Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – November 1973 002
Pages 2 and 3 of a programme for Duke Ellington & his orchestra's tour of Britain, 1973. Page 2 features a biography of Duke Ellington, written soon after his sacred music concert at Westminster Abbey. Page 3 features a photograph of Duke Ellington.
|Catalogue Reference Number||NJA/PRO/10|
|Creator||Derek Jewell, David Redfern|
|Title or Caption|
|Event Date||November 1973|
This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.
ï»¿DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS MUSIC
These words, many of them, are written in the immediate aftermath of yet another memorable experience at the hands of Duke Ellington and his itinerant company of musicians. 1 mean the Sacred Concert he gave at Westminister Abbey for United Nations Day on October 24, 1973.
By the time you read these notes, a month later, heâll have swung through Europe, maybe nipped back to America, or dropped in on Africa for all I know. Thatâs the life he lives, has always lived. On the road, on the sea, in the sky, pushing his way around the world, loving us madly â as he always tells us â composing en route, playing marvellous music most of the time wherever he happens to be.
After that Sacred Concert, the mind is full of mixed feelings. Oh, it was all a bit starchy at times, like these occasions so often are because it was for a cause, with titles there and top politicians and diplomats and such.
And who ever could believe that the Abbey was built for Dukeâs sounds? All those arches and tombs and echoes crucify music which is played at other than very decorous tempos. So the band only let its hair down on a couple of occasions. And half the audience couldnât see. And Paul Gonsalves wasnât playing. And the critics, a lot of them, were pretty sniffy about the whole thing: they said it wasnât vintage Ellington, that kind of remark, and there was one national newspaper reporter (if thatâs the word) who obviously couldnât tell Duke Ellington from a cheese sandwich, since he began his story by mis-informing his readers that Duke had danced into the Abbey nave to lead the audience in handclapping. It was Toney Watkins and Anita Moore who did that, but maybe, to be charitable, the poor man was stuck behind one of those tombs.
Well, I was there as a critic too, and perhaps Iâm easily pleased or just get hang-ups and suspended faculties when it comes to Ellington. Iâm in favour of him, at all seasons, you understand, and if he doesnât merit such warmth of attitude, who does? And as I came out of the Abbey all I could hear on every side were comments of pleasure.
I noticed the smiles on the faces too. The audience, I judged, felt they had experienced something special, whatever the musical (or other) imperfections of the evening might be. And I agreed with them.
About Paul Gonsalves, who had collapsed on the day of the concert, and been replaced by a young man called Percy Marion, I cannot at this moment say more than that Iâm hoping hard he has made a good recovery. He is, apart from Harry Carney, the baritone saxist, and altoist'Russell Procope, the longest-serving musician in the band - an important point with Ellingtonâs men, as will appear later. He was sorely missed that night, would be sorely missed in the future were anything to happen to him. Dukeâs ranks have been sadly thinned of his veterans in recent years. Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown are among the giants he has lost.
But before we look at that part of the story, let me finish about Dukeâs Sacred Concert. It was another of the sad aspects of the tale that although I read four or five newspapers the next day, I didnât come across a critic who thought it worth mentioning â maybe they didnât know â that Gonsalves was missing. Yet heâs a crucial element both in the Ellington ensemble sound and as a soloist. There also seemed to me some uncertainty about how to deal with a Sacred Concert by Duke.
Heâs done only a couple such concerts in Britain in recent years. So comparatively few people have heard them. For the Abbey audience it was, as Iâve said, a very special occasion. True. Special because itâs another aspect of Duke and one which, in his seventies, he wants to emphasise. I enjoy all his music. Some of his compositions are greater than others, of course. But all of it has got a touch of genius in it somewhere. And it seems pointless to me to mark down his Sacred music because it âisnât jazzâ, which Iâve read somewhere, or because it hasnât been written in âhis most creative periodâ, which Iâve read somewhere else.
Duke isnât writing only âjazzâ when heâs doing his Sacred Concerts. Heâs writing music, which happens to blend elements of his jazz style with other influences, like the European choral tradition of church music. Take it for what it is, in other words, not for what it was never intended to be. Duke has decided, with heart and brain, that what he wants to do now is to create his own personal song of praise to the Deity he knows. Itâs very important to him. Itâs another aspect of his genius, and I personally find it enjoyable and in many ways seizing. Different from âCaravanâ or âHarlem Airshaftâ or âBlack Brown and Beige.â But then itâs meant to be.
Continued on Page 7
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