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Back to Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 003

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 003

Pages 2 and 3 of a programme for Duke Ellington's tour of Great Britain, 1971. Page 2 features a photograph of Ellington playing the piano, with Derek Jewell profiling the career of Ellington from page 3.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/9
Creator Derek Jewell, David Redfern
Date Made 1971
Item Format Programme
Title or Caption
Event Date February 1971

This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.

DUKE ELLINGTON
by Derek Jewell, ©1971
aili'i) I
"From Russia with love—madly of course"
EDWARD KENNEDY ELLINGTON, the Duke, arrives now in Britain for his umpteenth tour a little older, even more of a genius—as will later appear—and trailing clouds of achievement from his first tour of Russia. As these notes are written (since programmes have to go eariy to the printers) the full story of the visit to the USSR is still to be told. But it ought at least to be recorded that his reception in Leningrad when the four-week tour opened on September 13 was rapturous, with nine encores demanded and received, and younger fans rushing the stage.
Duke, of course, told the Russians (in Russian) that he loved them madly and—to quote that prestigious and entertaining journal or musical record, Melody Maker: “Even the black market did a roaring trade. Five rouble seats ($5.55) sold for 40 roubles ($44). A case of free enterprise striking back."
Russia is only part of it, though. For since Duke was last in the country almost two years ago he and his orchestra—and the phrases are synonymous, since he has always found life and love, in the fullest sense, only through his orchestra— have had to endure, yet somehow have triumphantly survived, the most grievous of blows. Repeated blows, too.
The theme of the survival of the musical wonder that is the Ellington orchestra is one which I have, with the utmost sadness, been forced to talk about increasingly in the past few years. Such words spring from love, not morbidity. If I felt moved beyond words, delighted, charmed and, above all, privileged when I heard Ellington concerts or records in years long ago, then the emotion has been heightened more and more in the last few years.
In 1969, writing my programme notes for his concerts, these words appeared: "Coolly, one has to ask how long the musical miracle can continue, since Ellington and his musicians are only human. Every Ellington occasion is, in a sense, special, but as we move into the 1970s, concerts like today’s become more and more special. The band, and its leader, will have to give up some time.”
It has, with infinite sadness, to be recorded that since then the great Johnny Hodges, the most ravishingly beautiful player of the alto saxophone in history, has died. Nor is he the only musician not to make the trip this time with Duke. Cat Anderson of the stratospheric trumpet is missing, and so is Lawrence Brown of the subtle, vibrating trombone.
But—and this is the miracle which Duke is still working against the odds—the orchestra survives and is still sounding as Ellingtonian as ever. New men like Norris Turney, a wonderful find on saxophone or flute (which instrument is giving
new dimensions to Duke's sounds), have been brought into the band to coalesce wonderfully with old hands like Harry Carney and Haul Gonsalves and Cootie Williams.
So, if there are intimations of our mortality always around us, there is also cause for great joy. The Ellington tradition continues and Duke is still a wonder-worker. For that he has our gratitude and our admiration.
There will be no apology from me for the fact that these notes already begin to verge on the side of idolatry. That is how I feel about the man and his music and I don’t care who knows it. Nor, I fear, can I do more than mildly reshape the thoughts and the words which I have written down previously on the subject of Duke. Feelings don’t change down the years and endless paraphrases become tedious. But you certainly have my apologies in advance that so much of what one sets down has been said in one way or another before; apologies that when all the words are written the particular qualities of this gigantic musician and human being remain elusive; apologies that what is really required from any writer about Ellington is a book or a series of books rather than a few thousand words prepared for a programme. It’s worth adding that some of these books are on the way; Macmillan's in this country will publish Stanley Dance’s “The World of Duke Ellington” in November (I’ve read a proof, and it’s splendid), whilst I hear (exclusively, as journalists say) that Duke is going to produce his long-awaited autobiography for Doubleday's in America within a year or so.
But in this programme, I have my own problems about the words. For when you are writing about a man whom one believes to be the greatest living musician (a personal judgment) or at the very least the musician most truly representative of the twentieth century (a judgment which can virtually be proved) where do you begin? If you listen to what the world has said already a horrendous sense of confusion sets in.
"He may be a genius, but Jesus how he eats." The speaker was "Tricky Sam" Nanton, for 20 years a trombonist in the band, and his words illustrate the love and irreverence which Ellington has always inspired in the musicians he has led. Ellington's appetite, though, is no longer the gargantuan wonder it once was.
At the opposite extreme there have been Constant Lambert and Percy Grainger and Stokowski and Stravinsky who have all said at different times in different fashions that Ellington is one of the greatest living composers or the only great living American composer. To add to that kind of statement is one by Kenneth Tynan, among the several all-purpose oracles of our times, who included Ellington with Chaplin, Cocteau, Picasso, Heming-