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Back to Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – November 1973

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – November 1973 003

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – November 1973 003

Pages 4 and 5 of a programme for Duke Ellington & his orchestra's tour of Britain, 1973. Page 4 features a large photograph of Duke Ellington speaking into a microphone, with a biography of Ellington continuing on page 5.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/10
Creator Derek Jewell, David Redfern
Date Made 1973
Item Format Programme
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.

Musically, too, this facet of his genius is never less than intriguing. Working with Mr. Roscoe Gill, the musical director of these Sacred Concerts, he’s become a very interesting choral composer. At the Abbey, for which he’d written over an hoursworth of new material — several versions of the Lord’s Prayer, “Is God a Three-Letter Word for Love” and so on — there were some choral passages which were almost “straight”, some which in their strange blue harmonies sounded like a score for an Ellington reed section, some which had the kind of call-and-response pattern you find in American gospel music and, transformed, in the blues.
And he certainly knows how to write for Alice Babs, whose thrilling voice, swooping through a very wide compass, is now a highlight of many of his Sacred Concerts. So, as if it will matter to him what I think, I have to say that I gain huge pleasure from such concerts. They have the authentic Ellington touch; they are disarmingly direct and simple — perhaps too much so for some sophisticated tastes, but then that’s true of some other of his lyrics too; and in the context of his huge output down the years, they have an important place.
So, enough of that. I don’t want in these notes to conduct over-academic inquiries into the meaning of his music, but plainly to set down some notion of his achievements. Popular music today has never been richer or more varied. But who can deny that there’s a lot of hype about too? There’s a need, occasionally, to remind ourselves of the scale of achievement of the truly great among this century’s musicians.
So — a few basic facts . . .
Ellington’s orchestra, whose history goes back to the 1920s, is the longest-lived musical organisation of our century. In terms of continuity of musicians and style, it’s probably the longest-lived aggregation of any century.
No man in the world has done more for jazz (or 20th century music of all kinds) than Ellington, both as composer and bandleader.
He himself, as well as the sound his band makes, is unique. A genuine original.
I guess that none of these statements are exactly news. But it’s as important to remember them occasionally as it is also to remind ourselves not to get too bogged down in pretentious chat about Ellington.
In Europe we tend to treat Duke so seriously and so royally (as he truly deserves) that we’ve perhaps lost sight of the whole aura of the man’s background. He plays sacred concerts, yes; he plays seriously to serious people, yes; but he is also of the world, and one facet of his multi-faceted music is about that too.
Example: I saw him playing at Las Vegas in early December last year. There were 3,000 people to see the show in a huge light-spangled room that the hotel in question (Vegas fashion) had the nerve to call a “lounge”.
The audience were much more interested at first in talking about how much they’d lost (who wins?), the state of their marriages, offspring, grandmothers, livers, obesity, suntan, or whatever than in listening to Duke. I sat at a bar where the sound of ice being hurled into glasses for the patrons provided the biggest percussion section I’ve ever heard with the band, and at which the barman’s only comment was: “Jesus, don’t doze guys play loud”; apart, that was, from his whistling “Satin Doll” in agonisingly near unison with Duke’s reed section.
And yet. After 1 5 minutes Duke had got most of that loungeful of hustlers hooked. He charmed them, yet musically made no concessions. He played a large hunk of suite something or other, as well as crowd-pleasing ballads. They shut up, more or less; most listened; and when he packed up till the next show (three a night, at 10p.m., midnight, 2 a.m.) and resumed his attempts to find winning numbers at Keino — a sort of electrified and high-kitty bingo — they gave him applause as warm and long as any I’ve ever heard.
That’s one of the other sides of Duke. He plays cathedrals, concerts, casinos. He’s for fun as well as for fundamental. He picks numbers as well as picking up the French Legion d’Honneur (that happened this year, by the way, if you missed it) and that sight for him in Las Vegas made me appreciate the better his reported reply when told that a group of over-serious fans had questioned his performing for jive dancing in ballrooms. “Yeah,” he said. “If they’d been told it was Balkan folk dance, they’d think it was wonderful.”
Continued on Page 10