when they were heard in Europe.

Jabbo was a wild youngster and because his mother couldn't control him he was placed in the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston when he was six. He took up trumpet in the orphanage band when he was 10, but hated the place, and ran away several times before finally evading recapture when he was 16. He worked in Atlantic City, where he joined the Charlie Johnson band and moved to New York with it in 1927. In May that year he made his first recordings with a band called The Georgia Strutters, which included Willie "The Lion" Smith and the trombonist Jimmy Harrison. He went on tour with a show led by the pianist/composer James P. Johnson called "Keep Shufflin' '28". The show collapsed when it reached Chicago, where Smith then settled. Jabbo's Rhythm Aces replaced Louis Armstrong's band at Chicago's My Cellar club in 1930.

Jabbo moved to Milwaukee and when the Claude Hopkins Orchestra visited the town in 1936 Smith joined it, staying for two years. He returned to Milwaukee in 1938, but left again to lead a resident hand at the Alcazar club in Newark, NJ. In the Forties he faded into obscurity and returned to Milwaukee, where he worked for a car-hire company. He claimed that booking agents and recording companies robbed him of the royalties due to him.

Smith made a come-back in 1961 with a concert for the Milwaukee Jazz Society, and in 1976 stayed in New Orleans for three months working with the Orange Kellin Band. He came to Europe in t977. when he played at Pizza Express in London. In 1978 he was in the show One Mo' Time and enjoyed a brief acclaim before recurring ill-health forced him back to Milwaukee. By 1983 he had recovered sufficiently to play at festivals in Europe again, by then a historical curiosity rather than a trenchant contributor to the music. He returned to play at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1986.

Clades "Jabbo" Smith, trumpeter, vocalist, band leader born Pembroke Georgia 24 December 1908, died New York 16 January 1991.

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2001.
added 2011-07-24

“In November 1969 the Duke Ellington band was coming in from West Berlin into East Germany,” said Norris Turney. “I was just new in the band then, and I didn’t have a visa. One of the border guards looked at me and said ‘He can’t go in.’ So Duke got off the bus and walked very nonchalantly into the office. He had an album by the band with him and he gave it to the guy and they let me in. That was during the Cold War! The power of Duke Ellington!”

Turney was a unique jazz journeyman who played several instruments very well. He was the first and only man to play flute in the Ellington band, although he originally joined Ellington as a saxophonist, replacing the remarkable trombonist Benny Green and managing, incredibly, to play trombone parts on the alto sax. Ellington later used his alto to replace any gap, including amongst the trumpets, that appeared in the band. Turney stepped into Johnny Hodges’s place in the band for two weeks when the great alto player was ill.

“What you doing sitting up there?” asked Hodges when he returned. “Nothing man, just trying to hold a gig down for you,” said Turney. Turney played trumpet and trombone parts with the band before finally being called into the saxophone section as a full member in 1969.

The two men became friends. Turney had copied Hodges’s playing when he was a child and had dreamed of one day joining Ellington’s band. His alto style remained similar to Hodges.

One night in New York the Turney’s doorbell rang at half past three in the morning. His wife Marilee answered the door. It was Johnny Hodges’s wife Tootsie, who had been drinking heavily.

“You ain’t nothing,” she said to Norris Turney. “You can’t play like Johnny.”

“I threw her ass out of there,” reflected Marilee.

Happily the friendly relations between the couples weren't affected and when Hodges died in May 1970, Turney took over his role. He wrote a piece, “Chequered” Hat”, in tribute to Hodges, and it was one of the few pieces composed by one of his sidemen that Ellington played in concert and also recorded. Turney’s beautiful ballad style now blossomed and he became a fully-fledged Ellingtonian. His flute playing gave the band a new colour, although he was never quite able to step out of the shadow of Hodges on alto. With Ellington he travelled in Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Duke Ellington’s son Mercer recalled how Turney left the band in 1973. “We were into a period when Pop was very dissatisfied with the rhythm section. One night he was screaming at it during Norris’s solo and Norris protested about this in a way Pop felt was defying his authority. He needled Norris so much between numbers that Norris became furious, packed up his instruments and left the stage during a performance. So Ellington lost the only musician capable of succeeding Johnny Hodges.”

Turney had begun playing with lesser known bands at the end of the Thirties, eventually replacing Sonny Stitt in 1945, first in Tiny Bradshaw’s rhythm and blues band and then when Stitt left Billy Eckstine’s band. In the Eckstine band, where Charlie Parker worked as a sideman, Turney played with Art Blakey, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro, all pioneering Bebop musicians. Life on the road was rugged, and Turney went back to Ohio where he organised his own band for two years. Coincidentally he used Junior Raglin, an ex-Ellington bassist.

He returned to New York in 1950 for one dreadful year. “Just give me a job mopping up. I’ll do anything. I need a job,” he said to one club owner. In 1951 he moved to Philadelphia joining Elmer Snowden’s band for five years. He returned to New York in 1957 and he freelanced, living at one time only on his wife’s unemployment benefit.

“We went on like that for a few years but we did all right. Then in 1967 I joined Ray Charles for a year and I went with him to Australia and New Zealand. Things were steadily picking up.” In New York he worked with bands led by Clark Terry, Frank Foster and Duke Pearson.

After the break with Ellington Turney worked in Broadway shows for ten years. These included “Guys and Dolls”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Sophisticated Ladies”. “Sophisticated Ladies” was made up from Ellington’s music and it was in this band that he made friends with another ex-Ellingtonian, Joe Temperley. The two men worked together and finally rejoined the Duke Ellington “ghost” band led by Mercer Ellington after Duke’s death. His flute playing won him the Downbeat award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in 1971.

During the Eighties Turney returned to jazz, joining Panama Francis’s Savoy Sultans, Illinois Jacquet and then touring with George Wein’s Newport Festival All Stars. He was much in demand for concert tours and he recorded with leaders as diverse as Roy Eldridge, Paul Gonsalves and Randy Weston.

Norris Turney, reed and woodwind player: born Wilmington, Ohio, 8 September 1921: died Dayton, Ohio, 17 January 2001.

-Steve Voce

Prodigious Duke Ellington bassist

Published in The Independent in April, 2005.
added 2011-08-06

Although he was out by more than half a century Duke Ellington liked to say, "I was born at the Newport Jazz Festival on 7 July 1956." Jimmy Woode, one of the best of Ellington's succession of prodigious bassists, and Sam Woodyard on drums made up the Ellington band's rhythm section in what had begun as a routine performance. It changed into one of the most extraordinary musical eruptions ever seen at Newport when the rhythm section drove the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves in an unstoppable performance of 27 improvised choruses on Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue".

The audience broiled with enthusiasm. "Within an hour," wrote George Avakian, critics and reporters were buzzing about it. By next morning it was generally conceded to have been one of the most exciting performances ever heard at Newport.

Ellington's flagging career was uplifted and with it Jimmy Woode, his right hand man in the band. "Jimmy Woode joined us in Boston in 1955 because our regular bassist was sick," said Ellington. "Good bass player, I thought, reading or faking. Then I became aware of his sensitivity. No matter which way we turned melodically or harmonically Jimmy Woode was right on top of it."

Ellington gave Woode the permanent job in late 1955 and the bassist stayed with him through thick and thin until April 1960. "I remember we were in Savannah, Georgia," recalled Woode. "I don't know why we were rehearsing because the band seldom rehearsed, and the police came in and said 'You, you, you and you, out!' Off the bandstand. They were white or light - Dave Black was the drummer. A very plush, beautiful club - in fact it was called The Savannah. And Dave was the only white, but there were three blacks that were very light. What can you do?"

He was a remarkably skilful player, matched only in his European days by his fellow bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.

As a teenager Woode studied piano and bass in Boston at Boston University and at the Conservatory of Music and at the Philadelphia Academy. When he was discharged in 1946 after a year in the US Navy he formed a small group in which he played piano. He then concentrated on bass, but occasionally reverted to piano when called upon. He toured with Flip Phillips in 1949 and on his return from a working trip to Sweden in 1950 he accompanied Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. In Boston he worked with the pianist Nat Pierce and then became house bassist at George Wein's Storyville Jazz Club, where he recorded with Sidney Bechet and Billie Holiday in 1953. Before joining Ellington in 1955 he formed a duo with the pianist Jaki Byard for a time and played for Miles Davis.

Leaving Ellington in April 1960, he moved to Sweden, where he became a founder member of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland band. He moved again to Cologne, where the band was based, in 1964, and later to the Netherlands and, in 1975, to Munich. He built up his reputation with the band until it disbanded in 1973 and also worked long hours in the radio and television studios. He ran his own music publishing company and found regular work accompanying visiting American stars.

In the Eighties he lived in Vienna and then Berne. He was a member of the Paris Reunion Band and was in demand for Ellington conventions all over the world, including one at Oldham in 1988. On a rare working visit to the United States in 1995, he toured with Lionel Hampton's Golden Men of Jazz. He made a 70th (actually 71st or 72nd) birthday tour of Europe in 1998 with a quintet that included his daughter, the singer Shawnn Monteiro.

Confusion surrounds Woode's early years. He never had a birth certificate and his older sisters couldn't agree on whether he was born in 1926 or 1927. His father, also Jimmy Woode, a music teacher and pianist, came to Europe in 1947 with the trumpeter Hot Lips Page and settled in Sweden, playing there for many years. Woode junior followed his father from the US to Sweden, and the two men caused regular confusion amongst jazz historians.

James Bryant Woode, bassist: born Philadelphia 23 September 1926 (or 1927); married (one daughter); died Lindenwold, New Jersey 23 April 2005

-Steve Voce


Published in The Independent in 2000.
added 2011-07-24

Duke Ellington always claimed that whenever he needed a musician he simply hired the best player available locally. He certainly made an exception when Lawrence Brown gave two weeks’ notice, and Ellington cabled the young trombonist Britt Woodman in Los Angeles to come out to join the band for a season at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas in February 1951.

“Thank God I’ve got a fortnight to learn the book,” Woodman said to Lawrence Brown when he arrived. “To hell with that,” said Brown. “I’m taking off in the morning.”

Ellington’s musicians were notorious for turning their backs on a newcomer. The sheet music in the band’s library was in tatters with large parts missing. “I felt lonely and insignificant. A kind word from someone would have made all the difference,” said Woodman. “Fortunately the first night went well for me. I had no difficulty in sight-reading the scraps of parts, for which I had to thank my years of study. When it was over Duke sent for me and thanked me.”

Britt Woodman first astonished Duke Ellington fans at the same time that another trombone virtuoso of similar stature, Frank Rosolino, was dazzling audiences at Stan Kenton concerts. Both men set new standards of technique, and jazz trombone was never the same again. But despite the prodigious bravura of his playing, Woodman never became a major soloist in the way that Lawrence Brown had been. His playing was full of fire but favoured technical display over emotion and beauty.

When he wasn’t working regularly Woodman used to practice trombone for three hours each day, soaring from the pedal tones at the bottom of the instrument to the altissimo tones at the other extreme. He frequently played solos that would take him through the four octaves of the trombone. Since his tone was full throughout the whole range of the instrument, he must have had lips of tungsten.

In 1955 Ellington and his band were playing a week at New York’s Birdland. Never one to waste time, Ellington used to compose during the intermission. One night he wrote a brief four bars of a theme on a piece of paper and asked Britt Woodman to play it. Ellington came back the next night with the piece written out, handed it to Woodman and had him play it for the audience without any rehearsal. It was to be called “Hank Cinq” and it was played and recorded as the third movement of Ellington’s Shakespearean suite “Such Sweet Thunder”. It was a minefield of a piece that took advantage of Woodman’s ability to leap through the octaves, and was thought to be beyond copying. But, in a tribute to Ellington, Cleo Laine recorded the piece using Woodman’s solo in what must be one of the most extraordinary vocal performances by this amazing singer.

As a boy in Los Angeles, Woodman had a vital role to play in the development of his lifelong friend, the jazz composer Charlie Mingus. Unlike Mingus Woodman came from a thoroughly musical family. His father, once a well-known trombonist in New Orleans, taught his son to play piano, trombone, clarinet and tenor saxophone. The young Britt played in the family band with his two brothers.

Throughout his life, Mingus was a man both violent and sensitive, who was never able to come to terms with his surroundings. As a child Mingus was taught trombone and cello (badly) by his church choirmaster. With a false confidence that was to persist he took on the more accomplished Woodman in a cutting contest on trombone. Woodman, two years older than Mingus, didn’t ridicule the boy, but took him under his wing. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Mingus died in 1979.

“The kids in grade school used to take his lunch. He was very timid then. And very bowlegged. “I was an expert at gymnastics and athletics. So I showed him all that. I liked to play him Ping-Pong with my left hand because he could never really play. He used to get mad at me and say ‘Play with your right hand,’ and I’d say ‘You got to learn.’

“Charles,” I told him, “everything you do, there’s an art to it. I never showed him what it was for arm-wrestling, so I could beat him twelve times with my right hand and nine times with my left. I didn’t weigh but 125, but I had lifted weights, and I was pretty strong.” The Woodman family soon absorbed Mingus, who had an unhappy home life.

Woodman played with the Les Hite band at the end of the Thirties until 1942 when he was called into the army. On his release in 1946 he, Mingus and the saxophone players Buddy Collette and Lucky Thompson formed a co-operative band in Los Angeles, which they called The Stars of Swing. This had a promising run at the Downbeat Club on Central Avenue, the city’s jazz street. But it broke up and, on Thompson’s recommendation, Woodman joined the “progressive” band led by Boyd Raeburn. He played on Raeburn’s avant-garde recording “Boyd Meets Stravinsky”. Later in the year he moved to the Lionel Hampton band and managed to persuade Hampton’s wife Gladys, who did the hiring and firing, to bring Mingus into the band. By now Mingus was composing as well as playing bass.

“I warned him not to write, because he wouldn’t get paid. Nobody who wrote for Hamp got paid. That’s how Gladys worked it. So Charles said okay. But he wrote ‘Mingus Fingers’ and they recorded it and he had to get a lawyer to try and get paid.”

Woodman came off the road to study music for two years at Westlake College in Los Angeles before the call came from Ellington in 1951. He stayed with Ellington for the next nine years, finding time in 1955 to record with Mingus in a quintet led by trumpeter Miles Davis.

Tired of travelling, he left Ellington and settled in New York. Work proved hard to find, although he eventually worked in several musicals on Broadway, including “Half A Sixpence”, starring Tommy Steele. He played for Mingus, now an established leader in New York, and made more recordings with him. He was a player at Mingus’s notoriously anarchic and disastrous Town Hall concert in 1962. Another Los Angeles friend, Eric Dolphy, found work for him with John Coltrane and during the Sixties he joined bands led by Quincy Jones, Johnny Richards, Oliver Nelson, Chico Hamilton, Ernie Wilkins and even the Benny Goodman Sextet. He played at the Newport Jazz Festival several times with Ellington and then in 1961 with Quincy Jones and in 1967 with Lionel Hampton.

In 1970 Woodman returned to Los Angeles to live and starred in the Bill Berry L.A. Big Band, the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut and the Akiyoshi Tabackin Band. He found regular jobs in the film and television studios and for a time worked for Nelson Riddle. It was the first time in his life that he and his wife Clara could afford a car, by then considered essential for American families. He recorded with his own octet in 1977 and toured Japan twice with the all-star group led by Benny Carter that year and again in 1978. Woodman played on recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson amongst others.

Returning east in 1979 he joined the New York Jazz Repertory Company and came with it to England – he’d last been here in 1958 with Ellington. In New York he befriended another ex-Ellingtonian, baritone saxist Joe Temperley, and the two played in the Broadway revival of Ellington’s songs “Sophisticated Ladies”. Like Temperley, Woodman played on some of the jazz cruises to the Caribbean.

Woodman’s health began to fail and eventually he had to take an oxygen cylinder with him wherever he went. Last year he returned to Los Angeles to be with his family and lived there with his brother Coney. A widower who had no children, Woodman is survived by his three brothers.

"He was always one of my inspirations, a good friend," said the trombonist Steve Turre, a contemporary trombone star, who featured Woodman on two of his albums. "As far as playing the trombone goes, he was top shelf. His chops were ridiculous. He was a grand master, and just a sweetheart."

Britt Bingham Woodman, trombonist: born Los Angeles 4 June 1920; died Los Angeles 13 October 2000.

-Steve Voce


Ellington Error

Published in Jazz Journal in January 1964.
added 2011-08-16

While welcoming the three-volume "Ellington Era" set on CBS, I would qualify my enthusiasm by remarking on the poor sound quality at least in the one record I have (CBS BPG 62179). Until the entire Ducal recording output is available on LP there can never be too much Ellington on record. But the poor nature of the reproduction on these, some of the most masterly of Ellington's works, is so irritating that it makes one wonder if the otherwise magnificent Frank Driggs has been meticulous enough with this production.

Certainly the original 78s on American Brunswick and English Parlophone were no great shakes, and the quality of the original LPs which included many of these tracks (Jazz Cocktail on Columbia 33S 1044 and A Blues Serenade on HMV DLP 1172) was much worse, but, if Decca can do so well in cleaning up sound on their Ace series, one wonders that the Columbia corporation of America can do no better. (It should be pointed out that the HMV A Blues Serenade was so bad in sound quality that it should not have been issued).

Stanley Dance has contributed a thorough and erudite set of notes. I am a little doubtful about his listing of Cootie as the trumpet soloist on Saddest Tale, but bow to his superior judgement -particularly when I remember Brian Rust and his bloody tuba.

-Steve Voce

It Don't Mean A Thing

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1965
added 2011-08-19

IT DON’T MEAN A THING was by now the regular title of the monthly column I wrote in Jazz Journal, this one from April 1965. Again, some of my views about Duke Ellington expressed in this review of his Manchester concert have since changed. And I would certainly have included Artie Shaw between Hamilton and Goodman in the roster of the greatest clarinetists.
…If It Ain't Got That Swing

Mark Murphy thought it one of the finest jazz concerts he had heard; Ronnie Ross had been disappointed; half the students in my class thought it to be some kind of musical second coming, and the rest had found it didn't come up to expectations. However Eddie Lambert said that it was the greatest concert he had ever attended, although Ernie Garside wasn't very impressed.

The occasion was, of course, the Ellington evening at Manchester's Free Trade Hall - the penultimate night of the tour, and a performance which came after the critics in the posh Sundays had gone overboard with almost unseemly enthusiasm.

I found that the enthusiasm ('greatest jazz in the world'- `never been a performance like it in this country') was rather misleading. By ordinary jazz standards, this was the most original, most mature and most satisfying collection of sounds in our music. By Ellingtonian measurements, there was little exceptional. Certainly I did not find the music as satisfying nor as breathtaking as that of the first tour of the Fifties, which had Clark Terry, Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman and so on. Certainly there was no medley; there were no drum solos nor grotesque male singers -but on the other hand there was less Jimmy Hamilton than usual, and Lawrence Brown was obviously doing too much in the section to allow his normal personality to emerge.

Play one record by the 1940 band, or even by the dynamic but uncharacteristic band of the early 'fifties, and you will find that to-day's band, despite all its imposing names, has lost the spark which lifted it into the category out of reach of all others. Now it is simply the best band in the world – it is no longer a single unit speaking with the voice of a genius. Of course, the essential characteristics remain. Whenever Williams, Anderson or Nance took a solo, one was immediately gripped by a feeling of authority, and the individual's character dominated every note. But the trumpets as a section lacked a unified character, and this, as far as I can remember, is the first time this has happened to this band.

Perhaps a break-down of the programme into individual numbers reveals the various paradoxes which occurred throughout the evening. Midriff, used as a piano-less opener, was never one of Stray's most rousing numbers (it was originally recorded as an experiment on a V-Disc, and then abandoned for a dozen years). However, it served its purpose as a tasty opener and, in retrospect, featured some of the best band sound of the evening. Duke came on to introduce Afro-Bossa, a hang-over from the last tour. The misty opening with soft brass, gradually builds into a bolero-type climax, much heightened by Sam Woodyard's hand-drumming. Woodyard, who was using a new set of Premier drums which he had had for a fortnight, seemed on excellent form. For some reason he had specified 18 inch bass drums, rather smaller than the normal for this type of band, and it is possible that this had something to do with his improved performance. Ad Lib On Nippon, the major new opus of this visit, had extended work from piano, bass and clarinet. The piano part was obviously going to be lengthy, as one could judge from the way that Harry Carney began unassembling his baritone and tinkering around with the pieces like some very expensive plumber. Ellington played with his usual expansive grandeur, and appeared at his most dangerously romantic, skirting the banal with surefoot delicacy. Hamilton's brilliant clarinet solo (he had constructed this section of the work himself) proved to be the longest exposure during the evening.

While the band is literally swamped with great names, it seemed outrageous to me that the man who is the finest exponent of his instrument in jazz should be limited to this one flawless and dazzling exposition. Had he followed a Pee Wee Russell solo, it would have been enough to send a dozen Eddie Lamberts off like a thousand Big Bens. Without any qualifications at all this man is a superb clarinet player. His work over the last fifteen years or so has also shown him to be, with the possible exception of Gonsalves, the most unflagging and original improviser in the band. It is unfortunate that his instrument is so demode, for had he been around at the time when Goodman and Shaw were carving it up, he must surely have clocked in at the high place in the jazz hierarchy which should be his. As one who knows enough about the clarinet to say confidently that Jimmy Hamilton and Benny Goodman have been the greatest performers on the instrument in the jazz world, one has to recognise that only a master of the instrument would be able to say which of them, at their best, was the greater. Certainly there can be no doubt on to-day's performances. Talking to Hamilton after the concert, he assured me that on this tour he is taking more solos than on his last visit. I found this hard to believe, and still wish for the hugely satisfying Hamilton era which produced such extended solos as those on the Newport Festival Suite, The Tattooed Bride and so on. Some of his own excellent compositions like Air Conditioned Jungle or Clarinet Melodrama could well grace the present repertoire. And the odd tenor solo from his more beefy side has broken them up at many a concert in the past. Hamilton's earthy sax work sets off the polish of the other reeds to great advantage.

The Opener brought on Gonsalves, a very much on form Cat Anderson, and Buster Cooper playing a bursting euphonium solo very reminiscent of his trombone work on the recent Non-Violent Integration. Gonsalves returned for Chelsea Bridge, a beautiful interpretation which, for the slow tempo, was almost busy. Gonsalves is rapidly shaping into one of jazz's more coherent soloists, and improves with every tour. The short excerpt from Diminuendo and Crescendo which followed sounded quite fresh, and crystalised the best from one piece.

People seem to have been most impressed with the 1958-vintage Black, Brown And Beige. It doesn't really stand comparison with the 1944 version which gained so much from the contributions of Sam Nanton, and the last orchestral passage, with its synthetic swing, sounds almost like a white swing band. Nance made a beautiful contribution with his violin, while the immaculate Hodges was his bland self with Come Sunday. Rabbit, looking, as someone said, like a little Ellington, rolled it all out with his usual impeccable mastery. Talking in terms of the alto saxophone, one cannot venture the temerity to criticise such a player. He is an institution in himself, and I must content myself with saying that the only alto I have heard which was ever better came from Hodges himself. Later on he did Prelude To A Kiss but, like Sunday, I felt that it lacked that little vibrancy which was happily restored immediately as he bounced into a jumping something which, from memory of an old Parlophone 78, was Harmony In Harlem. The second half began with Satin Doll, one of Duke's more orthodox triumphs, and a fine feature for the band's baritone player. If there was ever one word to mean imperturbable, virtuous, hard-working, supreme, inspiring and abundantly talented, then that word is Carney. There should be a special category in the polls to cover his multitudinous talents in connection with this band. Doll and Sophisticated Lady gave a handsome exhibition of his incredible playing. Like Roland Kirk, he has perfected the business on inhaling and exhaling at the same time, and could presumably hold on to that long note in Lady until he starved to death. Then came the new Tootie For Cootie, which had the maestro in remarkably good humour, laughing, clowning, dancing and waving that extraordinary tongue at the audience. The piece itself was notable for its simplicity and the fact that, as mentioned above, even though the material was comparatively uncomplex, Cootie spoke with this trumpet voice of authority. This was one of the best numbers.

After the Hodges features, the 'phenomenon', as Duke calls him, came out to play Miaouw. Someone had for sure put Scotch in Cat Anderson's Kit-E-Kat - I had never heard him in such good shape as he was throughout this concert. His feature number owed a lot to Rex Stewart's Boy Meets Horn and even had Cat borrowing some of Rex's phrases. Maybe I have a streak of bad taste running down my back, but I must confess that I enjoyed every note that Cat laid a paw on during the show. The mere fact that a man can play higher than anyone else and does so frequently, doesn't mean that he doesn't play good music - quite the reverse in this case. Cat was another of the night's successes.

The usual team of Cootie, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Russ Procope and the other saxes came out to do right by Black And Tan and Rockin' In Rhythm, but the big wallop came at the end with Nance's Take The `A' Train.

The lyrics for this version were written by Joya Sherrill, and were sung on the recorded version by Betty Roché. Ray puts the acting and dancing bit to them to produce one of those jazz performances that has everything. No wonder Duke's nick-name for him is 'Floorshow.' In addition to his attributes as trumpeter and violinist, Nance is a good hot jazz singer-there are very few stylists of his kind these days, and demonstrates a choreographical instinct which would make a wow at the Follies. Without wishing to seem portentous, I would like to say that my comments in regard to this Ellington concert compare the work of his band only with what I have heard from it previously. Like most people, I have listened to this band long enough to know that anyone who tries to compare it unfavourably with any other music is an idiot. Having undertaken this review, I feel a little uneasy about my criticisms, rather like an art critic who has just dissected the Mona Lisa.

-Steve Voce

Mouth-Watering Time
(second taste of Fargo)

Review published in Jazz Journal in December 1966
added 2011-08-21

I suppose that the material I am about to list could well absorb this column for the next few months. I list it here for Mr. Dutton and anyone else to comment on. Some of the Ellington numbers come from LPs very kindly lent to me by Pat Hawes. The rest comes from foreign sources on tapes.

Duke Ellington orchestra at Fargo, November 1940:
The Mooche / Sepia Panorama / Ko-Ko / There Shall Be No Night / Pussy Willow / Chatterbox / Mood Indigo / Harlem Airshaft / Ferryboat Serenade / Warm Valley / Charlie The Chulo / Chloe / Jack The Bear / untitled item / Rumpus In Richmond / Sidewalks Of New York / Flaming Sword / Rockin' In Rhythm / Sophisticated Lady / Cottontail / Whispering Grass / Conga Brava / I Never Felt This Way Before / Across The Track Blues / Stardust / Rose Of The Rio Grande / Boy Meets Horn / Way Down Yonder In New Orleans / Oh, Babe / Five O'Clock Whistle / St. Louis Blues / Caravan / Clarinet Lament / Never No Lament.

Duke Ellington orchestra, probably Carnegie Hall, January 1943:
Jumpin' Punkins / Portrait Of Bert Williams / Bojangles / Mood Indigo / Bakiff / Moon Mist.
Same, December, 1943:
Take The `A' Train / Moon Mist / Tea For Two / Honeysuckle Rose / Excerpts From Black, Brown And Beige / Ring Dem Bells / Ellington Medley / Jack The Bear / Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me / Black And Tan Fantasy. Various 1943-45 items from concerts and V-Discs: My Little Brown Book / The Blues / Three Dances / Kissing Bug / Unbooted Character / New World A-Comin' Suite / Prelude To A Kiss / Ring Dem Bells / Carnegie Blues / Mood To Be Wooed / Frantic Fantasy / It Don't Mean A Thing / Harlem Airshaft / Hollywood Hangover / Boy Meets Horn / Hop, Skip And Jump / Things Ain't What They Used To Be / Mainstem / Creole Love Call.

The Ellingtons are superb, spoiled only slightly by the inferior sound on the Fargo tracks. This must have been the exact week that Cootie left the hand. The two most impressive events for me occur on the 1943 Black And Tan, firstly a beautiful muted solo from trumpeter Wallace Jones, as far as l know his only solo during his 1938-44 stay with the band. On this showing he has been vastly wasted, because he plays with all the delicacy of Jabbo Smith and all the reserves of power which Cootie had. But Black And Tan is an incredible feature for Joe Nanton, who gives one of the greatest performances of his career. This track alone is enough to establish him as a jazz master, and I rate him with Bigard as the two men I personally find most eliciting to listen to.

-Steve Voce
(edited by Steve to remove material about Count Basie and Charlie Christian)

Blue Again and The Age of Ellington

Published in Jazz Journal in September, 1974
added 2011-08-26

Blue Again
I have for some time had a copy of 'Eddie Condon's Dixieland Dance Party' on Rediffusion ZS 162. It is by one of the later Condon groups, post Wild Bill and Ed Hall, which includes Rex Stewart, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, George Wettling and Leonard Gaskin. Unannounced on the sleeve but very much present are Billy Butterfield, who contributes a potent Little White Lies and Peanuts Hucko who, apart from his feature on Indiana runs riot with Herb Hall on their medley of Clarinet Marmalade and High Society. The drawback of the album is that it is all medley, with 23 titles involved, either ballads or stomps, but the soloists are able to stretch out well enough to establish their identities and in some cases to hit peak form. Rex Stewart, for instance, makes one of his most telling appearances of his later years on Blue Again, a glorious gift of a tune to any trumpet player, whether it be Rex, Wild Bill or Humph.

As I write, Saga are at it again, with the great Esquire concerts pending, and a fine 'Duke Ellington Vol. 2' (Saga 6926) already to hand. Vic Bellerby, proving himself a useful liner writer compares the 1936 In A Jam with the 1944 version, previously unknown, that appears here. The original was a classic which seemed complete and final, and one wouldn't have expected the band to have played it after that period. But here it is, obviously familiar and well-used, with marvellous solos from Tricky, Hodges, Nance, Al Sears and Rex Stewart. Most of the material comes from December 1941, and since the recording quality is pretty good that should be recommendation enough. Two tracks from a Carnegie concert of 1948 have Ben guesting for How High and Cottontail, where he recounts note for note his 1940 version. Not, as you will anticipate, an improvement.

This set has me wondering if in fact Ellington had ever improved on any of his original versions of his own compositions. True, there were oddities like the Black And Tan with Jabbo Smith that changed the whole atmosphere of the piece, but little could be done to improve the pristine perfection of the original version of Mood Indigo, The Mooche, and the other great classics.

The Age Of Ellington

A good case in point is in the 1966 Mood Indigo included in the 'The Sunday Times Magazine's' three record set under the above title. Duke plays a comparatively florid piano introduction that would have been better if it had not been there and if the band had picked up on the haunting theme right away.

Jack The Bear, Transblucency, Harlem Airshaft and Conga Brava, are deservedly much re-issued. But Derek Jewell, who put the set together, has brought back some of the things one only had on 78. Sepia Panorama, the superb sinister and swinging Rockabye River with its biting Hodges and traditional growling from Cat, and Rex's wonderful Morning Glory, one of the greatest classics by that 1940 band, masquerading here under the title Don't Get Around Much Any More. There's also the 1941 Jump For Joy, which I've never heard before, featuring Tricky and Hodges. Apart from the great 1940 band, the very good band of a few years later is well featured with Time's A-Wastin', C Jam, Caravan and so on. The third record sensibly combines some of the longer works available to RCA, including Black, Brown And Beige and the underestimated Perfume Suite. Hodges seems to dominate the 1966 tracks and there's a good range of selections from The Far East Suite. The one sacred item, rightly included is a variation on Come Sunday called David Danced Before Lord which has good drumming from Louie Bellson and fine piano from Little Eddie. Beautifully packaged with fine cover photographs,

Derek has also written a 12" x 12" booklet again illustrated with some rare pictures of Duke and the band, that makes a very nice memento of a great man. Perhaps the whole of that great life is summed up by the two photographs on the cover of the booklet. On the front, the immaculate and eager young man of the '30s. On the back the mature, mellow but still incisive man of the ‘70s. It's a strange thing that, although he lived so long, Ellington never really became an old man. His was literally a case of the flesh being weak. It's obvious that the spirit will go on being willing forever.

-Steve Voce

Ellington obscurities at the BBC

Published in Jazz Journal in March 1975
added 2011-08-26

In what seems to be a major development, the BBC, through its Foreign Recording Unit is consolidating and expanding the music it makes available to local radio stations and other departments within the Corporation.

There are five tracks by the Ellington band of the early '50s, sounding remarkably like the group which made 'Ellington Masterpieces' (Columbia 33SX 1022 – the first 12” jazz LP in this country, or was it beaten by the Louis Brunswicks?). The set was recorded on December 19, 1950, but these Radioplay tracks include Willie Smith and Juan Tizol, along with Louie Bellson, the spoils of the great James raid. The James raid occurred in January, 1951.

But Jimmy Grissom sings the vocal on one track and he didn't join Duke until February or March, 1952. And Willie Smith left in either April or May of that year which, given that all tracks are from the same session, places the music as spring, 1952. Duke performed all these arrangements in concert around that time, but these are studio recordings. The arrangements are almost identical to the concert ones recorded for American Columbia, but these are shorter versions. Sophisticated Lady is a lovely feature for Willie, but I have given all the soloists in brackets.
Caravan (Nance, violin, Hamilton, Tizol) Sophisticated Lady (Carney, bs-clt, Willie Smith) Mood Indigo (Procope, clt, Ellington)
The Mooche (Nance, tpt, Hamilton, Procope, Quentin Jackson)
Solitude (Carney, bars, Jimmy Grissom)

That comes under Radioplay LPM 1187 along with five titles by an obscure band led by Bobby Freedman. This features two good tenor soloists on It Don't Mean A Thing but is mostly very anonymous.

More Ellington with LPM 1186 titled 'The Duke In Harlem’. I'm grateful to Ron Clough for unravelling this for me. The Ellingtons seem to come from a period from October 1926 to January, 1931 and I have compared items like Move Over and Hot And Bothered with LP issues over here and find they are different. Ron suggests they are as follows: Lucky Numbers, I'm Gonna Put You Right In Jail, Alberta Jones with Duke pno, Otto Hardwicke alt, only, October 1926, issued on Gennett 3403.
Hot And Bothered, Move Over, Hottentot, Saratoga Swing, Who Said It's Tight Like That?, He Just Don't Appeal To Me. All recorded by the Ellington band as 'The Whoopee Makers' between August 1928 and issued on Perfect or Cameo 78s. Additionally there are two takes of Jubilee Stomp and one of East St. Louis Toodle-oo which I haven't checked on yet.

-Steve Voce

Rex Stewart: Fat Stuff’s Serenade

Review published in Jazz Journal in August 1968
added 2011-08-23

'The Rex Stewart Memorial' (CBS Realm 52628), is amongst the most satisfying compilations I've yet encountered and, at 25s 11d with a most generous playing time, as good value as you're likely to find.

Except for two tracks from 1934, the music comes from Ellington small groups led by Rex between 1936 and 1939.

My good friend Ron Clough has practically every Ellington record ever made, and I've spent a good deal of time listening to his collection of the small groups from the 30s. Despite the Ducal presence, each little band reflects the character of its leader quite brilliantly, and a definite policy emerges when one listens to the output of one particular group at a time. The bands led by Barney Bigard reflect a lush and exotic philosophy that often moves on Tizol lines and then sweeps into the blues. Johnny Hodges's groups were strong on jump blues, and Stewart's efforts echo his jaunty personality and very buoyant style. Rex was a much greater composer than he was ever given credit for, and several times produced works of minor genius (one always recalls Poor Bubber, one of the purest and most original conceptions of its time). Here he dominates the album at every turn, even though there are strong in character contributions from Bigard, Carney, Hodges and Tricky Sam. Ellington himself plays at his best, and there are useful fill-outs to the small band sound from Cootie, Freddy Jenkins and such visiting odd-balls as Ceele Burke and Brick Fleagle.

-Steve Voce

And Thou Beside Me Crying In The Wilderness Is Happiness Enow

Published in Jazz Journal in February 1974
added 2011-08-26

Enow is enow, for Christ's sake. I find myself over-taken by the same failing that I find in modern jazz. The humour has largely gone. Good humoured music but at a fairly low level of originality was in 'All Star Swing Festival' showed on the box by the Beeb at Christmas and recorded in the Lincoln Center, New York in late '72. Then on New Year's Day Radio Three gave us an hour of the Duke at Westminster Abbey with Alice Babs and (gulp) Toney Watkins and Anita Moore.

Only a couple of months ago I was reproving the Germans for their disrespect to Duke, and that still holds good. But I think that, even before the days of Herb Jeffries and Al Hibbler, Duke's choice of vocalists has been fair game. If they were all brought together from over the years and then Ivie Anderson, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis and Alice Babs taken out, the remaining body of men and women would be one of the most overvibratoed, unswinging, unimaginative, over-exposed, unemployable platoons of people the world could envisage. Can anybody explain Duke's choice for this department? Stanley, there is a genuine question for you and a straight answer would be most useful.

As it happened the Watkins four times kissed Moore cartel did not emerge significantly at the Abbey and were tucked away into a little piece at the end. I had expected the hour to be long, and honestly listened only out of idle curiosity. True the work was fragmentary by previous Ellington standards, and some of the ideas, particularly vocal ones, were explored beyond their deserts. The jazz solos were few – a fine burst from Ashby, made the more imposing by the dearth of similar activity around him, a few sonorities from Carney and a dash of spice from Procope. Duke's piano was elegant and tasteful as ever, and one noticed particularly the brilliant precision of the timing of his solo playing – and I am here talking mostly about out-of-tempo passages. Alice Babs is one of the phenomena of our times. By no means a great jazz singer, but a technical accident of such rarity that her every gasp is to be wondered at. And, although the occasion hardly called for it, she can swing with powerful dexterity at the drop of an Ellington boot.

Ron Clough thought the Abbey broadcast was great, while I had thought it would have provided naught but disenchantment for one raised upon the not so gentle blandishments of Tricky, Cootie, Barney and Rabbit.

-Steve Voce

The Great Paris Concert

Published in Jazz Journal in April 1974
added 2011-08-26

Perhaps one of the most exciting of the albums is another double album, this time `Duke Ellington - The Great Paris Concert' (Atlantic SD2-304). I can't think where this one has been hiding, since it has the 1963 hand at its best with Cootie, Cat and Ray Nance in the trumpets, Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper and Chuck Connors on trombones and the reed section of all time: Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet, Hodges and Procope on altos, Gonsalves on tenor and Carney on baritone. Throw in a rhythm section of Duke, Ernie Shepard and Sam Woodyard and you're near the top. Two complete suites are included - Suite Thursday and Tone Parallel To Harlem, and there are a number of very good features for Rabbit, Cootie and Lawrence Brown, to say nothing of Cat and Duke himself (a great Kinda Dukish followed by one of the best Rockin' In Rhythms) and Gonsalves on Cop Out (used elsewhere by Rabbit as Duke's In Bed). There's an unusual version of Perdido with Hamilton and Gonsalves stating one of the standard Ellington theme variations on two tenors. A long Jam With Sam has Procope with the solo he's been playing rote for note for about 25 years now.

The sad aspect of this set is that it makes one realise how inferior the Ellington bands that followed have been to this one. This is the most significant release by a modern Ellington for many years, and thoroughly recommended.

-Steve Voce

Then I Let Her Have It
(Murder At the Vanities)

Published in Jazz Journal in June 1974
added 2011-08-26

I have always been a sucker for jazz on film. Any post mortem will find my eyeballs snarled up by miles and miles of old celluloid, won in the battle to see every single bit of jazz ever filmed. I never learn. I'll watch an hour and half of dross to catch thirty seconds of Art Tatum beginning a solo before they fade it out for dialogue. I’ll put up with the diabolical story of 'New Orleans' and its heroine opera singer who wants a boot in the ass just to see Louis and Billie mugging for Hollywood and Woody's band with a scared-looking Bill Harris not doing anything. The number of times I've seen 'New Orleans' vies with the seven times each I've seen 'Jazz On A Summer's Day' and 'M*A*S*H' (no jazz in that one, I just think it's bloody marvellous).

So, when I saw in the Granada schedules that they were filling the late night spot with 'Murder At The Vanities' (1934), I knew I was in for a late night. As any Ellingtonian knows the film features the Ellington band of the time and, with visions 0f unknown gems from Tricky, from Barney and from Rabbit, I settled down happily with a few pints of Guinness. The film really was a classic with Jack Oakie as the hero, Judas H. Peast, and Victor McLaglen superbly wooden as the heavy, a dumb police inspector in evening dress, who was given to sudden outbursts of lasciviousness and lust which he apparently was unable to control and which entirely unsuited him even for the role of an American policeman. There were some wonderful period touches – as the dumb heroine and her boy friend (not Oakie) sang 'as we enjoy a cigarette' from Cocktails For Two, a dozen regimented blondes exhaled smoke in unison and then raised their glasses. Some of the dialogue wasn't too sensitive, either. At one point I remember someone said that there were as many of something as there were brunettes in Africa.

Duke came on after an hour, playing Ebony Rhapsody with Cootie growling and Duke himself wonderfully visual, making all the waiting worthwhile with a storming piano feature that made one wish that all his records were on film. The cameras kept panning onto Barney Bigard (on tenor) and Johnny Hodges, standing side by side and looking ridiculously young. Tricky Sam stood in splendid majesty over a tide of Hollywood beauties (and they were, too). It's surprising how the fragile sex appeal 0f the '30s fits so well into the ‘70s... In the sequence of the film the band appeared as a flashback, and predictably it was faded for a voice-over. 'The music was whirling...', confessed the maid. 'Then I let her have it'.

I was so transfixed by the time the film ended that I watched the next programme, which must have been an early morning show. It was called 'Spyforce' and was Australian. I can't imagine that the Australians would have anything that anyone would want to spy on, but this film made out that they did. Predictably the British were made to look villainous and dumb ('Really', quoth one of them, 'the manners of these colonials!'). Predictably the hero was called Bruce.

God is alive and well and working on a less ambitious project.

-Steve Voce

Under The Clog Of The Rude Lancastrian

Published in Jazz Journal of June 1989.
added 2011-08-07

The books that accompany Mosaic's boxed sets have always been so complete and thoroughly researched that they stand on their own without the records, and with every one of the 24 boxes so far (there have been two double fold albums which didn't have books) it can be said that the writing has been definitive in regard to its subject. The photography, usually taken at the relevant recording sessions, invariably produces many pictures one hasn't seen before.

The Complete Johnny Hodges Sessions 1951-55 (Mosaic MR6-126) are no exception. This box includes the 60 titles that Johnny recorded for Verve and Norgran along with the two ballad medleys (one 181/2 minutes and the other 131/2 minutes). Many of the jam session numbers last from six to more than 10 minutes and so the six LPs are packed to overflowing with great music.

On this occasion the accompanying book has been written by Stanley Dance. One would expect him to be good on an Ellington related subject, but here he has excelled himself and his portrait of Johnny in the first of his pieces is so complete that one almost feels one can reach out and touch the Rabbit's arm (or should I say foot?). Stanley has picked up inside knowledge of the Hodges band from Al Sears and the others, and I imagine that a proper picture of this band has never been written until now. There is an alternate take of The Jeep Is Jumping which was not included amongst the single albums long deleted by French Verve.

My only quibble: Stanley writes 'Lawrence Brown is seldom a convincing blues player.' To put it mildly in the Max Jones manner, I cannot agree. Without wishing to produce another Parkerian list, I would commend Down The Street, Round The Corner Blues under Lawrence's own name as one of the greatest trombone blues ever, to say nothing of the many blues drenched solos within this box. Give or take Jack Teagarden, Sandy Williams and Tricky Sam, it would be interesting to know who Stanley regards as 'a convincing blues player' on the instrument.

-Steve Voce

Classics 896

Classics 930

Published in Jazz Journal January 1997
added 2011-08-03

BARNEY BIGARD 1944 (59'29")
(1) Sugar; Ain't Goin' No Place; Someday Sweetheart; That Old Feeling; (2) Tea For Two; Steps Steps Up; Steps Steps Down; Moonglow; (3) Oh Didn't He Ramble; Crawfish Blues; (4) Barney's Bounce; Lulu's Mood; (5) A Portrait Of Louise; A Lull At Dawn; Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; Soft And Warm; (6) Salty Papa Blues; Evil Gal Blues; Blow Top Blues; Long, Long Journey
Barney Bigard with (1)The Capitol International Jazzmen: Shorty Sherock (t); Les Robinson (as); Eddie Miller (ts); Pete Johnson (p); Stan Wrightsman (p, cel); Nappy Lamare (g); Hank Wayland (b); Nick Fatool (d); Peggy Lee (v). LA, January 7, 1944. (2) Barney Bigard Trio: Eddie Heywood (p); Shelly Manne (d). January 22, 1944. (3) Zutty Singleton's Creole Band: Norman Bowden (t); ShortyHoughton (tb); Fred Washington (p); Bud Scott (g); Ed Garland (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, June 30, 1944. (4) Zutty Singleton Trio: Fred Washington (p); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, June 30, 1944. (5) The Roger Kay Strings: Remo Palmieri (g); Al Hall (b); string section; Billy Moore (arr). NYC, November 27, 1944. (6) Etta Jones with Barney Bigard and his Orchestra: Etta Jones (v); Joe Thomas (t); George Auld (ts); Leonard Feather (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, December 29, 1944.

Bigard 1944-1945 (70'26")
(1) Blues Before Dawn; Poon-Tang; Nine O'Clock Beer; How Long Blues; (2) Can't Help Loving That Man; Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone; Sweet Marijuana Brown; Blues For Art's Sake; (3) Rose Room; Bojangles; Coquette; Borobudor; (4) My Melancholy Baby; (5) Sweet Georgia Brown; (6) Youg Man's Blues Pt. 1 & 2; (7) Wini's Blues; My Complaint, Baby; (8) Lazy River; YouTook My Man; (9) Rockin' Chair; I Want A Little Boy

Barney Bigard with
(1) Barney Bigard & his Orchestra: Joe Thomas (t); George Auld (ts); Cyril Haynes, Leonard Feather (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, December 29, 1944.
(2) Barney Bigard Sextet: Joe Thomas (t/v); Art Tatum (p); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, January 5, 1945.
(3) Barney Bigard Quintet: Joe Thomas (t); Johnny Guarnieri (p); Billy Taylor (b); Cozy Cole (d), NYC, February 5, 1945.
(4) Lamplighter All Stars: Ray Linn (t); Vic Dickenson (tb); Willie Smith (as); Calvin Jackson (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December 12, 1945.
(5) as (4), December 18, 1945.
(6) Claude Trenier and the Lamplighter All Stars: Claude Trenier (v); Eddie Beal (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December 28, 1945.
(7) Wini Beatty & the Lamplighter All Stars: as (6) but Wini Beatty (v) replaces Trenier.
(8) Wini Beatty & the Crystalette All Stars: as (7) plus Vic Dickenson (tb).
(9) Monette Moore & the Crystalette All Stars: Monette Moore (v); Eddie Beal (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December, 1945.

Barney Bigard is unquestionably one of the finest jazz clarinettists. He didn't possess the pinpoint accuracy of Shaw and Goodman, but for a combination of technique and emotion he was unbeatable. Of the New Orleans players only Edmond Hall and Al Nicholas at their best were able to approach him.

Barney had his down periods, created by alcohol and health problems, that in turn were brought on, as were Teagarden's, by his time with the Louis Armstrong All Stars. The roots were probably in Barney's time with Ellington, for, by the time he fetched up back in Hollywood, he must have been worn out by a life of travelling. I learned from a conversation with his wife Dorothy some years ago, that by then Barney desperately wanted a quiet life.

This collection captures the cream of his California period. True, it was the time when he began to develop his library of cliches, but at this stage he applied them minimally and they aren't a problem during these 42 tracks. By Bigard's post-Ellington standards this is as good as he got.

If it doesn't match contemporary collections that could be made of Goodman and Shaw recordings, then that is because Barney didn't have the good material to work with that they did. But what he had is lifted by some very fine playing from his sidemen, notably by Joe Thomas, excellent throughout but particularly on Beer and Can't Help Lovin'. Shorty Sherock has been even more overlooked than Thomas and it's gratifying to hear him as consistently good here as he always was. Peggy Lee and Tatum keep their heads down in relation to their celebrity status. Peggy is agreeable on the blues, and delightful with That Old Feeling. Tatum plays with unusual reticence and shows just how well he could accompany (odd that his best accompanying work seems to have occurred in the company of either Bigard or Ed Hall). Any criticism of these felicitous tracks would have to be carping, and so I'm delighted to be able to recommend both discs without cavil.

-Steve Voce

David Hajdu

Published by Granta Books. Hardback, 306pp.
Includes 33 photographs and reproductions.
E16.99. ISBN 1 86207 015 6.

Review published in Jazz Journal in April 1997
added 2011-08-11

Potentially the relationship between the composers Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington is one of the most interesting in jazz. Mr Hajdu sheds new light on it, making it seem that at times the two men were further apart than might have been assumed. There is more than an implication that Ellington was less than proper in their financial and artistic dealings, taking both earnings and credit which should have gone to Strayhorn. Mr Hajdu suggests that Strayhorn didn't really care very much and that at crucial times Ellington provided financial support for him without any reckoning.

Strayhorn displayed great individuality in his music before he became Ellington's acolyte. Ellington, by then the most lustrous object in the jazz firmament, was in a position to give Strayhorn a unique entry into the field of composition. Ellington loved the band, his vehicle for writing, so much that he used all his resources to sustain it when all other big bands had gone. He was able to do this by using the royalties from the unique library of great compositions that he and his younger partner had created. Strayhorn fitted under the Ellington wing because he was a different kind of composer who was able to complement and, right from the beginning, to expand Ellington's talents. Hajdu illuminates many of the areas where Strayhorn's influence might not have been properly credited before (in the writing for the December 18, 1950 Tattooed Bride session, for example). He was content to let Ellington take the limelight to an alarming degree, and, as Hajdu's book points out, Ellington was prepared to exploit him. (Had Ellington not exploited his musical colleagues the way he did, he would not have been quite such a commanding figure in our music).

We live in the age of what the Americans usually call the Peeping Fan. It is now important, when somebody dies, for everything that he wished to keep private to become common knowledge. It is hard to see the relevance of Strayhorn's homosexuality to his music but, inevitably, it is a main element in Hajdu's work. He also gives portrayals of the homosexual scenes in Paris and New York which may appeal to those with specialist interests. I found them boring since theyconcerned people on the fringe of music that I didn't need to know about. Given the times he lived in, it is fortunate that Strayhorn escaped having his collar felt, for he made no effort to be discreet about his peculiarities.

In some respects Strayhorn was a superman. He had an unusually powerful intellect, and his knowledge of literature was imposing. The quality of his jazz and conventional piano was somewhat obscured by its proximity to Ellington's playing. Strayhorn loved the fine things in life in terms of food, drink and dress, and to some extent he was shielded by Ellington in a manner which enabled him to enjoy his dedicated pursuit of these things. It is sad that it was their excess which brought about his death at 51. But, had he not had the characteristics which drove him in these respects, then he wouldn't have been the man who wrote Chelsea Bridge, Day Dream, Blood Count, After All and the mass of outstanding works which made him one of the most imaginative composers of the century.

Hajdu has done a great deal of research. I suspect he has relied heavily on Feather, not always to be recommended as an impartial source. There are also lapses of taste and style. Who told Hajdu to describe the unusually beautiful and elegant Kay Davis (she still retains those qualities) as 'a mousy concert vocalist'? When Hajdu means to say `Strayhorn discovered that the Ellington orchestra's engagement unfortunately was over,' he writes `Unfortunately, Strayhorn discovered that the Ellington Orchestra's engagement in Philadelphia was over,' which means something entirely different.

There is an interesting list of Strayhorn's works with recommended relevant recordings. In a perceptive and lengthy review of this book in the DESUK newsletter, David Fleming lists a number of factual errors he has found, whilst Sjef Hoefsmit has detected `a few minor discographical errors'.

-Steve Voce

by Eddie Lambert.***

General editors Dan Morgenstern and Edward Berger, additional discography by Sjef Hoefsmit.
Published by Scarecrow Press Inc. Hb, 374pp, £85. ISBN 0-8108-3161-9.

Review published in Jazz Journal in April 1999
added 2011-08-06

Immortality is for musicians and escapes most writers about jazz – some of the best, for example, Peter Clayton and Charles Fox, are receding fast in peoples’ memories. But not so Eddie Lambert. Twelve years after his death recollections of him remain vivid and tributes to this remarkable man still abound, Here’s another one. His book is one of the great jazz masterworks.

Let us identify, and then set aside, two controversial topics.

First, that of jazz historians who choose to restrict themselves to tunnel vision and reject an overview of jazz to exclude all music except that of one artist. For example, Eddie Lambert/Duke Ellington, Michael Sparke/Stan Kenton, Christopher Logan/Jack Teagarden. This may be a good thing in that it produces unique expertise, but it disables those historians from commenting on (or enjoying?) other music. Lambert has spent years writing this book, and it is easy to see why. He has listened to Ellington’s recordings over and over again and extrapolated them applying an insight that I didn’t know he possessed.

Secondly, the problem of writers about jazz who see a musician’s career in terms of recordings alone, and who write as though musicians simply move from recording session to recording session with nothing happening in between. This characteristic, recently seen within these pages, is not a problem for Lambert, who intertwines comments on concerts, television programmes and radio broadcasts that he has heard into his text.

If you have this book together with Stratemann’s “Duke Ellington Day By Day And Film By Film”, Mark Tucker’s “Duke Ellington Reader” and Vol. 6 of Ole Nielsen’s “Jazz Records”, then you do not need any more literature on Ellington to enable you to enjoy his music to the full. Of course you can still enjoy it without any of them. There is a good case for suggesting that any further and deeper research borders on fanaticism and that Lambert’s invaluable book should represent a kind of drawing of the line.

Today many musicians copy out Ellington scores with love and many others try to recreate his works with orchestras of their own. There is unending discussion of his works and posthumous speculations about what he might or might not have intended. There is for sure knowledge to be gained from all these exercises, but they are a game, and a game without facts.

But all such efforts must pale to insignificance beside the original recordings of the master himself. Lambert, who writes with lucidity and good style, encapsulates the value of the recordings near the beginning of the book. “But for the phonograph the music of jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker would have died with them, posterity knowing no more of the true quality and flavor of their work than it knows of a 17th-century keyboard virtuoso or an 18th-century singer. And just as the phonograph provides the only authentic record of the jazz soloist’s art, it also offers the only truly valid record of the works of jazz composers like Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. A written score alone would give a totally inadequate impression.” Well put, and not the simple truism it appears at first sight to be. (The same assertion, with Morton and Bechet added, is rehearsed again in the overview in the final Chapter 32).

The quality of the author’s research is so good and his sources so wide that he is able to give fuller portraits of some of the more enigmatic Ellingtonians. There is for instance more here about Bubber Miley’s personality than I have seen published before. Lambert is also expansive about individual instrumental styles and writes well about Arthur Whetsel and Tricky Sam Nanton in the earlier section of the book.

On the other hand, one mustn’t take everything here as tablets of stone. In a conversation the author had with Cat Anderson the trumpeter suggests that “discipline of a formal kind did not exist at all in the Ellington Orchestra. The band was based on respect, the mutual respect of the musicians for Duke and his for them.” This impresses me as a romanticised view, and one had only to talk about money to Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown and some of the less disingenuous musicians for the subject of “respect” to be quickly blown up the chimney. It is most revealing to read George Duvivier’s reasons (not in the book) for refusing on the three occasions he was asked to join the band. His account of Ellington’s band playing for the first time opposite the Lunceford band at a dance is thoroughly revealing of how little “respect” the sidemen had for the leader.

“It was just a sloppily run organisation,” said Duvivier, after having noted that Ellington was a great man and a delightful human being. “It doesn't distract from the music that came out of the band. I just didn't want to be a part of it. I didn't want to be a part of saying the bus leaves at one and finally the last soul staggers on at three and we finally get going. Or we are going to hit at eight and we start with four men on the stand. You know? That would have driven me right up the wall. I said rather than be involved in that I won't take the job.”

Lambert is clear about Ellington’s powerful talents. One of them was to develop his own music continuously without ever losing sight of the importance of providing superb settings for his soloists. Having chosen the best soloists, he then led them to play above themselves. The Ellingtonians who ever sounded better away from the Ellington band are rare (Willie Smith is almost alone in this – Ellington and Strayhorn didn’t make best use of his great solo talent).

Hadju’s book told us a lot we didn’t need to know about Billy Strayhorn’s sex life, and I willingly concede that Hadju is the expert on this. But what of Strayhorn’s role as Ellington’s musical partner? Has it been over-rated? If Ellington had died in 1935 he would still have his place in history as the greatest jazz composer. All the devices that he used in the band were in place and well-used by that time. Lambert devotes a chapter to Strayhorn that makes absorbing reading. He appends to it a most useful list of compositions by Strayhorn alone as opposed to in partnership with Ellington.

There is plenty of controversial opinion here, too. The album by Duke’s trio with Mingus and Roach, “Money Jungle”, is a restless affair that cannot fail to stimulate the listener one way or the other. There has been much expert writing on its merits and lack of them. Lambert has his own view. Roach describes the session as “one of the most advanced masterpieces in jazz”. Miles Davis said, “That’s ridiculous. You see the way they can screw up music? It’s a mismatch. They don’t complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can’t play with them, and they can’t play with Duke.”

As the reader will gather, Lambert has covered his subject exhaustively, and his book is laid out with great intelligence. There are few detectable mistakes. The classic version of Solitude with Coleman Hawkins is not mentioned, but then when Lambert was alive it had only been issued as part of an obscure anthology LP. Its omission is all the more glaring because so little else is missed.

The book will of course generate much thought in the reader’s mind. Although its stated intention is to guide them through the records, it is effectively two books, since the lengthy and informed histories of the band that Lambert has inserted at the various periods are both all-embracing and better than anything that has appeared before. This in particular will make the book important reading for both the Ellington tyro (it’s good to find young people coming to him on the Internet) and expert alike.

Dan Morgenstern has edited the work that Lambert almost finished. Presumably he is responsible for the Americanisms that have crept in. Would Lambert have written “No man could have gotten through the amount of work this involved…” or used the word “equaled”? Nor would the Lambert I knew have fallen for “centred around”. These are minor carps, and Morgenstern is to be thanked for his part in at last bringing to us the definitive volume on its subject.

It was wise not to attempt to update the manuscript, despite the new material by Ellington that has emerged since Lambert’s death. The comprehensive appendix containing Lambert’s listing of Ellington albums up to 1974 is complemented by Hoefsmit’s exhaustive discography of subsequent issues. Other similarly thorough appendices include a bibliography, a listing of musicians and the dates that they were in the band and a sorting out of the complex problems of the French Victor LPs, withdrawn and subsequently reissued without the transcription sessions they originally included. There are 23 well-reproduced photographs – apart from Ellington Gonsalves must have been the most photogenic Ellingtonian, and there are three good ones of him at the 1969 Manchester concert. A selection of LP covers is reproduced at chapter headings. The excellent 21-page index includes tune titles as well as names, dates and ephemera and, although it’s only a small benefit, I was pleased to see a dozen blank pages at the back of the book for the reader’s notes.

The fact that the book has been published at all is due to the unrelenting efforts of Elaine Norsworthy who has spent years bringing it to fruition. Anyone less devoted to the project would have given up the search for a publisher years ago, and she must be very satisfied to see this marvellous volume in its final form.

-Steve Voce

Duke – The Digital Dance. DVD

Review published in Jazz Journal in July, September and October 2001
added 2011-09-02

From our point of view the most startling DVD issued so far is perhaps The Duke Ellington Masters 1965 (Quantum Leap QLDVD 0246). This plays for about two hours and I bought it over the Internet from for £20 including carriage. Delivery took two days. However the company's albums should be available by now from W H Smith, Woolworth and so on. A second volume of Ellington from the 1970s should be issued by the time this piece appears.

The album features a concert from the Falcon Theatre in Copenhagen that was originally produced for Danish TV. Ellington's programme is terrific, minimising the medley and including a satisfyingly substantial chunk of Black Brown And Beige and Jimmy Hamilton's long, filigree expedition into Ad Lib On Nippon. The shots of Cat, Cootie, Carney, Hodges and the others are brilliant and bring tears to the eyes. Dramatically Paul Gonsalves falls asleep and slumps to the horizontal. As was his wont, Duke punishes him with the sequence of The Opener, Chelsea Bridge and Blow By Blow, all of which Gonsalves dispatches with his usual vigour and imagination. This is a wonderful set that also includes on screen, in an innovation that belongs to DVD, a large Ellington discography and individual biographies of Duke and all the players. It seems to me that the band was on unusually good form.

The picture quality, black and white in the PAL system, is fine. Unfortunately the disc won't play properly for our American friends (NTSC system) where the musicians would appear abnormally elongated!

In order to maintain prices internationally DVD producers have incorporated an area code that tries to prevent DVD albums marketed in one country being played in another. Happily neither Quantum Leap or TDK apply this system on the discs mentioned here.

The tide of Ellington TV broadcasts from Quantum Leap rushes on.

`The First And Second Sets from the Tivoli Copenhagen' (QLDVD 0253: 142 minutes) was recorded on November 7, 1971 and it has an inaccurate track list. There are more titles than suggested, and it's best to make your own list of them as you play the disc through. The crisp colour pictures are wonderful, although there's some off-mike off-camera business as the technicians appear to be setting up at the beginning. This produces some bleary looks from Duke. But once done, pictures and sound are phenomenal. Ben Webster guests, making a seven-piece sax section. It's wonderful to see him sitting in the band and standing in the row for Rocking In Rhythm. Paul Gonsalves rushes on stage after the first number, sans tie. Ellington, obviously in the dark about it all, says that he hasn't got a tie because he lent it to Ben Webster. Webster plays Cottontail and it's a delight to see him husking into the section's voicing. Ellington bursts into stride at one point. He and Webster also play a rewarding but obviously totally unrehearsed All Too Soon. The sax solos are colossal throughout and the presence is so good that it's like having the band in your home. Incidentally Quantum Leap DVDs are also available in video form.

Looking at the now-concluded flow of Ellingtonia from Quantum Leap one remembers again how much we owe to Danish television's far-sightedness in recording so much by the band. Quantum Leap's directors Gary Peet and Kim Lyon found the Ellington material on a Scandinavian stand at a television trade fair in Las Vegas. Unsure of the market for it, they took a chance and made an offer that was accepted. The results have translated into four DVDs and the equivalent amount of video. The company is now looking to lease more by the Duke.

The Ellington band toured Europe from January to March in 1967. The band played two concerts at the Falkoner Teatret in Copenhagen on January 22, and on the next day Ellington took a septet with him to record at the TV-Byen Studios. The 15 numbers by the small band, trio and solo piano are on QLDVD 0249 (58 min; black and white). Why did Duke use the septet instead of the full band? Shortage of TV money? A different set of charts was obviously needed. But possibly Duke had one already. In the following August he used an identical instrumentation for the month that he played at New York's Rainbow Grill.

As was the case at the Rainbow Grill Duke preferred Cat Anderson to Cootie Williams. Cat was flexible and could play anything, whilst Cootie was restricted to the declamatory and less eloquent Armstrong style that he used in concert. Cootie had also been admitted to hospital suffering badly with haemorrhoids on the British tour a year before and he had decided to take things more easily. The front line was completed by Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney. John Lamb was the bassist.

Sam Woodyard's illness had prevented him making the tour. He still played with the band sporadically and Ellington had not replaced him, although several drummers had had to be called in as deps. On the tour it was Rufus Jones and he eventually became a fixture.

Ellington presents the recital as though there was an audience and opens unusually with Hodges (who had recorded his `Triple Play' album a few days before) playing Strayhorn's Passion Flower. The Jeep Is Jumpin' follows with Rabbit's visage as totally without expression as it had been during the ballad. Hodges's only face was a straight one. But, legs firmly planted apart on the studio floor, he wails happily – or so it appears, for his emotions were certainly buried deep. The genial Carney, `our senior senator', circulates his breathing for the umpteenth time around Sophisticated Lady, The Harmon-muted Anderson plays Tippin' And Whisperin', a fluent and taut blues that swings nicely but lacks the moment that, say, Harry Edison would have given it. Paul Gonsalves essays yet another Happy Reunion, always sure to bring out a good ballad performance from him. The chance to study his various embouchures is graphically taken by the cameraman and his breathy tone adds grace and muscle to the superfluous vehicle of Satin Doll.

The mini Jam With Sam stands up well in the small group with Anderson wearing several hats. The Rabbit returns with Things Ain't done over Jones's shuffle rhythm and Duke combines it briefly with the finger-snapping bit from Jones.

The second set is by the piano player and opens with a gentle and beautiful Le Sucrier Velours. He follows it with an equally good Lotus Blossom. Duke strides briskly in Second Portrait Of The Lion and then follows with a reflective Meditation, from one of his devotional works. The trio plays On The Fringe of the Jungle, a feature for Lamb and Jones that must have mutated into another title, for I can find no reference to it in DESOR, Lambert or Stratemann, and neither Norsworthy nor Hoefsmit were at home when I 'phoned to ask! Mood Indigo is taken more robustly than usual. The programme concludes with a fresh-sounding Take The A Train complete as it always was by then with the `concert version' piano solo.

As with the other three DVDs by Ellington (there is one more yet to review here) there are copious extras in the form of a 21-page biography of Duke, separate biographies of the musicians, a 44-page discographical survey, and a five-page compilation of quotes about Ellington by distinguished people.

So, another classic. But ELDVD 0246 and QLDVD 0253. the latter with Ben Webster added to the hand, are also classics and such tremendous bargains that you should buy them. Both of them have been reviewed in previous issues.

-Steve Voce

Duke on DVD

Review published in Jazz Journal in May 2002
added 2011-09-02

`The Duke Ellington Masters 1969' (Quantum Leap QLDVD 0252: one hour 23 minutes) is introduced on stage by George Wein. It was recorded by Danish Television and it is quite wonderful, matching the other three Ellingtons on this label that were reviewed earlier. It's good to have pieces like Procope's atmospheric 4.30 Blues performance and El Gato on video and there are great performances from Hodges, Gonsalves and Duke himself. There is a prodigious Diminuendo And Crescendo. Duke had organist Wild Bill Davis on this tour and he plays a nice duet with Duke on Black Swan.

There's a fair hit of chaos at the beginning of the concert whilst the technicians are trying to find out where the individual musicians are. No matter: indispensable, like the other three, to an Ellington collector. Both this and the Eastwood album have excellent camera work and sound.

-Steve Voce

Duke on ASV – A Great Label Much Missed

Published in Jazz Journal in March 2005
added 2011-09-02
(the label and its magnificent catalogue closed down a couple of years ago)

ASV quietly bats out dazzling reissues of music from the classic period. The latest one, `The Duke Steps Out', a new album on Living Era CD AJA 5573 made up of music by Ellington's bands from 1924 to 1929, is remarkable even amongst the multitude of the label's sonic triumphs. As Sjef Hoefsmit points out, ASV has achieved a sound quality for this period that is as miraculous as that displayed by Dreyfus on their issues of the 1940 band. So many of these tracks were familiar through the murk of 78s, and, as with the Miles Davis CBS mentioned last month, the hairs on the back of one's neck stand up when hearing Tricky Sam Nanton declaiming, Hodges's wonderful soprano, and the great guests with the band, Lonnie Johnson, Baby Cox and Bing Crosby.

-Steve Voce


Review published in Jazz Journal in February 2010
added 2011-08-03

CD 1 (77'07"): Hi 'Ya (1); Snibor (1); I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter (1); Texas Blues (1); A-Oodie-Oobie; Meet Mr. Rabbit (2); Duke’s In Bed (2); Just Squeeze Me (2); Ballade For Very Tired And Very Sad Lotus Eaters (2); Confab With Rab (2); It Had To Be You (2); Black And Tan Fantasy (2); Take The “A” Train (2); Viscount (3); Bouquet Of Roses (3); Digits (3)

CD 2 (75'56") Early Morning Rock (3); Blues-A-Plenty (4); Cool Your Motor (4); Gone With The Wind (4); Honey Hill (4); I Didn’t Know About You (4); Satin Doll (4); Reeling And Rocking (4); Don’t Take Your Love From Me (4); Saturday Afternoon Blues (4);Just A Memory (5); Let’s Fall In Love (5); Big Shoe (5); Ruint (5); Bend One (5); You Need To Rock (5)

CD 3 (79'06") M. H. R. (6); Broadway Babe (6); Three and Six (6); Not So Dukish (6); Central Park Swing (6); Preacher Blues (6); Jeep Bounced Back (6); The Last Time I Saw Paris (6); First Klass (C'mon Home) (7); Second Klass (7); Straight Back (7); Steerage (7); Third Klass (7); Meet The Frog (8); Nite Life (8); My Melancholy Baby (8); Lotus Blossom (8); Free For All (8)

CD 4 (67'53")Br’ Rabbit (9); Starting With You (I'm Through); The Hare (9); The Things You Miss (9); I Told You So (9); Wiggle Awhile (9); Get Ready (9); The Peaches Are Better Down The Road (9); Hygiene (9); Ben's Web (10); Side Door (Don't Kid Yourself) (10); Blues'll Blow Your Fuse (10); I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me (10); Dual Highway (10)

CD 5 (76'45")Big Ears (10); Shorty Gull (10); Ifida (10); Big Smack (10); I'd Be There (10); Just Another Day (10); Lollalagin Now (10); Medley: Am I Blue / Something To Remember You By (11); Once In A While (11); Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (11); Medley More Than You Know / Memories Of You (11); The Very Thought Of You (11); When Your Lover Has Gone (11); Blues Serenade (11); Night And Day (11); Lover Come Back To Me (11); I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (11); Two Sleepy People (11)

CD 6 (50'06")Exactly Like You; I’m Beginning To See The Light (12); Val’s Lament (12); Tipsy Joe (12); Waiting On The Champagne (12); Sweet Cookie (13); Frog Hop (13); Zag Zig (13); Dag Knows (13); Twice Daily (13); John Smith (13); Romeo (13); Black Sapphire (13)

(1) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts), Johnny Hodges (as),Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Fine Sound, NYC, January 11, 1956. (2) Clark Terry (tp, flg), Ray Nance (tp, vln-1, voc-2), Quentin Jackson (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts), Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Universal Studios, Chicago, September 1, 1956.
(3) Clark Terry, Shorty Baker, Ray Nance (tp), Quentin Jackson (tb), Russell Procope (as), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl-1,ts), Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Universal Studios, Chicago, September 3, 1957.
(4) Roy Eldridge (tp-1), Vic Dickenson (tb-1), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts-1), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Fine Sound, NYC, April 5, 1958.
(5) Roy Eldridge (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Billy Strayhorn (p), Wendell Marshall (b), Jo Jones (d). Nola Studios, NYC, August 14, 1958.
(6) Roy Eldridge (tp, flg), Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Jimmy Hamilton (cl), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Nola Studios, NYC, September 10, 1958.
(7) Shorty Baker (tp), John Sanders, Quentin Jackson (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl), Ben Webster (ts), Jimmy Jones (p), Les Spann (g, fl-1), Ray Brown (b), Jo Jones (d). Columbia Studios, NYC, April 7, 1959.
(8) Same as (7). Columbia Studios, NYC, April 8, 1959 Lawrence Brown, Booty Wood (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Jimmy Rowles (p), Ray Brown (b), Ed Thigpen (d). Radio Recorders, LA, June 1, 1960
(9) Shorty Baker, Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown, Booty Wood (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl-1, ts), Harold Ashby (ts), Jimmy Jones (p), Aaron Bell (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Nola Studios, NYC, September 8, 1960.
(10) Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Herb Ellis (g), Lou Levy (p), Wilfred Middlebrooks (b), Gus Johnson (d). San Francisco, November 22, 1960.
(11) Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Jones (p), Aaron Bell (b), Sonny Greer (d).
(12) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb),Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Emil Richards (vbs), Russ Freeman (p), Joe Mondragon (b), Mel Lewis (d), Jimmy Hamilton (arr). Radio Recorders,LA, January 31, 1961
(13) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Forrest (ts), Emil Richards (vbs), Russ Freeman (p), Leroy Vinnegar (b), Mel Lewis (d), Mercer Ellington (arr) Radio Recorders,LA, February 21, 1961.

Over seven hours more of Johnny Hodges to add to the six LPs on Mosaic MR6-126 that covered 1951-55! He was one of the finest jazz players and well deserved the copious sessions that Norman Granz heaped on him. He was never off form and even his rare blandness on a ballad came in a performance that was better than anyone else could achieve. The alto work is almost infallible and he was able to surround himself with players almost as good. The duet session with Webster is a monumental example and the Ellingtonians in particular provide relaxed and yet inspired support on all of the albums. Non-Ellingtonians, particularly Lou Levy, provide a piquancy and play up to the required standard. It’s not possible to comment on the many extraordinary highlights from the leader and his cohorts (like Eldridge’s unique explosion into Honey Hill) but be sure that they are there in every session and no track is ever less than very good.

There are 30 previously unissued tracks. They are all so good that it’s impossible to detect why they didn’t come out when they were originally recorded.

The reader should accept that this is, to quote the Rabbit, first klass stuff of an inordinately high calibre. There is as always in Hodges small groups a preponderance of blues/ Got Rhythm sequences which some, but not your reviewer, may find trying. More important is Mosaic’s decision not to include the tracks by big bands that Johnny led for Granz. These, a dozen titles in all, were by the Ellington band with Strayhorn at the piano. They would have fitted onto a seventh CD (which I have constructed for myself) and would have made a neater job. But the Mosaic box is titled “small group” so one can’t carp. The accompanying booklet is up to the Mosaic standard and includes a biography by Stanley Dance.

This is the 100th box issued by the label. When their first issues came out few thought they would prosper since they were so specialised and thorough on the collector’s behalf. One of the healthiest signs for jazz in the new century is that they did.

The box, well worth $96, is available by credit card from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford CT 06902, telephone 001 610 667 0501, or e-mail

-Steve Voce

(Mosaic MRLP-3002)

Review published in Jazz Journal in February 2011
added 2011-08-03

LP 1 (37'58"):
(5) Mack The Knife; (3) The Old Circus Train Turn Around Blues; (4) Lullaby Of Birdland; (3) Trombonio-Bustoso-Issimo; (1) Diminuendo In Blue / Blow By Blow

LP 2 (38'23"):
(7) It Don’t Mean A Thing; All Too Soon; (6) Misty; (4) Jazz Samba; 1) Rose Of The Rio Grande; (4) The More I See You; (2) El Viti; (8) Just Squeeze Me

LP 3 (37'50"):
(3) La Plus Belle Africaine; (2) West Indian Pancake; (3) Soul Call; (2) Skin Deep; Jam With Sam

(1) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ts); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d). Juan-les-Pins, July 26, 1966.
(2) Same as (1) except omit Ellington on El Viti.
(3) Same as (1) except omit Ellington on Soul Call.
(4) Jimmy Jones (p; arr); Jim Hughart (b); Grady Tate (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (3).
(5) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ ts); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Jimmy Jones (p); Jim Hughart (b); Grady Tate (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (C).
(6) Same as (4). Juan-les-Pins; July 29; 1966.
(7) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Ray Nance (c/vln/v); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ts); Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (F).
Add Jo Jones (d) and omit Hodges for It Don’t Mean A Thing.
(8) Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster (ts); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d); Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Nance (v). Same location and date as (6).

Ella was relaxed and sounded happy with the band. The informal edge she had in live performance was always appealing. Oddly she had just returned from the States after breaking her tour because of a personal bereavement. Out of sympathy Ellington left her out of the second half of the second of the three nights, much to the annoyance of producer Norman Granz and their always bumpy relationship exploded on this night. Duke was later to be annoyed by Granz’s retitling of The Old Circus Train.

This was to be the last time Ella appeared with Duke. She sings in different settings, most effectively with just the piano of Jimmy Jones on The More I See You, but wades in happily to share vocals with Ray Nance on It Don’t Mean A Thing and Squeeze Me (Nance and Webster had been brought back to the band as guests by Granz).

Circus Train runs for eleven and a half minutes and is a riff thing featuring Duke and, later, Hodges. Ellington plays particularly inventive piano in support. Cooper gives his extrovert and flatulent party piece and Gonsalves takes the wailing interval on the eight minute Diminuendo. Soul Call features Paul and he’s even more effective on Pancake, where he takes a superb coda. Carney solos here and on Africaine, which also spotlights Lamb and Hamilton. Rose Of The Rio Grande served Lawrence Brown throughout most of his years with the band, and this is a beneficent version from the Deacon. Nance and Webster join Ella and the band for It Don’t Mean A Thing, Cat has Gerald Wilson’s El Viti and Woodyard is splendid in a remorseless Skin Deep. Duke introduces the individuals in the band via a very ragged Jam With Sam.

All this material has appeared before. A double LP with the same title appeared in England on Verve 833 562, whilst the rest of the music was contained in ‘Soul Call’, US Verve V6-8701. Seven of the Ellington tracks made up English Verve 2317 073.

But set that aside. These heavy (180 gram) Mosaic LPs are the results of unique careful remastering and specialised pressing. Given that the original recordings were superb, the excellence is compounded by the quality of the transfers. I listened on Audiolab/Systemdek equipment and the experience is as near to actually being seated in the band as makes no matter!

I understand that Mosaic’s next 3 LP set will comprise all the Getz-Brookmeyer Clef/Verve sessions from the ‘50s. I’ll be first in the queue.

-Steve Voce

Mosaic MD11-248

Review published in Jazz Journal February 2011
added 2011-08-03

CD 1 (75'12"): Moon Over Dixie; It Don’t Mean A Thing; Lazy Rhapsody; Blue Tune; Baby When You Ain’t There; St. Louis Blues; Creole Love Call; Rose Room; Blue Harlem; The Sheik Of Araby; Swampy River; Fast And Furious; Best Wishes; Slippery Horn; Blue Ramble; Clouds In My Heart; Lazy Rhapsody ( -B); Blue Tune ( -B); St. Louis Blues ( -A); Creole Love Call( –B); Best Wishes ( -A); Blue Ramble ( -B); Clouds In My Heart ( -A)

CD2 (62'33"): Blue Mood; Ducky Wucky; Jazz Cocktail; Lightnin’; Stars; Swing Low; I Must Have That Man ( -A); Baby! ( -A); Any Time, Any Day, Any Where; Delta Bound; Blue Mood ( -C); Blue Mood ( -B); Ducky Wucky ( -B); Jazz Cocktail ( -B); Lightnin’ ( -B); Stars ( -B); Swing Low ( -B); I Must Have That Man ( -B); Baby! ( -B); Any Time, Any Day, Any Where ( -B); Delta Bound ( -B)

CD3 (60'08"): Diga Diga Do; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Porgy; I Must Have That Man! (master take –C; Baby! (master take -C); Eerie Moan; Merry-Go-Round; Sophisticated Lady; I've Got The World On A String; Down A Carolina Lane; Diga Diga Do ( -B); I Can't Give You Anything But Love ( -B); Porgy ( -C); Porgy ( -B); I Must Have That Man! ( -D); Baby! ( –D); Eerie Moan ( -B); Merry-Go-Round (matrix W265049 alt. tk -2); Sophisticated Lady ( -1)

CD 4 (74'19"): Slippery Horn; Blackbird Medley (Part I); I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Must Have That Man! ; Doin’ The New Low Down ; Blackbird Medley (Part II); Dixie; Diga Diga Do; Porgy; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Drop Me Off At Harlem; Happy As The Day Is Long; Raisin’ The Rent; Get Yourself A New Broom; Bundle Of Blues; Sophisticated Lady; Stormy Weather; I’m Satisfied; Jive Stomp; Harlem Speaks; In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree; Solitude; Saddest Tale; Moonglow; Sump’n ‘Bout Rhythm; Slippery Horn ( -B); . Blackbird Medley (Part I) ( -B); Blackbird Medley (Part II) ( -C); I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Blackbird Medley (Part II) ( -B); Drop Me Off At Harlem ( -B); Bundle Of Blues (alt tk.-B); Jive Stomp (alt tk.-B)

CD 5 (77'47"): Admiration; Farewell Blues; Let’s Have A Jubilee; Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (alt tk.); Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (master take); Margie; In A Sentimental Mood; Showboat Shuffle; Merry-Go-Round; Admiration; Cotton; Truckin’; Accent On Youth; Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 1); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 2); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 3); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 4); I Don’t Know Why I Love You So; Dinah Lou; Isn’t Love The Strangest Thing?; There Is No Greater Love; Clarinet Lament; Echoes Of Harlem; Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (alt tk.); I Don’t Know Why I Love You So (alt tk. -2); Dinah Lou (alt tk. -3)

CD 6 (66'21"): Love Is Like A Cigarette; Kissin’ My Baby Good-Night; Oh, Babe! Maybe Someday; Shoe Shine Boy; It Was A Sad Night In Harlem; Trumpet In Spades; Yearning For Love; In A Jam; Uptown Downbeat (Blackout); Exposition Swing; Scattin’ At The Cotton Club; Black Butterfly; The New Birmingham Breakdown; Scattin’ At The Kit Kat; I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter; The New East St. Louis Toodle-O; Exposition Swing (alt tk. -2); Black Butterfly (alt tk. -2); The New Birmingham Breakdown (alt tk. -2); I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter (alt tk. -2); The New East St. Louis Toodle-O (alt tk. -2)

CD 7 (58'34"): There’s A Lull In My Life; It’s Swell Of You; You Can’t Run Away From Love Tonight; Azure; The Lady Who Couldn’t Be Kissed; Old Plantation; Caravan; Azure; All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (II); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M520); Alabamy Home (II); Chatter-Box (Jumpy); Jubilesta; There’s A Lull In My Life (alt tk. -2); It’s Swell Of You (alt tk. -2);You Can’t Run Away From Love Tonight (alt tk. -2); . Azure (alt tk.-2); Old Plantation (alt tk.-2); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M519 alt tk.-2); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M520 alt tk.-2); Alabamy Home (alt tk.-2)

CD 8 (76'28"): Diminuendo In Blue; Crescendo In Blue; Harmony In Harlem; Dusk On The Desert; Stepping Into Swing Society; Prologue To Black And Tan Fantasy; The New Black And Tan Fantasy; Riding On A Blue Note; Lost In Meditation; The Gal From Joe’s; If You Were In My Place; Skrontch; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart; Braggin’ In Brass; Carnival In Caroline; Diminuendo In Blue (alt tk. -2); Crescendo In Blue (alt tk. -2); Harmony In Harlem (alt tk. -X); Harmony In Harlem (alt tk. -1); Dusk On The Desert (alt tk. -1); Riding On A Blue Note (alt tk. -2); The Gal From Joe’s (alt tk. -2); If You Were In My Place (alt tk. -1); Skrontch; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart (alt tk. -1); Braggin’ In Brass (alt tk. -2)

CD 9 (68'58"): Swingtime In Honolulu; I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue (With The Sole Of My Shoe); Dinah’s In A Jam; When My Sugar Walks Down The Street; You Gave Me The Gate; Rose Of The Rio Grande; Pyramid; The Stevedore’s Serenade; La De Doody Doo; Watermelon Man; Gypsy Without A Song; A Blues Serenade; Love In Swingtime; Please Forgive Me; Lambeth Walk; Prelude To A Kiss; Hip Chic; Buffet Flat; Twits And Twerps (Boy Meets Horn) (matrix 1); Mighty Like The Blues; Rose Of The Rio Grande (alt tk. -2); Pyramid (alt tk. -2); Prelude To A Kiss (alt tk. -2); Twits And Twerps (matrix 2); Mighty Like The Blues (alt tk. -1)

CD 10 (54'23"): Jazz Potpurri; T.T. On Toast (Lady In Doubt); Battle Of Swing; Old King Dooji; Boy Meets Horn; Slap Happy; Pussy Willow; Subtle Lament; Lady In Blue; Smorgasbord And Schnapps; Portrait Of The Lion; Something To Live For; Solid Old Man; T.T. On Toast (alt tk. -2); Battle Of Swing (alt tk. -1); Slap Happy (alt tk. -2); Subtle Lament (alt tk. -X); Lady In Blue (alt tk. -X); Portrait Of The Lion (alt tk. -2)

CD 11 (73'36"): Cotton Club Stomp; Doin’ The Voom Voom; Way Low; Serenade To Sweden; In A Mizz; I’m Checkin’ Out-Go’om Bye; A Lonely Co-Ed; You Can Count On Me; Bouncing Buoyancy; The Sergeant Was Shy; Grievin’ (matrix WM 1064); Little Posey; I Never Felt This Way Before; Grievin’ (matrix WM 1093); Tootin’ Through The Roof; Weely; Your Love Has Faded; Killin’ Myself; Country Gal; Solitude; Stormy Weather; Mood Indigo; Sophisticated Lady; I Never Felt This Way Before (alt tk.-B); Tootin’ Through The Roof (alt tk.-B)

There is a telephone box in the village of Dunsop Bridge which is claimed to be at the exact centre of Great Britain. CD 8 from this set might be said to be at the exact centre of jazz. Classics like The Gal From Joe’s, Diminuendo and Crescendo (suffused with a delicacy that was thrown aside in the more famous 1956 version), Riding On A Blue Note and Braggin’ In Brass stand as untarnished masterpieces for the Duke and his men. That’s my opinion and yet I’m writing this review without having heard every track in this sublime box (the contents play for approximately 12 hours and 45 minutes).

Probably the most important body of Ellington’s pre-1941 work comes from the RCA Victor vaults and that has been dealt with by that label in a 24 CD set. That left two main areas of the master’s recordings still to be covered – the 252 tracks in this set was the first and the Musicraft and Columbia studio recordings of the ‘40s and ‘50s the second. It’s to be hoped Mosaic can now look attentions to the latter.

Ellington’s genius came to maturity over the period covered here and the box leaves us on the doorstep of the 1940 period (which, on reflection, probably was at the centre of jazz music. But this box covers his most creative period. He wrote his best tunes and devised his ingenious arranging methods during the ‘30s so, as I have suggested, the music here is the very heart of the Ellington oeuvre.

Pace Whetsel and Jenkins, but Cootie mainly had the dominant trumpet role to himself here, and these sides hold some of his most potent contributions. The period up until the arrival of Rex Stewart at the end of 1934 must have been wonderful for him, and it’s easy to see how Rex would have been resented. Rex came into the band to replace Freddie Jenkins who had tuberculosis. When Jenkins returned in autumn 1937 the trumpet section went up to four for the first time and stayed that way.

The riches bestowed upon us by Bigard, the infallibility of Hodges and Carney and the propulsive and sometimes even skittering bass of Braud are all woven into the most advanced and inventive arrangements of his day by the great master. Is Braud’s prodigious role in the ‘concert’ version of Creole Love Call the first example on record of walking bass? Oddly, only the ever-reliable Joe Nanton has just another day at the office. His mastery on Black And Tan and a few others here never quite reached the heights of inspiration that became before and after these sessions during Ellington’s days at RCA (remember Echoes of the Jungle and the 1945 Black and Tan?).

Mosaic always goes straight to the best authority for its notes and these by Steven Lasker are particularly perceptive and exhaustive (I reckon they would fill a complete issue of this magazine). Nobody has ever researched this period so thoroughly and the results are all included here. There’s one quirk. Steven quotes Dance on Cootie Williams’s masterful Riding On A Blue Note performance and then a couple of lines later seems to incorrectly credit the trumpet work to Freddie Jenkins (the piece had to wait until October 1945 for a breathtaking and unforgettable interpretation by Rex Stewart and Johnny Hodges).

Parlophone’s ‘Ellington Era’ LPs were the first admirable attempt at issuing a substantial number of these tracks in good sound. Lasker’s (for it was he) transfers here easily surpass those and bring great clarity to every instrument in the orchestra. Some of the original recordings and pressings were suspect but they have been engineered for optimum sound, and I doubt that anyone could improve on what you hear here. Mosaic has now produced seven boxes containing in all 40 CDs and three LPs of Ellington related material. It’s to be hoped that the response from the Duke’s followers will enable the company to finish the job.

The 56 big band personnels involved would take up many pages so forgive their exclusion here.. They are all easily accessed with detail concerning alternative takes etc. at

-Steve Voce

Classics 1057, 64'42"

added 2011-08-03

(1) I Cried For You; Stompin’ At The Savoy; Madeleine; Muskrat Ramble; Storyville; Cherokee; Run To The Corner; Georgia; (2) Let’s Try It; (3); I Didn’t Know About You; I’m The Luckiest Fool; At The Barclay’s; Jug Blues; (4) Night And Day; Confessin’; (5) Stardust; Vernon’s Story; Never let It Be Said; Swamp Mist; Goofin’ Off; All On Account Of You; Sacknasty; Last Blues

(1) Rex Stewart (c, v); Sandy Williams (tb); John Harris (cl, as); Vernon Story (ts); Don Gais (p); Ladislas Czabanyck (b); Ted Curry (d). Paris, December 4, 1947.
(2) as (1) plus Honey Johnson (v). December 10, 1947.
(3) as (2) minus Johnson.
(4) Stewart (c); Hubert Rostaing (cl, as); Django Reinhardt (g); Czabanyck (b); Curry (d). Same date as (2). (5) Stewart (c, v); Williams (tb); Story (ts); Gais (p); Jean-Jacques Tilch¾ (g); Lucien Simoens (b); Curry (d); Louie Williams (v). Paris, January 1948.

Ruby Braff told me that at the time when Rex Stewart was with Fletcher Henderson Rex was second only to Louis in trumpet stature. Ruby suggested that his decline began when, with Ellington, he developed his techniques with mutes and half valve work. '‘I hate,'’ Bob Brookmeyer told me, ‘to listen to those half-valve smears I used during the Fifties and Sixties.’

Poor Rex then, for if that is true then he was the master of the blind alley. In later years when I knew him he was a very insecure man, who had no confidence that people liked his playing.

In fact this band was one of the most exciting of the time, and particularly so to us since some of the French 78s filtered over here.

Stewart had been booked to tour European jazz clubs for six months. Because money was tight he used unknown musicians (apart from his pal Williams). They turned out to be magnificent and I’d particularly like to know what happened to Story, whose assured playing here is as substantial and pleasing as that of Stewart and Williams. At the end of the tour Rex had to send them home when he was invited to tour German by the U.S. Army who wanted to select in England a band ‘of dark people’ from Ceylon and Trinidad. The band had muscle and imagination, using a wide variety of arrangements and soloists. It used swing and be-bop phrases and achieved the sound of a bigger group.

Madeleine is a typically perky Stewart theme, whilst Jug Blues has Rex half-valving (the best example of this was in Mobile Bay at the Salle Pleyel, and I trust that this concert will follow next in the Classics series. Gais is very effective in his accompaniment, and of course one of Rex’s aces was the wailing trombone, with Williams loading the cares of the world on his back. He features on I Cried For You. The two tracks with Reinhardt (acoustic) are delightful with good uncredited alto from Rostaing. Storyville features the tenor and is the tune that Charlie Ventura recorded as Ha in 1949. Curious. Vernon’s Story has a fine example of barging Websterian tenor and Rex at his perkiest. Swamp Mist is one of the mood pieces at which Stewart excelled and he, with mute, and Story give the theme a beautiful statement. Sacknasty is more moody muted blues with good declamatory tenor too. It is repeated in a different take as Last Blues. The various vocals are attractive enough but of no moment.

This is hot, swinging and yet unusual music. The album is highly recommended.

-Steve Voce

since 2009-09-04
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