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Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 008

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour - October 1971 008

Pages 12 and 13 of a programme for Duke Ellington's tour of Great Britain, 1971. Page 12 concludes the profile of Duke Ellington, with an advert for RCA records on page 13.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/9
Creator Derek Jewell
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.

The faithfulness of Hodges and of Cootie to the orchestra illustrates what it is like to be an Ellingtonian. It's as though you're a member of the most exclusive musical club in the world. You let your subscription lapse for a time, but there's always the itch to join again. It brought Cootie (the growl and plunger-mute trumpet specialist) back to the orchestra; and it has prevented Russell Procope and Paul Gonsalves and others from ever wanting to leave, and in Gonsalves' case that’s especially understandable. It was he who, at Newport in 1956, played a 27-chorus improvisation on Ellington’s composition “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." Band bosses don't, as they say, write them like that any more—and there are few tenorists who could blow them like that either. Gonsalves, oblique and slurry and wonderfully lyrical, is a tremendous musician.
But the urge to stop the unending rush round the world must be expected increasingly to afflict the Ellington band's personnel during the 1970’s. There have been one or two ominous changes in the band recently, one of which has given Harold Ashby (yet another former Ellingtonian) a seat in the reed section in place of Jimmy Hamilton, who for 27 years was the clarinet genius of the band, and another of which has removed both Cat Anderson and Lawrence Brown from the line-up. Gone, too, is Wild Bill Davis, the organist, who came in 1969 to Britain.
But Duke also is managing to keep the mixture fresh and interesting by inserting new (or returned) talent into the band. Norris Turney (who can now have great tenor battles with Ashby and Gonsalves, as well as playing flute) I have already mentioned. He first appeared when the band hit Britain in 1969. This time, we await to hear how Malcolm Taylor and Booty Wood will figure in the trombone section, Harold (Money) Johnson and Edward Preston in the trumpets, and Bobbie Gordon as a singer.
Back then to Ellington. What else is there to say about this remarkable man? You could say that he has been honoured in his own country remarkably (or, with equal truth, that he has not been honoured enough). He has been granted honorary degrees by universities. He has played, by presidential command, for Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He has been feted by Richard Nixon and entertained by Harry S. Truman, to whom he presented the original manuscript of 'Harlem'', a work commissioned from Duke by Arturo Toscanini. He has had plaques presented to him (at Carnegie Hall among other places) for his contributions to the arts. He has had things as different as scholarships and swimming pools named after him.
I find all this particularly delicious for a man who in his time has played at parties and proms, for jitterbugs and intellectuals, in concert halls and cafes. Lack of pretentiousness has been his hallmark. When told that over-serious fans had questioned his performing for jive dancing in ballrooms, he replied: “If they'd been told it was a Balkan folk dance, they'd think it was wonderful.’’
Right at the start of this piece I said that the Duke was many things. But, looking over these notes. I don't seem yet to have covered half of them. He is (for example) delighted by beautiful girls and is beautifully correct in addressing them. He is a dandy and a gentleman with, at times, the gravitas of a Roman Senator. He is loyal to friends who deserve it and those who don’t, and he says the most wonderful words about his friendships.
“We had a relationship that nobody else in the world would understand," he explained after Billy Strayhorn’s death. “His approval was like going out with your armour on instead of going out naked.”
You could fill a book with what Ellington says about his family. He is fanatical about family ties. It was the death of his mother, in the middle 1930’s, which inspired his first great suite, “Reminiscin’ in Tempo”. He is a city lover (grass reminds him of graves: he won't wear green) and he is, most beautifully of all, tolerant beyond reason of human folly.
He is cool at all times, which a very low pulse rate helps to explain. He and his musicians— Lawrence Brown, long-serving trombonist, always said he would really like to be a doctor or a funeral director—defy all those hoary and hairy myths about “typical jazzmen". Duke says he’s never felt the need of dope. “I never smoked anything which hadn’t got printing on it.”
There are thousands of examples of his humour. Explaining the jokey “Lady Mac” in the “Such Sweet Thunder” suite, he said he had always believed that Lady Macbeth had a little ragtime in her soul. Only in recent years has another ducal trait become evident: the depth of his religious feelings. The clues were always there, of course, for he said a long time ago: “I had three educations—the street corner, going to school, and The Bible. The Bible is the most important. It taught me to look at a man’s insides instead of the outside of his suit.”
Even so, the importance he has given to his Sacred Concerts since the 1960’s has surprised many people in an age when religion isn’t exactly fashionable. He gave the first concert at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, 1963. Since then, Sacred Concerts have been performed in approaching 100 churches, cathedrals and temples, around the world. Ellington is a great ecumenical force. “He wants to play in every kind of church there is,” his nephew, Stephen James, said. “Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, he doesn’t mind.”
Of all this, Ellington says simply: “Now I can say loudly and openly what I’ve been saying to mvself on my knees.”
It has been far more fashionable in recent years, of course, for black Americans to parade with banners in pursuit of civil rights goals. That has not been Ellington’s way, but he has fought the good fight with his own weapons. “Screamin' about it on stage doesn’t make a show,” he once told me. “It’s alright for some cat on a soapbox, but in the theatre you’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it, you dig? At the end of My People, we’ve got the song, ‘What Colour is Virtue, What Colour is Love?’ You know?”
So what has been written here is something done in brief and in hesitancy, since Duke is a hard man to pin down, about the most brilliant musician who will grace the stage this evening. Going his own way, making music to please himself, music always intensely personal—that’s Ellington. He is a subtle man. He’ll do anything to pursue the single-minded aim which has pleasured and enhanced our living: to write his music and to have the band he wants sitting there and playing it every day of the year.
He is bound to tell you that "We love you madly.” The sentiment is returned, from us to him. We delight in him, his music, his genius, and the thought of that warmth ever being removed is quite unbearable.
“The Duke”
Great Britain
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