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Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1964 007

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1964 007

Pages 10 and 11 of a programme for Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra's tour of Britain, 1964. Both pages continue to profile Duke Ellington's career, with photographs of his band members.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/11
Creator Jack Higgins, Benny Green, Eric Jelly
Date Made 1964
Item Format Programme
Title or Caption
Event Date February 1964

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

restricted himself to playing his own music. The answer is that there is no answer. No Ellington album ever appears that has not something to commend it, and our recording companies are showing more and more awareness of this fact. In the past two or three years there has been a whole spate of Ellington revivals, of which " The Indispensable Duke Ellington ”, containing his Perfume Suite, and " The Ellington Era ” in three parts, are outstanding. And it so happens that each of these two revivals pose the question that must eventually be faced when considering Ellington’s music. The question is, what is the music all about? Where does it come from and what is
it trying to convey?
Normally in jazz this kind of question gets for its answer a well-resonated raspberry, which is what is deserves. But in this case, as in so many others, Duke Ellington is a special case. Dotted throughout his repertoire is evidence, copious, almost overwhelming, that in this one instance jazz music is something more than an abstract exercise in the manipulation of harmonic sequences. On Ellington’s own admission, some of his compositions are musical memories of people, places and events. Or at least there have been times when Ellington has claimed they are. The most famous examples are widely known and
have been for years. A Portrait Of Bert Williams is self-explanatory. So is Portrait Of The Lion. So is Bojangles to those who know that to have been the nickname of the great tapdancer Bill Robinson. Black Beauty is a lightning sketch of Florence Mills. Then there are the glimpses of Harlem life, the later suites based on everything from Romeo and Juliet to the history of Liberia. All these works are remarkably effective as jazz. Some of them are magnificent examples of orchestral finesse. All of them beguile the ears. One suspects that several of them will come in time to be ranked with the best music of this century, jazz or otherwise.
But are they really what they are said to be? Do they actually paint the pictures they are supposed to? Only Ellington knows, and he won’t talk. Taking a guess, it may be a matter of half and half. Certainly the pieces evoke the feelings their titles suggest, but it would be nice to know which came first, the chicken of conception or the egg of existence.
No doubt this is the kind of speculation Ellington had in mind when he made that remark, “ Such talk stinks up the place ”, But the inconsistent thing is that Ellington himself loves to indulge in this kind of talk. Moreover, he does it better than any conversationalist I ever heard. Ellington on the subject of Ellington is one of the great raconteurs. On his last visit here, having gingerly approached the subject of “ programme ” music, I asked him whether there were any other pieces of his inspired by any specific person, place or event. He then surprised me by saying that Sophisticated Lady was a composite portrait of three lady school-teachers he used to know in his youth in Washington. Who knows whether the story is true? It is a good one, well told, and the song it involves is one of the great masterpieces of popular songwriting. That ought to be enough for the most inquisitive person.
For a man who has voiced his distaste for too much theorising about his music, Ellington has come out with some surprising statements. The most famous of them all is that Proustian echo, “ The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician ”, The great thing about this observation is not its profundity. After all, the memory of things gone is important to every human being, especially the creative artist. But what makes it unique in its context is that very few jazz musicians ever realise its truth. Ellington has, and my guess is that it has been a mine of inspiration to him ever since he started thinking.