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Back to Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 006

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 006

Pages 8 and 9 of a programme for Duke Ellington's tour of Great Britain, 1971. Page 8 continues the biography of Duke Ellington, with a photograph of one of his saxophonists, Paul Gonsalves, on page 9.

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.

(Asphalt Jungle). Nor does this include the mass of sacred music he began to write for concerts in churches and cathedrals during the 1960’s. Symphonies might not suit him, but oratorios do, and opera could. The Duke’s favourite piece of music is always the thing he’s writing at the moment. That's the way it is. And that’s why there is no set menu for tonight’s concert. Duke will have in mind what he will announce, but it could be almost anything from his vast musical storehouse.
I don’t know just how many works he has written, to tell the truth. It can’t be anything under 2,000; it might be as many as 5,000. The chilling truth is that perhaps ninety per cent of it has not been preserved in manuscript. It is in the heads of his key musicians, consciously or sub-con-sciously, and already they are growing old, or have fallen out of the band.
“You see,” Ellington once told me in a hotel room, “our scores disappear. People wrap their lunch in them.” He shrugged and went off to fetch something from the bedroom. Strayhorn, still alive, dapper and barefooted, smiled and said. “He doesn’t care about this sort of thing you know.” I thought at the time that if Ellington's traditional indifference to his work and to posterity were in fact a pose, it was one of the most brilliantly sustained artifices of our age.
There is nothing sham, however, about the comparisons which have been drawn with him and other great composers. He has been likened to Delius and Debussy, Mozart and Bach—the latter most appropriately in some ways, remembering how important improvisation was both to Bach’s art and to jazz. Of all the thousands of words written on this subject, those of Constant Lambert (in the early 1930's, long before Duke had really got moving) may serve as a symbol. “I know of nothing in Ravel so dexterous in treatment as the varied solos in the middle of the ebullient “Hot and Bothered” and nothing in Stravinsky more dynamic than the final section.”
I suppose that there are few examples in history of so torrential a flow of sustained composition as Ellington’s. Consider, too, the circumstances under which he has composed. Not for Ellington the quiet retreat, emotion recollected in tranquillity. His drawing board has been the overnight railroad coach, glass walls of recordinq studios, dim-lit darkened buses, backs of hotel menus—or the telephone. He and Strayhorn would often work by phone, singing snatches of tunes to each other, occasionally and astonishingly findinq that they had already written the same notes, though they miqht be a few thousand miles apart.
Today he travels by car and by plane. Yesterday it was train and ship. He must know every inch of railroad throughout the United States, and I think he must regret the passing of the great age of steam. His music enshrines the railroad tradition of America: tunes like “Haopy-Go-Lucky Local,” “Day-break Express,” and the rest.
Harry Carney, the great baritone saxist who has been more than 40 years with Ellington, says of his travelling habits: “Duke sleeps occasionally, but not as a rule. He'll pull out a piece of paper and make notes. We’ll do very little talking.” Ruth Ellington, his sister, graphically described for me the old days when Duke would write two or three numbers while a train would stand waiting in some dirt-stained Texas siding, with the temperature at a hundred and ten.
Duke is an iron man Whether he's on the road
or in New York, his day is much the same. He's going to bed when most people are starting work. He's being awakened from time to time with phone calls. He used to eat hugely. Now his diet is rigorous. Mostly it’s steak, salads, grapefruit juice. Every now and then he falls to his old weakness, ice cream. He drinks coffee sometimes, but mostly weak tea or just plain old hot water. He smokes a little or chews gum and gave up drinking a long time ago.
These things wouldn’t matter, perhaps, except I’m always intrigued what exactly it is that keeps the man going, this man who has given so much to the world. Consider, if one must talk in categories, what he has given to jazz alone ....
From him came the “growl” brass sound and “jungle” noises. He has confirmed the role of the tenor saxophone (first through Ben Webster, today through Paul Gonsalves) and revolutionised the role of the double bass (through Jimmy Blanton, around 1940, before that great musician died) as well as treating jazz orchestrally, with a wealth of complex harmonies, melodies, rhythms and tone-colours.
His tone-colours are fantastic, considering he uses only the conventional instrumentation of jazz: percussion, trumpets, trombones, saxes, clarinets. This is because he has known intimately the shape and shading of every man’s style. He has deployed notes not simply for alto saxophone or clarinet or trumpet, but for the voluptuous voice of Johnny Hodges, the purity of Jimmy Hamilton or Russell Procope, the growling, muted style of Cootie Williams. Such sensitivity has made the instrumental limitations of the band seem nonexistent, and Ellington has never needed oboes or French horns or strings.
“Strings?” he once said. “Positively no! What could I do with strings that hasn't been done wonderfully for hundreds of years?” What indeed!
There isn’t room here to tell the story of all his musicians, but how can you discuss Ellington without at the same time talking a little about say, Harry Carney? Harry joined Duke in 1926, not all that long after Ellington had come from his native Washington D C. to New York City to sit at the feet of piano masters like Willy The Lion Smith and James P. Johnson. For years Carney was virtually the only outstanding soloist to be featured on baritone sax (which is another Ellington innovation, in a way) and he’s been the anchor man of the band’s reed section ever since, and Duke’s confidant on the road.
Cootie Williams is, I guess, a good example of an Ellingtonian alumnus (since 1929) who even after taking prolonged leave of absence could not, in the end, resist returning to the fold, whilst Johnny Hodges was the prime instance in the band of how musicians who could have made it very big on their own nevertheless found the Ellington alchemy irresistible.
I don’t think there is any solo musician who has given me greater pleasure than Johnny Hodges, his style lush and romantic and full of swoops in the slurs, yet a man able to swing strongly in the blues as well. I regard it as one of the great honours of my life that I was able to write the sleeve notes to the double album “Duke Ellington 70th Birthday Concert” (UAD6001-2), which sadly proved to be the last time that Johnny Hodges was recorded in concert before his death in May last year. His very last recording of all is contained in Ellington’s recently issued Atlantic album, “New Orleans Suite”.