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Back to Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1966

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1966 005

Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1966 005

Pages 6 and 7 of a souvenir brochure for Duke Ellington's tour of Britain in 1966, presented by Harold Davison and Norman Granz. Peter Clayton profiles the history of Duke Ellington's backing bands, with several photos of it's current 'Famous Orchestra' members.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/14
Creator Peter Clayton, Michael Sanders
Date Made 1966
Item Format Programme
Title or Caption The Ellingtonians
Geographic Location

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

In a sense there is no such thing as the plural of “ Ellington band Except for fugitive groups on which Duke cut his bandleading teeth somewhere about 1920, he has only really had one band. The small one which played at the Kentucky Club in 1923 evolved so gradually into the big one you will hear tonight that the whole process has an almost Darwinian continuity about it. Recordings (of the six-piece “ Washingtonians ”) exist from 1924 onwards. By 1927 a clearly recognizable Ellington sound, the result of an Ellington approach, was developing fast.
To make one and inspire the other he had, among others, the incomparable Harry Carney on baritone saxophone (as he still has, 39 years later); Otto Hardwicke (who left but later returned for 13 years) on alto; Bubber Miley, the growling trumpeter, full of both fire and melancholy; Tricky Sam Nant on, who sired a whole line of growl and wa-wa trombone solos.
Classics like “ East St. Louis Toodle-oo ” (once the band’s signature tune); “ Black and Tan Fantasy and “Creole Love Call” were all recorded within a few months of each other in the lute ’twenties.
Miley left in 1929, and the band then settled down to a long period of growth and stability. In the next ten years only three major figures left; of these Freddy Jenkins and Arthur Whetsol, both trumpeters, departed because of illness.
In 1933 the band, now 14 strong, made its first European tour. Johnny Hodges, the alto-saxophonist with a sound that pours and spreads like warm sauce, was by then an Ellingtonian of five years standing. The trombones had gained Lawrence Brown, whose tone could take on such a soft, muffled quality that he sometimes sounded as if he were playing from under the bedclothes. He left in J951, returned about 1960, and as 1 write is just reported as having left again (“ Tired of travelling ”; it figures). Barney Bigard, of the swirling, throbbing clarinet, had joined. The first half of the 'thirties saw and heard the birth of “ Mood Indigo ”; " Drop Me Off at Harlem’’; “Bundle of Blues’’; “Creole Rhapsody ”, and many more.
It was still not uncommon for saxophone sections to make a curious wavering sound, as though blowing through their noses, but this tendency was somehow turned into a virtue by Ellington to produce an ethereal quality which even now distinguishes his reeds from anyone else’s.
In 1934 bassist Wellman Braud left, and for a short time there were two bass players—Hayes Alvis and Billy Taylor. Cornettist Rex Stewart came in to replace Freddy Jenkins.
Early in 1939 a not greatly altered band came to Europe for the second time, though it never reached England. But if 1939 was frustrating for British fans, it was all-important for the orchestra.
Ben Webster joined, and Duke quickly made use of the tenor player’s surging, belligerent sound.
Even more important, Jimmy Blanton joined on bass. Even though Blanton’s stay was tragically short (he died in 1942), by his radically different, swingingly melodic approach to his instrument he not only revitalized the pulse of the Ellington band but also changed the whole conception of bass-playing. He had already figured out how the bass was to sound when jazz went “modern”
(listen to “ Pitter Panther Patter ”). Most important of all, Billy Strayhorn appeared out of the blue, Strayhorn who was to write and arrange in such a way as to appear to be an extension of Ellington himself.
That orchestra had a terrific bite. It appealed to a big public, too; I seem to remember hearing Duke's 1941 “ Take the ‘A’ Train ” in the early ’forties almost as often as Miller’s “ In the Mood In 1940 Cootie Williams left (he returned over 20 years later). Ray Nance joined, bringing with him some fey violin playing and hilarious singing as well as humorous and lyrical trumpet. Bigard left in 1942, Webster the year after (there are still some dogeared band-parts in existence bearing the name of Webster’s successor, Al Sears, by the way). During the first 1940’s recording ban Duke acquired the phenomenal Cat Anderson, a rich-toned trumpeter who can also get somewhere up into the