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'The Duke's In Bed'

The Ellingtonians,
as encountered by Steve Voce

STEVE VOCE writes about all the jazz eras from early New Orleans (he's just published a definitive piece on Johnny Dodds) to late Miles Davis (Miles gave him a drink out of his bottle of whiskey). But Duke Ellington and his music is at the heart of Steve's writings.

Steve broadcast for BBC Radio for more than 50 years and for 35 of them presented his own 'Jazz Panorama' programme. During these broadcasts he would telephone jazz musicians in the United States and talk to them live on air for an hour at a time. Steve has been writing a monthly column in
Jazz Journal for more than 50 years and keeps insisting to the Editor that it is time he was taken out and shot – so that his obituary could appear in The Independent newspaper, for whom he writes all the obituaries for jazz musicians. Oh, and he wrote a book on Woody Herman but, since a fortnight after publication everyone except his mother had forgotten about it, he fell back exhausted and decided never to write a book again.

Carl Hällström recalled that Steve delighted the participants in a Duke Ellington conference in England with his "THE DUKE'S IN BED" presentation, a collection of anecdotes about various Ellingtonians. He asked Steve if he would allow his insightful writings to be "web-published" in Ellington on the Web, and Steve kindly agreed. We're grateful to The Independent and to Jazz Journal for permission to reproduce the pieces that appear here.
These articles are reproduced with Steve's permission and should not be reproduced without his express permission as copyright holder.


A Cold from Little Eddie

(This story appeared in Jazz Journal in 1963 and in Blue Light, volume 13/3 (2003?))
added 2011-07-24

Duke Ellington, composer, pianist, band leader: born April 29, 1899, died May 24, 1974

The phone rang in Stanley Dance's home in Connecticut. The call was from London. "This is Little Eddie. Just to let you know that we arrived all right.."

Considering that they seem to live normally in a state of almost mindless fatigue, it is amazing that the Ellington band members manage to be so composed and sociable most of the time. Perhaps the most imperturbable of them all is baritone sax player Harry Carney. He has an elephantine memory that is almost supernatural. Standing outside the Empire in a Jacques Tati beret and overcoat, which made one wonder where he had left his motor bike, he recalled his first visit to Liverpool. 'In 1933 we stayed down that street. I think it was the second turning on the left, and their name was Jackson. I wonder if they still live there?'

Later he was talking to clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton. 'I was thinking of phoning home today, but after that hotel bill last night, I can't afford it. Five quid just for bed and breakfast.'

'You know why that is,' said Hamilton. 'They watch you come in through the door and they say "This here is Harry Carney. He can pay! Jack up everything."'

Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal International, had come up to Liverpool to join me for Duke Ellington's Sunday night concert at The Empire. Jimmy took me upstairs to meet trumpeter Cootie Williams. 'Harry'll be on the phone now. Wherever we are he always calls home. If he was in Hell he'd be asking for a telephone.'

Close up Cootie looks like a granite Red Indian, and his conversation, consisting mainly of grunted 'Yeah?' and 'No?' filled out the analogy. I left him cleaning his already gleaming horn, squeezed between the Rabbit and the Cat (Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson) and went to join Sinclair in the Duke's room, which had been converted into a sanatorium - Duke had the most impressive cold that I had ever been close up to. The room was littered with Kleenex tissues and Duke was selecting his underwear for the concert from a caseful held out by his dresser.

'Can you get me some fresh, unstrained grapefruit juice?' he asked me. 'A jugful?'

This presented rather a problem since the grapefruit trees in Liverpool have not even flowered yet, never mind borne fruit. However I managed to get a jugful of some kind of grapefruit juice (I suspect it was the bottled kind) and took it back to the dressing room like one of the three wise men. (Note added in 2000: the grapefruit juice resulted from a walk across Liverpool to the Adelphi Hotel. This was a Sunday and the city virtually shut down in those days of austerity. I had great difficulty in persuading the hotel people to lend me the jug. All pubs and any source of alcohol closed by 10 p.m. every night.).

Duke sipped it. 'I think they strained it by mistake,' Sinclair offered.

'They grow the grapefruit a bit sweet around here, too,' said Duke, sniffing the jug suspiciously.

The dressing room belonged during the week to Morecambe of Morecambe and Wise, who was appearing at the theatre in pantomime. Mr. Morecambe had left a pleasant note inviting Duke to help himself to a drink and to make use of the television set in the room. Duke switched on the television while the half bottle of gin on the table went round the room. The time was 7.30 p.m. and I realised with no little discomfort what was about to happen.

An unctuous and servile voice came out of the speaker: '.welcome you ladies and gentlemen once again to the Black and White Minstrel Show!'

And there they were, capering about in their patchwork suits and gollywog make-up. This, I said to myself, is going to be one of those famous moments of truth. Duke and Strayhorn watched in baleful silence. Strayhorn took off his glasses, examined them, and put them back on. Suddenly the Minstrels went into 'Caravan', and George Chisholm came on.

'Well produced show,' said Duke, and turned back to the problem of his underwear.

A mother and daughter, whose interest in jazz must have been tenuous, suddenly appeared in the room. Apparently Duke had met them somewhere and promised them tickets for the show. All the seats were sold, so I gave them my tickets.

There followed a stormy tussle between Sinclair and the stage foreman, a belligerent and disenchanted person whom I learned to avoid years ago. His attitude was almost as cold as the stage of the theatre.

'If you had wanted to borrow ten bucks and I had never met you before, these guys would show you right into my dressing room,' said Duke, 'but if you were someone important who had just come in to see the show before signing a contract or something, they'd practically come to blows keeping you out.

On stage the Ellingtonians were shivering behind the curtain. Johnny Hodges examined his alto and began calling for anti-freeze. We sat down on two stools just off-stage from the piano.

Duke didn't appear backstage until the band crackled into 'A Train'. He walked briskly to the mike, did the 'we love you madly' bit, and walked briskly off-stage to our side.

'Jesus!' he said. 'When they built this place they forgot to put the roof on.' He called out for spotlights to be placed to shine on the piano stool. Would someone mind going out there and breaking the ice between the piano keys?

The concert progressed more or less normally except that they left out 'Kinda Dukish' and 'Pretty and the Wolf' but added 'Mainstem'. The next day the Liverpool Daily Post said that 'Kinda Dukish' was one of the concert highlights. During the last tour the Liverpool Echo claimed that the trumpet solos of the alto saxophone player Johnny Hodges were very moving.

The big drawback about listening from the wings was that the normal bite of the sax section was a bit muffled. But this was more than compensated for the ability to hear the continuous battery of asides that goes on between the members of the band.

After Hodges had blandly laid down three of his masterworks, he was in the process of sitting down again when Ellington called him out for another bow. While smirking politely at the audience Rabbit was muttering all the time to his boss. 'Lay off it, Dukie. Every time I bend down I can feel the ice cracking off the back of my pants.'

At the interval 'Dukie' hustled off to his room to change into ankle length underpants. The trumpet and trombone sections, who hadn't missed the goings on in the wings, gathered around Sinclair's chair, removed his flask, and emptied it. Sinclair stood in the middle in his overcoat, looking for all the world like some football coach with his team at half time. I almost expected him to produce a plate of sliced lemons from somewhere.

The teams changed ends and crashed into the second half with a heat that had obviously come from Sinclair's flask, now lying forlornly abandoned behind the piano stool.

'Little Eddie', who kept bounding into the wings to give us a rundown on the state of the weather on-stage, had still not warmed up and was having constant trouble with his cold. The piano was by now full of abandoned Kleenex tissues.

'Tell Stray to have my ugly pills ready when we come off,' he said as the last number approached.

'Man,' said Jimmy Hamilton as they came off-stage, 'Will I be glad to get out of this freezing theatre and into that freezing coach where I can at least die in an undignified posture of my own choosing.' (The band was making the 200-mile trip back to London overnight).

In the Duke's room the Wardrobe Section were busily packing his clothes. Duke and Billy Strayhorn were discussing how best to reciprocate Mr Morecambe's gesture with the gin. The half-bottle was by now as empty as Sinclair's flask. With a little pressure Duke extracted the fact that Billy had a full bottle of gin in his bag.

'This fellow has been very gracious to us,' said Duke. 'We should try to be even more gracious in return. I think you should leave the full bottle.'

'Why not just refill the half from my bottle?' suggested Billy. 'There's going to come a moment of crisis on that train' (Stray and Duke were going back to London with Sinclair on the train) at about three o'clock in the morning when I'm going to need that gin.'

'No,' insisted Duke. 'We must be more gracious than he. The gracious thing to do is to leave the full bottle.' (Duke doesn't drink these days).

'Edward, you're being gracious as all hell with MY gin.' Stray jammed his hands in the pockets of his collarless George Melly-type corduroy suit and looked disconsolate. Harry Carney, who was going back on the coach and stood no chance with the gin either way, roared with laughter.

With Duke absorbed in his dressing, Billy cautiously refilled the half bottle and slipped his own bottle back into his bag.

We reached the Adelphi Hotel at eleven o'clock, and with customary British Railways grace (the hotel belonged to BR) the headwaiter refused to serve us. 'I have to have my staff in by seven in the morning, and I'm not keeping them back now for you.' In a second-class hotel they would have probably had the bouncer throw us out.

Duke walked past as though he didn't know that the headwaiter was there (he probably didn't) and sat down at a table. Eventually a waiter arrived and Duke ordered soup, bacon and eggs 'with the eggs cooked easy', toast and 'as many kinds of jam as you've got.'

'Give me my Ugly pill,' he said to Strayhorn, abandoning yet another tissue. Strayhorn produced two pills, one a murky white large enough to choke a big horse, the other (the Ugly pill) smaller and bright emerald green.

Duke explained when I asked him that he had to take them to get any kind of relief from his cold, which was a really remarkable one. 'They put me in an ugly mood, and I get rude, very rude, to people I have no right to be rude to. I get very nasty, and really I shouldn't. I get very ugly.'

'Come now Edward, you're not the monster you would have everyone believe you are,' said Billy.

'I'm not a monster,' retorted Duke. 'You're the monster. You're a monster among monsters.'

'I guess I must be a monster,' Billy agreed, 'because the king monster says I am.'

Edward poked into the two plates of jam in front of him - one blackcurrant and one strawberry. He stopped a passing waitress: 'What other kinds of jam have you got? And bring me more milk and grapefruit juice.' She looked at him as though he was mad, but came back with raspberry jam, milk and grapefruit juice.

Billy surveyed the remains of Duke's snack. 'The inside of your stomach will be like Chicago on St. Valentine's Day. Your germs will be tightening their hold.'

'It couldn't be much tighter. These germs have got inside my lovely, lovely body and they reckon on staying there forever. They must like my piano playing.' Duke collected a huge supply of paper napkins, and I drove them to Lime Street Station. 'You should be wearing a coat,' Duke said to me at the station.

I left them in the frozen station to face what transpired to be a night in a train without heat - too cold to stay in their sleepers, in fact. Three days later I had one of the most aggressive colds I have yet encountered. I took consolation in the thought that it had probably originally belonged to Little Eddie.I think I could do with some of those Ugly pills.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal in June 1980.
added 2011-08-03

Rex Stewart told me one night of the loss of one of his compositions that later became an 'Ellington' classic. The Ellington band on a train was a cruel and unrelenting casino by all accounts (I once saw Harold Ashby blanch when Johnny tried to explain the intricacies of 'Chuck-a-Luck', what he described as `the old Chinese game' that the band used at that time to move its money around).

Rex was in a school with Duke on a train journey when Duke cleaned him out. Duke didn't want Rex to quit the game and offered to play him for anything. Rex put the composer rights of one of his compositions on the line (Rex and I were giving it one in the small hours at the time of this conversation and I can't recall the title, but I suppose it must have been Subtle Slough/Just Squeeze Me). Rex lost and it became an Ellington composition.

Stewart's composing abilities have never been properly recognised. Just listen to Poor Bubber or Menelik, The Lion of Judah for examples of the inspired originality of that great musician.

Whilst we're dealing with composers, Peter Clayton, in a fascinating interview with Sir Charles Thompson, drew attention to the fact that Robbin's Nest is listed as `Composer Unknown' on Vogue VJD 527, the classic Buck Clayton All Stars album. Peter speculated that Buck would surely have known the composer's name (Sir Charles, of course). Confirmation of the fact that Buck didn't superintend the original French album details comes with the fact that Buck's Swinging At The Copper Rail appears as Swinging at the Camarillo and with Buck's Outer Drive is also `Composer Unknown'. From a royalties point of view, it's nice to see that they do credit Ma Rainey (cheque to Gertrude Pridgett, please) with See See Rider.

Yah-Yah Not Wah-Wah

Paul Quinichette was/is a great tenor player and his playing on the Basie Clef sessions, the Mercury jam sessions and that superb two-tenor set with Charlie Rouse (Parlophone PMC 1090) confirms the fact. When The Blues Come On from the Parlophone album is a jazz classic and someone should get Peter to play it on Jazz Record Requests.

Despite enthusiastic support from Stanley Dance for his playing the fact that Paul had such a strong Lester Young influence in his work seems to have caused him to be dismissed as a mere copyist. Can anyone help with where he is and what he's doing?

We asked the same question about Lawrence Brown, and my old drinking apprentice Jack McNamara of `The Manchester Evening News' has come up with the answer. On a visit to Los Angeles he managed to trace Lawrence through Ruth Stewart and looked him up. Happily, Lawrence is in good health and revelling in his retirement - we hope it will be very long and very happy.

Barney Bigard's playing has been sporadic to say the least over the last few years and from Ruth Stewart comes the news that the most effective of all jazz clarinettists has not been in the best of health lately. I'm sure all our readers will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.

Tricky Sam Nanton has always fascinated me. A colleague of Barney's and Lawrence's, he was a special friend of Harry Carney's and I used to home in on Harry each time we met to discover more about one of the major jazz soloists about whom least was known.

`He was devoted to Duke and would never work for anyone else,' Harry once told me. `He just couldn't relax if Duke wasn't there to take charge. I nearly got him to record away from the band once though, when Ed Hall had a session for Blue Note and he wanted to use Tricky and me with him as the front line. Everything was set and the studio booked, but then Tricky backed off and we got Benny Morton instead.' (That wonderful session by the Ed Hall Swingtet produced It's Been So Long, Steaming and Beaming, Big City Blues and I Can't Believe, none of which have yet appeared on LP).

However, I did manage to track down a couple of sessions that Sam made away from the Ellington band whilst he worked for Duke. Nanton joined Duke in the summer of 1926 and in the November of that year he recorded three sessions with The New Orleans Blue Five and Thomas Morris and His Seven Hot Babies. These were like second division Hot Fives and Sevens and are well worth having (they are included on `Thomas Morris' - French RCA FPMI 7049). Bob Fuller and Ernest Elliot (remember them with Bessie?) are on clarinets and there is some fine guitar from Buddy Christian. Morris himself was an exceptional player, slightly reminiscent of George Mitchell and his work here and on Fountain FJ-113 where he is teamed with Bechet and Clarence Williams amongst others is much to be prized. Tricky is on seven tracks of the RCA, and it is interesting to hear the `growl' style quite well developed. He had been working with Bubber Miley for some five months and one speculates whether Bubber had had a rapid influence or whether Tricky had used the style before he joined Duke. He had one of the most pungent, declamatory styles in jazz, despite the ridiculously limited range of the fully-fledged double mute style.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal in May 1982.
added 2011-08-03

Sweet and Sourpea
On the few brief occasions I was fortunate enough to meet Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, I was invariably impressed by their courtesy, dignity and friendliness. I doubt that I shall ever meet such fine people again nor in the age of disenchantment have such a profound memory etched on my mind.

I have complained before of posthumous character assassination and I am about to complain again. On a previous occasion when I protested at being told that Bessie Smith was a lesbian (I have yet to see nor do I wish to see any scrap of evidence to support this theory) I was raged at for being a Victorian prude. Perhaps if I had been screaming "kill the pigs!" or waving a banner in support of unemployed one-parent black lesbian mothers in the Lower Yangtse Basin, I could have been one of the good guys.

You will understand my rage then, at reading the chapter on Swee'pea in Don George's book `The Real Duke Ellington' (Robson Books). It begins `Homosexuality was as normal for Sweetpea (sic) as any other area of life, heterosexuality or whatever, was for anybody else.' and says later 'Sweetpea (sic) never worked the neighbourhoods, never cruised. Most homosexuals I've known cruise. If they don't cruise, they keep their eyes open for someone to make it with. Sweetpea wasn't like that. Sweetpea was faithful, sincere with his friend.'

I suppose the letters will now pour in accusing me of having known all along that Strayhorn was, well, whatever word they like to use - always supposing that indeed he was! This Victorian prude insists that he didn't and doesn't want to know, and Mr George's perhaps accidentally sensational opening sentence seems extremely cruel to a very nice man who also happened to be a genius.

If he is to be believed, Mr. George spent a lots of nights from the forties on in the company of Duke Ellington, frequently organising ladies for Duke and frequently, according to Mr George, joining him in his pleasures.

Being such a gifted, prominent and attractive man, it was inevitable that someone like Duke should have had a lot of hangers on (I always loved the assertion from some New York musicians that `every time Duke wanted a pee Stanley Dance was there to unzip his fly for him'). Mr. George seems to have done his hanging well, but his collection of anecdotes is not kind to some of those involved. Additionally we only hear Mr. George's side, and I wonder how Ellington and Strayhorn, in whose reflected glory he so avariciously basks, would feel if they could read the book. I have the feeling that we shall remember them after Mr. George has long gone away.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Whit Sunday, 1966
Published in
Jazz Journal December 1979.
added 2011-08-03

I found a tape the other day that recalled Whit Sunday, 1966, one of the happiest days of my life. That morning Humphrey Lyttelton collected Buck Clayton and me from our London hotel and drove us to the Oxford Union where two Jazz 625 programmes were to be recorded. When we arrived I saw Rex Stewart looking wistfully at a poster in a glass case advertising the show ‘Earl Hines, Buck Clayton, Rex Stewart, Bud Freeman, the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, the Alex Welsh band.’ I opened the case, took down the poster, rolled it up and gave it to Rex. From that moment we were friends and wrote regularly until his death 18 months later.

The show, with Humph as master of ceremonies, went well except that the be-catted Earl Hines hogged it (it was Humph who pointed out that Earl’s hairpiece looked like a cat curled up on his head). Rex’s feature in the first show lasted three minutes, Bud Freeman’s almost four, and Earl’s eleven. It was the same in the second show except that Hines,in Ken Dodd mode, took nine minutes. The concert began to overrun alarmingly. Not important, you might think. But it was to Humph and me. He was presenting the jazz programme live on BBC radio that night and I was taking part in it as a reviewer.

We worked out that, if Earl didn’t go beserk and stuck, like everyone else, to the agreed two choruses each on the final St. Louis Blues, then we should, if Humph drove fast, make it back to London with minutes to spare. Earl duly went beserk and the tune rolled on and on with chorus after chorus of piano. It was then that I saw the Humphrey Lyttelton that Sylvester Stallone modelled himself on. Enraged, Humph told the producer of the television show that we’d have to leave him to it without Humph winding up the show. The Hines Juggernaut eventually slowed and Bud (who had played beautifully all day), Rex and Buck docilely took their two choruses apiece and the Lyttelton Volvo was launched to rocket across the quiet roads of Oxfordshire. I remember feeling detached, since I was to be in the final part of the programme. But the pressure was really on Humph and we arrived in the studio with a handful of minutes to spare. So few that Humph was still breathing heavily when he went on air.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Published in Jazz Journal December 1985.
added 2011-08-03

More sad news, but in a back-handed way. Buck Clayton writes in late October 1985 `No one in the jazz scene has died since I wrote you last. I guess we're having a cooling off period but it's about time as for a while there it seemed that every week somebody passed. I think Sam Woodyard was the last I heard of, or perhaps Ed Lewis (Ed Lewis had been found floating down the Hudson with his face bashed in – SV) who was Basie’s first trumpeter for years ...'.

That is sad news. It's hard to decide if Sam or Sonny Greer was the greatest Ellington drummer. They were so different that they can't be evaluated against each other. But they undoubtedly played a vital part in the contemporary Ellington sound for many years.

Sam Woodyard was a great character, a man who I often saw but never met. One of his colleagues retold an incident from when the band played Antibes.

Sam had had a heavy night and when he awoke at what he assumed to be about three o'clock in the morning, he found that he had left the light on and that it was dazzling him. He put up with it for some time but couldn't get back to sleep so staggered across the room with his arm stretched out to turn it off.

But he kept on staggering, and it took some minutes before he fell over and came round enough to realise that he was under the fierce midday sun on the sandy beach where he had passed out the night before.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal in August 1985.
added 2011-08-02

In early 1947 Jack Teagarden took a blindfold test with Leonard Feather as the inquisitor. One of the records played was Duke's Lucky So And So featuring Rabbit, Hibbler and Lawrence Brown. My own experience of Teagarden in earlier years had amounted to a brief chat and a hearing of his appearance on Desert Island Discs. I had formed the opinion that he was not only incapable of but was terrified of saying an unkind word about anyone. It would be hard to imagine two musicians more likely to hold each other in higher regard than Big T and the Duke. Duke never got 'round to dealing with Jack in Music Is My Mistress but in 1947 Jack certainly laid it on the Duke.

He speaks: 'Here's one style that's caused all the bands to break up. Listen to the brass drowning out that trombone! Don't like the singer or anything else about this. I never did like anything Ellington ever did. He never had a band all in tune. It always had a bad tone quality and bad blend. I don't like Lawrence Brown either. I wouldn't pay 25 cents for this record. I'd just as soon listen to a hillbilly hand on a juke box.'

If I hadn't known that he believes that Duke will walk through the hallowed portals at the second Coming, I would have thought that Ruby Braff had depped for Jack at that blindfold test.

But how on earth can one reconcile Jack's opinion of Duke? Jack was a consummate musician who made all but Louis and Hawk and the Duke's men, give or take a Bechet or two, sound like amateurs, and he must have known the Duke's worth. There wasn't a trace of malice in Tea, quite the opposite, so how do we unravel this mystery? Has he been misquoted? Feather has a weakness for the melodramatic, but he wouldn't have distorted what the great man said. And. incidentally, he always chose the records for such occasions with imagination. Of Bill Harris on Woody's I Wonder Jack said 'He's not exactly my taste, but it's clean. it's right and it's clever. He's building something.'

As one who is convinced that, when the golden gates open for the Second Coming, Jack Teagarden, Bill Harris and the Duke will walk through arm in arm, I'll buy that. Incidentally, I think they'll have Buck, Doc Cheatham, Rex, Fats, Clifford and Miles to blow the fanfare.

It hurts to think that when they do I'll probably be shovelling coke alongside Dizzy in a place where there's sure as Hell no Bulgarian Red.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journalin February 1988.
added 2011-08-02

`This night thy soul shall be required of thee.' What a chilling way they had of putting things in those days. Well, my old turkey, let's hope that that night, when I become a gorilla-gram for God, is a long way the hell hence from here. But I find that as it approaches the passage of the years dulls one's sense of adventure and I retrench in my chosen listening to the men of the middle years - Ellington, Parker, Young, Getz and Davis. It was while indulging myself over Christmas and letting reviews, obituaries and column writing go hang while I listened for the hell of it, that I encountered Miles' Heavy Day. It was in the cold New York winter of 1951.

Miles had left the Charlie Parker Quintet some time before, and Charlie had been working under contract to Norman Granz for about a year. Norman recorded Charlie in many different settings until he finally decided to use him with his current sidemen Walter Bishop and Teddy Kotick, plus Miles and Max Roach from the old quintet. This was the session on Wednesday, January 17 which produced two takes each of Au Privave and She Rote along with the classic Star Eyes and a powerful and spontaneous K. C. Blues (all on Verve 2356 087). Later that day Miles had been booked for his first session under contract to Prestige. He used Benny Green, Sonny Rollins, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Roy Haynes in a session that was not one of his best. However, there is a fragile charm to the two takes of Blue Room (Prestige PR 7674), although the hard day was beginning to tell on Miles' chops. He rounded the day off by appearing as pianist on Sonny Rollins' first date as a leader, also for Prestige, when I'll Know (Esquire 32035), credited to Miles but actually based on Parker's Confirmation, was cut.

I wondered at such intense activity and flicked through the discographies to see what else had been happening. The result was a short but amazing period of concentrated jazz recording - would that it happened on the same scale now. Here is what I found, with catalogue numbers as they were or are available in the UK.

Two days before, on Monday, January 15, Norman Granz recorded what was, within days, to become the Johnny Hodges Band when Rabbit, Lawrence Brown and Sonny Greer left Duke. Four titles were includes these and subsequent Hodges titles mentioned). Granz was back in the studio the next day, January 16, for six titles with Lester Young, John Lewis, Gene Ramey and Jo Jones (Verve 2683 066; while over at Prestige Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Junior Mance and Gene Wright recorded several titles including Blue and Sentimental (Esquire 10-358). The Parker, Davis and Rollins sessions took place on the 17th and on that day Sarah Vaughan recorded Ave Maria!

That Saturday, January 21, saw the Ellington band in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in aid of the NAACP (DJM DJD 28035). As we have seen, Hodges was already recording his new band, but he, Brown and Greer were still with Duke at the Metropolitan where A Tone Parallel To Harlem received its premier and Johnny and Lawrence made typical contributions in Ring Dem Bells and Rose Of The Rio Grande. After they left the band Britt Woodman came in on trombone and then the Great James raid took place and Duke took Willie Smith, Juan Tizol and Louis Bellson from the Harry James band. It is not recorded what James had to say about this. However, in the few weeks up to the Ellington Coronets' recording (Vogue VJD 525) and the Fancy Dan /Hawk Talks session (CBS 88128) in May, the Ellington band style underwent one of its greatest ever upheavals, retaining the old characteristics where necessary, but wiping the floor with any opposition in a new big band style powered by Bellson.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Berry's Axe (or Berry the Hatchet)
Published in Jazz Journal January 1980.
added 2011-08-03

The nomenclature of the various brass instruments has probably caused more implacable mistrust between us and our brothers across the Atlantic than anything since the Boston Tea Party (were the Kennedys behind that, too?). In the United States what we call a tenor horn is an alto horn and what we call a BBb Bass is a tuba. The complexities of tubas versus sousaphones do not bear thinking about, and the mere mention of a peck horn is enough to make a British brassman switch at once to something more orthodox, like the cymbalom.

I ran into a fair example in conversation with Bill Berry when I asked him why he played the trumpet-cornet instead of the trumpet. To us the trumpet-cornet is larger than a cornet, smaller than a trumpet and with the look of a cornet in design. A cornet is the diminutive version that Louis used with the Hot Five and, incidentally, in the film `New Orleans'. When I asked Bill about his trumpet-cornet he said "I play just cornet. I haven't played trumpet in about five years now."

Accepting the American definition of what to us is the trumpet-cornet, I asked Bill why he preferred cornet. "Well, for a start it's more my size. If you notice a lot of smaller players use cornet. Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Warren Vache and so on. Thad Jones is the exception. When I was in the Ellington band Ray Nance used one. It makes no difference to your section work. I played first trumpet in a television show for years using that."

Bill played for Duke for three years. "A fantastic experience. It changed my life and my family's life for the better of course, and I'm deeply grateful to those people, Duke and his men." I asked Bill if it was true that the band library had consisted of bits of charts with the bulk of the missing parts left to the player's intuition.

"More than that! When I joined the band I had a library of music, it must have been six inches thick, none of it was titled, none of it was numbered and we didn't play any of it anyway! I know that sounds fantastic, but it's the truth, and you can ask anyone who was ever in there and they'll tell you. There wasn't any music. We were doing a record date one time and Duke tore off one stave of manuscript paper and gave us each a series of notes and then told us what to do with them rhythmically, and when he got through it was another Ellington piece. Amazing! Louis Bellson was telling me last night that Ray Nance (sat) in the section cooking toast and someone else was shaving - on stage and opening the show! But that was the way it went in that band, very much a family affair. Those people were really a bunch of characters. After I left the band I came back often as a dep because they couldn't just hire any trumpet player, they had to hire someone who knew the parts because there weren't any to read. When I first joined it was terrifying. One night I said to Cat Anderson `What do I play on the end of this?' and he said `Just grab a note that sounds wrong and hold on!'

"As you say, in the L.A. Big Band we have some of the musicians who I think are amongst the best jazz players in the world. It's a privilege to know guys like that, never mind have them work in your band. The band was originally the New York Big Band, but when I moved west it became the L.A. Big Band, and since then more than half the guys in the New York Band have moved out to L.A." (I have often spoken with disbelief to Nat Pierce about the kind of scene where you phone someone like Bill Perkins or Bob Cooper when you need a dep!).

"Of course they're all old friends. Cat Anderson helped me tremendously on the Duke's band, everyone loved Blue Mitchell of course, and Jack Sheldon was the other trumpet player on the TV show for all those years.”

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in Jazz Journal in December 1981.)
added 2011-08-03

After placing the Rabbit to one side, one of life’s more futile occupations is trying to decide who was the most effective of Duke Ellington’s soloists. Miley? Nanton? Bigard? Blanton? Webster? There is no doubt about who was the most underrated. Paul Gonsalves was one of the greatest tenor saxophonists to grace the scene from the fifties on. His unfailing friendliness and courtesy masked the tragic effect that heroin had on his life. But even in such harrowing circumstances there was room for comedy.

One of the side effects of heroin is that it makes you fall asleep at random and frequent intervals. Paul had developed a method of dealing with this on the stand by sitting with his cheeks slightly puffed out and dozing on the end of his mouthpiece. If you knew, you could tell when he was doing it. It worked well most of the time, but on one occasion at a concert in Chicago, his sleep was too deep. Bassist Jimmy Woode, who stood behind Paul when the band played, used to keep an eye on him.

Duke announced the concert version of Take The A Train, which consisted of long solos from the pianist, Ray Nance's violin and a final tenor solo from Paul. Paul slept deeply in the section, and as the violin solo began Jimmy nudged Paul in the back with his knee. “Paul, you’re on next!” Paul grunted.

”Hey Paul," bellowed Jimmy, "get ready!" No reaction. As the violin solo wove dangerously near its close, Jimmy jabbed Paul hard in the back. "Paul, you're on!"

Paul rose somnambulant from his chair and fumbled towards the mike. As he arrived there Ray Nance stepped back, his solo complete, and Paul woke up. The audience began applauding the violin solo. Paul opened his eyes, looked up at the applauding audience, bowed, went back to his seat and sat down.

... the Ellington band's 1966 concert at Liverpool University ... was also recorded. An enormous marble wall at the back of the stage helped produce good acoustics, and the concert was memorable also for the fact that the band had only three trumpets, Cootie being in hospital. Sinclair Traill persuaded Duke into a rare solo performance of Carolina Shout.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in Jazz Journal in July 1985.
added 2011-08-03

Cromwell knew what he was about when he gave Eddie Lambert charge of Oldham. Although Liverpool and Oldham are roughly at the same longitude, I am, I suppose in the current vernacular a street-wise Liverpudlian, whilst Eddie Lambert is very definitely your blunt northerner in the tradition of bullet head haircuts. Consequently it was right that the crescendo of his opening speech at the 1985 Duke Ellington conference came as he explained where to order your commemorative glassware for onward postage, with a rallentando in the direction of where to assemble for the coach to the Bronte country and a scherzo of apology to those who found their reallocated hotel to be in another county under a sign saying 'Ellington '85: You Can't Get There From Here'.

I jest; for in fact the conference was a masterpiece of imagination and organisation, and the brave organising committee kept its nerve in the face of overbearing obstacles. Not the least of which is in the basic fact that Oldham is a dreadful hole, ranking with Birmingham, London, and everywhere within 20 miles of Oldham as places to be avoided at all costs. You might have expected the locals to be embarrassed and apologetic, but not all. The hard faced publicity issued to everyone at the conference by the Greater Manchester Council made the area out to be like Disneyland with free admission. Oldam itself is a dirty slag of abandoned mills ('What's the difference between Oldham and Algeria? In Algeria the Moors come down from the hills ...').

However, once inside the comparatively elegant Birch Hall Hotel, one was in a remarkably friendly and cosmopolitan atmosphere, peopled by old acquaintances like Eddie, Roy Crimmins, John Chilton and Alan Cohen, and old names who one was delighted to meet for the first time; in my case these included Ken Rattenbury, Vic Bellerby, Peter Tanner, Jerry Valburn and many others.

If you got stuck for someone to talk to there were always people like Jimmy Hamilton, Bob Wilber and Willie Cook.

With his Cromwellian sense of justice and destiny, Eddie Lambert had obviously planned for months for a 'When did you last see your father?'-type confrontation between me and Jerry Valburn. This, Eddie immediately organised when I first arrived. I think he expected blood to be spilt. Realising that it must be something that I wrote, I asked Jerry what had given offence. 'You used Carl Hallstrom's name in the same paragraph as mine,' he complained. Careless of me, for the Swede of Doom could hardly have less in common (give or take a few of Jerry's albums) with the exuberant Valburn. In between devoting his enormous energy to the conference, he splashed some of it on me. Before long I had an invitation to write a Muggsy Spanier liner and another to visit his Long Island home to look at his eleven million feet of tape (look at, not listen to!). I found the trigger that set off his unstoppable fund of anecdotes and suddenly found myself in a world where it wasn't that Barney Bigard's solo was better on the Victor version than the Decca, but that the studio in such and such a street had brought the horns out much better than the vastly inferior studio used round the corner. I can tell you that when Duke Ellington stubbed a cigarette out, Valburn was there to note the make of the butt! A delightful man, and I quickly became used to the fact that he was accompanied by a fallen Irish priest who appeared to have recently had his beard torn off with some violence.

Eccentrics abounded and were specifically unleashed at the opening party night when the only music was that of the ear benders. Having been on the wagon for a couple of months, (I fell off later that night) I was being soberer than thou, but David Balfry and Eric Townley both wore the looks they keep for when they think I am about to say something particularly unkind to them (in fact Balfry vanished into the swirling mists that night and will still, if there is any justice, be being ravished by an Oldham harridan in her moorland hovel).

In the face of the erudition on display the only wise course was to keep quiet. Best to give Lambert a kicking when he's on his own and not surrounded by the high priests. Savour instead the fact that he told me that Teagarden never recorded an Ellington composition in his life, when I know that Jack made a whole album of Duke's tunes. But be generous. This was the big moment of Eddie's life, and he and his committee had worked hard and confidently to achieve what was such a successful jazz occasion that one even forgave Eddie for a closing speech that ran longer than the concert version of Black, Brown And Beige. I was disappointed, amongst all the congratulatory hugging of dank and sweaty bodies at the end that no one made mention of Tony Adkins, who quietly half killed himself racing to still howling mikes, move pianos and generally hold the moors steady. Eddie was out front being Field Marshal Montgomery.

We have known for a couple of decades now that Bob Wilber is an exceptional musician. The arrival of the soundtrack album of the 'Cotton Club' film showed him capable of a recreation of Duke's music that must have been the greatest ever. Consequently we went to Oldham with high hopes which were not disappointed. He unerringly went for the shaded corners of the beauty of Ellingtonia (who had ever thought to hear Love In My Heart or Tattooed Bride played again?). His instrumental work was simply astonishing and the fidelity of his Bigard and Hodges evocations were so close that I doubt that anyone in the world could have brought them about. It is awesome to think that such comprehensive achievement is only a part of the man's talents. Remember also that he is one of the finest arrangers of our time, and particularly that he loves a whole area of jazz usually passed over by contemporary writers. I must restrain myself from lauding him more, so as to let Eric have a go. But suffice it to say that his leadership of the small and big bands was perfection.

Some of the English musicians gave the performances of their lives, and Danny Moss was absolutely right when he told Roy Crimmins that it was Roy's Nanton character that had really put the authentic stamp on the music. Those of you who are still here will know that I have been a Crimmins admirer since he first appeared with the Galleon Jazz Band when I was a Wolf Cub. He sat firmly on his role as Lawrence Brown, Tizol and Nanton in the small group, and Bill only managed to sneak a tiny bit of vibrato from underneath on rare occasions. Rov was superb on all occasions. producing a splendid Pyramid and also spreading himself wide enough to be Floorshow on Squeeze Me. This was one of the best performances I have heard from him. and his Nantonesque braving across the big band should have frightened the hell out of the not very good trombonists in the section with him. When they soloed the music invariably fell on its face.

Likewise the big hand baritone was not up to the Carney role, but the big surprise was the barrel chesting of Danny Mass on baritone in the small group. This was a revelation. and he has one of the best tones on the horn I have heard. He produced a number of dazzling tenor solos and anyone who heard him must have wondered why we arc concerning oneself with American tenorists in the mainstream field when we have this major voice amongst us. Len Skeat, pianist Chris Holmes. and Bobby QT had perhaps the most difficult roles. but had them well m control.

I fell in love again when I saw Alice Babs. What a delightful woman she is, bubbling with talent, humour and a contagious love of life! And what a singer! If the conference had done nothing but bring her back from retirement it did so wonderfully, then it would have been judged a success. Herb Jeffries told a wonderful joke and loaned us an incredible larger than life personality. but also sang Satin Doll, Jump For Joy and a ballad called 'Oh, that old thing' which showed him to be even now one of the best of Duke's singers. unfortunately, when it came to expressing his emotions on the occasion he, like several of our friends from across the pond, found himself not in accord with our dour British reserve, still this was a small allowance to have to make in the face of what was, even though we kept stiff upper lips, an emotional charge for us all.

Jimmy Hamilton, normally not a man easily given to emotion, was much moved by the reception he was given. His birthday fell on the Saturday, and the organisers had created a cake big enough for everyone to have some (I had two pieces and it was delicious - I had to give my third piece to Jimmy, because he hadn't got one!). He played beautifully, with the slow theme from The Tatooed Bride a high spot matched by the soaring he and Alice did on Jeep's Blues the night before. "The harder I think the more difficult it becomes to envisage something nicer than Alice soaring. She would slay them at Nice. But then I'm biased because, as I said, I just fell in love again.

Incidentally. I was delighted in one number to see that the lady wasn't all soft sweetness - Herb Jeffries was about to embark on some more of what had already been a rather large share when a tiny unit moved across daintily but firm as hell and removed the mike from his grasp.

Unhappily I missed all the daytime events, but one man I would have liked to have heard was Bob Zieff, who presented an examination of the distinctive structure of some highly individual Ellington pieces (Flaming Sword and West Indian Dance amongst them). Roy Crimmins introduced me to him, and he turned out to be a fascinating man who had worked at a very high level as a jazz arranger in the States. He had for instance, produced a still unissued session with Bill Harris and Jack Nimitz with strings. To my chagrin, Crimmins was played a tape of this - I didn't find out about its existence till it was time to leave.

Willie Cook was enjoying himself, and played a fine role in the small group and later a beautiful All Heart with the big band (the transcriptions here were superb and I think were the work of Wilber, Alan Cohen and Walt Levinsky).

This was one of the most successful jazz projects I had ever attended outside of a festival. Remarkably. it was the work of many amateurs, and they must be deeply satisfied that they have established a tradition with this, the third event of its kind. The fourth will have to go some to approach this, and I look with interest to see if it will happen.

Those of us who took the benefit applaud those who did the hard work – Mike Hazeldine, Ray Ibbotson, Eddie Lambert, Jim Lowe, Elaine Norsworthy, Derek Webster. Oh yes, and Tony Adkins.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal in July 1982.
added 2011-08-03

Edward Kennedy Rides Again

Don Byas, yet another in the legions of unsung tenor men, was a physical fitness fanatic who used to spend hours lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean (wearing an aqualung) and was expert at karate. One night, whilst a band was on stage, we were alone in the artists' bar at the Free Trade Hall, both, as was our individual custom in those days, loaded. Don told me that even though he was half my size, he could throw me over the bar without hurting me. Loaded or not, a high degree of selfinterest has always been one of my most prominent characteristics, and I knew not to take the proffered hand.

Don wheedled, cajoled and tried to corner me and I was beginning to think that perhaps after all my destiny lay through and behind the mirror over the bar. My life passed swiftly but blearily before my eyes as the hand reached out as though in friendship. Suddenly Eddie Lambert came into the bar and with inspiration I said `Don, you haven't met Eddie Lambert, have you?' Eddie put out his mitt to shake hands and as the diminutive tenorist grasped it, I fled. I never could stand the sight of blood.

But Eddie survived, as readers will have noticed, and recently reviewed the first of French RCA's `Indispensable Duke Ellington' double albums.

We owe a debt formidable to Jean-Paul Guiter for the exemplary way in which he had compiled what I believe to be the finest re-issue catalogue in the world. The Jazz Tribune series in particular has been beautifully pressed, packaged and presented, and quite definitive in the representation of the artists' work. But I think Eddie has misunderstood Guiter's intentions with the newly-launched Ellington and Waller sets. Previously available in exhaustive collections with all alternate takes, the series are now appearing in sets of double albums containing only originally issued takes, thus performing a useful extrapolation for those who don't need all the different versions of apiece.

Eddie suggests that since the new set is to comprise 20 LPs, it represents little cut down from the original collection of 23. I believe in fact that the set will be cut to five doubles, and not ten as Eddie speculates. He probably still has double vision after being thrown over the bar.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal February 1985.
added 2011-08-03

The continuing saga of the revelation of the contents of the J.J. questionnaires is becoming more of a torment than the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. Each month the Editor Eddie Cook lifts another corner of his veil and announces a fact that will amaze you. He has discovered (December issue) that big bands are extremely popular with our readers and will take heed of this when adjusting the editorial balance. Since he is a life-long Bob Crosby fan who has never been too interested in the work of Duke Ellington this could be a double-edged sword. In fact I had the pleasure of giving him one of his first modern Duke Ellington albums but it didn't seem to catch on. As the old adage insists, life would be very boring if we all held the same opinions.

I read the editorial reference to the big bands at the beginning of Christmas and it set me wondering about my own favourite performances. The first one I recalled was Ellington's Half The Fun from Such Sweet Thunder. This is first class music from the fruitful middle years with U.S. Columbia. The whole suite shows Ellington's imagination at its most fertile, and since the music is played by the only solo team ever to come close to that of the 1941 band, it is not surprising that it is so eminently satisfying. Half The Fun has everything. It is designed to evoke a picture of Cleopatra floating down the Nile in her royal barge. The work opens with exotic time setting from Sam Woodyard. a man who has been undervalued persistently by writers, for he was, Sonny Greer apart, the most suitable drummer Ellington ever had (I remember one of the musicians telling me that when he left, the rest of the hand threatened to go on strike unless he was rehired, so indispensable had his playing become to them -it would be nice to have this validated by Stanley Dance).

The hand state the theme with thickly woven chords and the sinister, brooding section calls forth a responding phrase from the trombones before a swirling passage from the saxes heralds Johnny Hodges' solo entry. It is as good as his best, with that microscopically precise timing having a supernatural feel to it. Ellington's placing of his piano punctuations has the same instinctive feel and his contributions are intensely dramatic. Hodges' solo is the usual voluptuous, casual seeming affair, in fact as measured as Louis' on Knockin' A Jug, and as always as trenchant as the Magna Carta. The band swiftly changes mood even before Hodges' last note has subsided, into a delicate and complex theme that must surely be written by Strayhorn - elegant, unexpected and of great beauty. This is the sort of writing that must have influenced Gil Evans very strongly.

After a descending piano tremelo from Duke the clarinets restate the main theme which is then taken on by the hand with a hollow, ghostly echo from the trombones. The piece ends on a sumptuous held chord from the band finally diminishing to one trombone and is then capped by a deep and resonant single note from the leader.

I have avoided using the adverb, but use it now: this is perfect. To have been able to go home at the end of a day knowing that one had created this should have imparted a satisfaction that none of us will ever know. I have remarked before that there is at the very least something of interest in every single piece Duke ever wrote. Here we find his art at its highest intensity (as it was so often, for this is not necessarily a piece that stands out from the body of his great compositions). Every element you could wish for is here. Originality - the melodies are unique, and their idioms draw on European and African feelings. blended with pure Ellingtonia, and are thus jazz's finest malt. Even the `jungle' sound is used discreetly but vitally by the trombones and this is wholly appropriate to a performance that is so characteristically Ellington.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Briefer writings

Clark Terry won't give in
added 2011-08-03

Clark Terry should not have been at Nice this year. A few days before the festival he had undergone two major operations, and he was unable to lead on trumpet the potent One O'Clock Jumpers (Nat Pierce, Jimmy Owens, Buddy Tate, Billy Mitchell, George Masso, Eddie Jones and Oliver Jackson). However, he did manage to offer the most spectacular incident of the festival. Despite the fact that he had lost over a stone in weight as a result of the surgery, Clark insisted on singing with the band, and at one point while still in mid-vocal, trumpeter Jimmy Owens stood alongside Clark and Clark fingered a solo on the valves while Jimmy blew!

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Paul Gonsalves, tenor sax: Born July 12, 1920 Died May 14, 1974
added 2011-08-03

In March 1987 I wrote a piece in Jazz Journal about my old friend Peter Clayton and quoted him:

‘I have very fond memories of Paul Gonsalves. He was at a press conference for the Ellington band in Southport, and very drunk. Duke was tactfully trying to shut him up, but he got worse. I took him to his hotel room and I can remember sitting him on the edge of the bed and trying to sober him up with scalding hot coffee. He pointed to his tenor on a ledge in the room and said "I'm married to that piece of steel up there. That's my family." The coffee didn't really work and I went with him in a taxi to the theatre. During the ride I had the disturbing experience of having him weep on my shoulder over the then not very distant death of his friend Johnny Hodges. Being in such distraught shape, he played very badly that night, and I was furious when a small part of the audience laughed at him.’

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in
Jazz Journal in March 1980.
added 2011-08-02

Where Are Lawrence Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Hamilton? Great jazz musicians all, and it seems wasteful that they should be absent from the scene. It is true that Miles has not enjoyed the best of health in recent years, but both he and Monk seem to have become enveloped in total obscurity. Are they simply lurking to do a latter-day Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton when the time is ripe? One cannot believe that such creative minds have ceased to have musical thoughts any more.

Lawrence always thought that he richly deserved obscurity. He once confided to me that he wished that he could jam like the other musicians in the Ellington band - although the facts were that he was one of the most excitingly original players in the band. But his gloomy outlook was always similar to that of Marvin in `The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy'.

Jimmy won some kind of lottery many years ago and lie and his wife bought a hotel somewhere in the Caribbean. He still plays, and Clark Terry told me he had a hit record out there a year or so ago. Does he still play jazz? It would be interesting if readers would let me have their `Where are?' enquiries. You never know, we might find someone. Larry Adler does not apply.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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This interview was first published in Jazz Journal in two parts in December 1986 and January 1987
added 2011-07-25

Clark Terry, trumpet, flugelhorn: Born Dec. 14, 1920

CLARK TERRY talks to Steve Voce

For someone who must be amongst the most gregarious of jazz musicians, Clark Terry presents an untypically lone figure. For more than 30 years he has been acknowledged as one of the best craftsmen on his horns and has reached an eminence where the myriad of solo bookings he takes across the world each year are taken for granted, very much in the way that his seemingly infallible inspiration is. Promoters programme his name at Nice or Newport without thinking twice. You can stick Clark with anything and it will work, and not only that, whatever it is will reach new levels because of his presence.

Terry is a great teacher with a real interest in the past and present state of the horn, and his was a benign influence on most of the post-bop players. His fluency and tone production are immaculate and something for young musicians to try to emulate. All this mastery comes with an effervescent character and sense of humour that make him one of the musicians most popular with his fellows. Add his strong sense of integrity &Ndash; what you see is what you get &Ndash; and it begins to sound as though we have an exceptional man in our sights.

He seems to enjoy himself so much that his appears to be a life without problems, and it is true that today he is probably happier than at any stage of his life. But he has had his ups and downs likely anybody else: he was shattered by the long illness and subsequent early death of his wife. Then on one occasion he was driving home through New York when his car had a puncture. Clark tried to pull the hub cap off the wheel. The inside edge of the cap was razor sharp and sliced into all his fingertips. Apart from not being able to play for some time, the shock of this perhaps induced his diabetes, which began soon after &Ndash; a blow to one who had so manifestly enjoyed a taste; ever since he has been able to drink only a little red wine.

He loves big bands and ran one of his own for years with great artistic success, but he doesn't have the tough nature that band leading requires. He learned a never-to-be-forgotten lesson when he toured Europe at the head of a team of ex-Basie stars and discovered what it is like to be at the wrong end of a prima donna temperament.

This begins to sound like a sad story, but that cannot be in the case of a man who makes people happy just to look at him, a man who, ironically, is known to thousands as a great and humorous vocalist, rather than one of the greatest of all jazz trumpeters.

'In my hometown of St. Louis there were so many trumpet players, all the way back to Charlie Creath, the King Of The Cornet, Bruz Woods, Baby James, Levi Madison, Dewey Jackson, Mouse Randolph, Sleepy Tomlin. All were fantastic players, and us younger kids always had a bunch of these guys to look up to. Some we could ask questions of, but some we couldn't because in those days the older players thought that the younger players were trying to get in on their scene. You remember even Louis Armstrong back in those days used to keep the handkerchief over his fingers so that the cats couldn't steal his tricks. But fortunately that attitude is really the opposite of the situation today. Those of us who are involved in jazz education feel that it's a very important thing to impart knowledge to young people. Many of the things that are involved can't possibly be documented and if we go down with them so go down most of the secrets.

'Amongst the first recordings that I learned to solo from were Erskine Hawkins' Tuxedo Junction and No Soap. I was very much surprised to find out that the soloist was not Erskine Hawkins, but a trumpeter by the name of Dud Bascomb. He had a unique approach to chords and resolutions and the harmonic structure he used was very original. He would pick beautiful notes out of the chord that the average person wouldn't even think of settling on. He would play flatted fifths, flatted ninths even back then in the early forties. So I was listening to him, and I was trying to use Lester Young's type of articulation.

'I had a different concept of the way the trumpet should sound, and I played with a piece of felt over the horn. Perhaps my fluent technique came partly from the fact that I used to practice on the clarinet book when I was in the navy. The passages in the clarinet books seemed to be more legato and fluid &Ndash; the trumpet ones tended to be staccato. I just loved to get involved in the velocity part of phrases.

'As a result of this I became pretty versatile, so that people hired me to play certain roles. These may not have been roles that I would have chosen for myself, but I tried hard to do everything that was required of me. I suppose that if I had had the security and freedom I would have gotten into a different vein a little quicker. Once I got out of the big bands I was more relaxed and able to get into what eventually considered to be my thing. Most of the time in the old days the big band leaders would ask me to play something similar to the same solos each night so that alone would stymie you. That would put a stumbling block in the path of your ability to create.

'With regard to the so-called half valve thing, it's not true that I derived my style from Rex Stewart. One of my contemporaries mentioned that I derived the style from Rex Stewart and the half valve, which was untrue. I'd never even heard or seen Rex Stewart at this particular time and I never knew what he was doing. After I got into the Ellington band some of the guys in the band played this record where he was talking through the horn with Ivy Anderson singing, and I learned to do that little bit from the record, but it is completely wrong to suggest that I developed a style built around Rex's. Leonard Feather said that I played the half valve style. The only time my valves are half-valved when playing is when they don't come up, when they stick or something. I'm too busy trying to make as clear a note, as full a note or as beautiful a note, as meaningful a note or as colourful a note as I possibly can. I found that there were many other specific ways to create that sort of effect other than to half suppress a valve.

'I spent much of the early days in St. Louis with friends like Ernie Wilkins, although even then I used to travel a lot to out-of-town jobs. There was a pianist from East St. Louis, which is where Miles was raised up. I don't know his last name. Don't think any of us did, but we used to call him Duke. He was a fantastic player who was later killed while he was travelling to New York to start working there.

'One time I got a phone call in the middle of the night. "Hiya, Clark" I'd just been hanging out and I was kind of half-wasted and half sleepy and very annoyed because someone's calling me up between four and five o'clock in the morning. "This is Duke." "Duke? What you doing calling me up at this time? Call me up later in the day,'' I growled. 'What time?" he asked. “Any time after two or three o'clock." He said "Yeah, OK," and hung up. I'm angry and mumbling, "This jive turkey calling me up at this time of the morning, gobble, gobble, gobble." I'm doing my mumbles bit, you know. So I slept until about one or two o'clock and finally the phone rings. "Hello,this is Duke. You told me to call you," and the voice sounds a little different this time so I said "Duke who?" and he said "Duke Ellington. I called you earlier this morning and you told me to call you back this evening after you've had some rest." I said "Oooh yes, that's right!" I felt like crawling under the bed, even though he wasn't mad. I couldn't believe that I had talked like this to Duke Ellington and that he actually called me back. This was of course before I went in the hand permanently and he was calling to ask me to come into the band temporarily. To replace Frances Williams, I think it was.

'The other Duke I mentioned used to work with Miles Davis and Miles will probably recall his last name. Miles' teacher, Elwood Buchanan, was an old buddy of mine. We used to drink beer together in a couple of our favourite watering holes, and he used always to he telling me "Man, you've got to come over to school and hear this little cat Dewey Davis man, he's fantastic." Elwood taught me over in East St. Louis. So I went over one day and sure enough here was this little skinny cat about two inches wide all the way down and very, very shy and timid. When he played you could tell then that he was a very talented person. At this time he wanted to use vibrato and every time he would shake a note Buchanan would slap his wrist and I'm sure that this was one of the determining factors in the puritanical straight sound which Miles developed.

'On one particular occasion I was playing down at Carbondale, Southern Illinois with a pianist by the name of Benny Reid, who had one leg. We called him Dot And A Dash. We were playing this May Day celebration and Miles came down with his high school band from East St. Louis. He came up while I was playing with Benny and asked me to show him some things he wanted to do on the trumpet. "Man," I told him, "I don't want to talk about no trumpet!" I was looking at the little girls sashaying around, so Miles, very crestfallen, said "OK," and walked away.

'About six months later I went to our favourite jazz spot called the Elks Club, where Roy would come and hang out. There were about 90 stairs up to the place and when I was about half way up I heard this fantastic trumpet, very fast. "Wow!" I said, "That's a new horn, I never heard that one before." I ran up the rest of the stairs. Eddie Randall's band was playing and I ran up to the bandstand. This timid little skinny cat was playing and I said "Hey, man! Aren't you the guy . . .?" and he said "Yeah, I'm the cat you fluffed off at Carbondale." We laugh about that quite often now.

'It was through me that Count Basie acquired Ernie Wilkins. We were on Broadway at the Strand with the film Key Largo. I was talking to Basie one day while he was in the steam room. "Hey," he said, "I need an alto player and a trombone player." ''O. K,'' I said, "I'll get 'em for you," because up to that point I'd brought many people into the band and he'd never questioned my choice of any of them. Right away I'm thinking "alto player? I wonder if Ernie can play alto?" He was strictly a tenor player then but I figured he had a big enough sound, he read well and he's a good enough musician. So I called Ernie in St. Louis. "Hey Ernie! You wanna come and join Basie's band?" He said "Aw man, stop kidding me!" I said "Seriously. Can you get here in the next couple of days?" After some time I managed to convince him that I was serious. "And bring Jimmy," I told him. "Jimmy too!" (His brother Jimmy is a fine trombone player). So Ernie and Jimmy came to New York and the next morning I took them into the theatre and I said "Basie, these are your new alto and trombone players. Ernie Wilkins and his brother Jimmy. And in case Jimmy Mundy and the other arrangers get tied up, Ernie can write very well he can help them out.

'So Ernie came in with what we called a grey ghost, an old zinc plated alto saxophone that he had borrowed from somebody who had played saxophone in the church choir! It was held together by rubber bands. Anyway, just as I figured, he went to work right away and he had a good enough sound to sit there beside Marshall. The band was at its lowest ebb because it had just started, so Basie said to me "You say this cat can write?" I said "Yeah!" so he said "OK, we'll let him do something for this new singer we got." A kid named Joe Williams! So he let Ernie loose and the first thing he wrote was Every Day I Have the Blues and that particular tune with Joe Williams is what catapulted the band back into prominence. You know I shudder sometimes when I think about how all of this happened as a result of that big lie that I told Basie when I called up Ernie Wilkins who was working in a little place over in East St. Louis, Missouri, for 75 cents a night!

'Whenever he was ill Count used to call for me to lead the band. And if they would try someone else in front of it he would say "Hey, that's the man you get. Get my man Clark up there!" and that used to make me feel so good. But it never really materialised to anything on a permanent basis after Count had gone because of his adopted son. He and I never saw eye to eye. But I'm happy to see that they got a good man now in Frank Foster. Thad was great too, but they never did too many things with Thad because I think he really wanted to put his own type of band into the Basie band and I don't think that would have worked too well. He asked the guys to bring in sopranos and so forth. You couldn't blame Thad for that, but Frank has decided that he's going to write strictly in the Basie idiom and keep the band swinging and still play himself. I envy him, because I really miss my own big band.

'I ought to tell you how I came to join Duke Ellington. I was with Basie, and Duke had been scouting me and he sent a few people over to hear the band at the Brass Rail and the Capitol Lounge where we were playing in Chicago. He said "I can't just take a man out of my friend's band, so I'm going to put you on salary. Then you suddenly get ill and just go home, OK?" So I told Basie and I went home. Meanwhile I'm getting my salary from Duke and on November 11, 1951, Armistice Day, Duke's band came through, and I just happened to join the band. We were playing a big show that day with Sarah Vaughan, Nat Cole, Stumpy Patterson and Peg Leg Bates.

'When I left Basie's band he had just given me a raise. I was making $125 a week and Basie had given me a $15 raise. I'm making $140 and when I put my notice he took back the raise! I didn't tell Basie this story about going to Duke for years but when I did he said "I knew it, I knew it all the time!"

'There were so many guys in the Ellington band who were fantastic soloists and here I come, a little young upstart who nobody had heard of &Ndash; I was lucky to get a piece to play on like Perdido. I'm just one of the few people who soloed in the band that Duke only wrote one piece for. I think Juniflip for the flugel was the only thing he wrote for me from start to finish.

'When I first joined Ellington, the band was not really too cordial to any newcomer. Many times Duke wouldn't call a tune. He would suggest what he had in mind through an introduction which all the guys who had been there for some time would know. Here I am sitting in the section, which at this time consisted of Harold Baker, Cat Anderson, and Ray Nance. They were nice guys, I can't say that they wanted to freeze you out, but it was just customary for the band members to be that way to new people in the band. So I'd look over to see what they're playing. Then all of a sudden I found I had a friend up in the next row, Butter, so I would look up to Quentin Jackson. "Hey Butter," I'd say through the side of my mouth, "what are they playing?" "Oh, 156," he'd say. Then I'd flip, flip, flip through the book to where 156 was supposed to be. There's 155 and 157 but no 156 so I'd grow] to Butter "It's not here!" "Fake it, baby!" he said.

'The reason Duke didn't write anything specially to feature me was that he was very busy at that period writing all the suites. Another thing, we had a saying that as a new guy coming into the band you didn't dare put your laundry in until after about five or six years because you didn't know if you were going to be there permanently or not. Maybe after about 10 years he would have thought well, I'll write a few things for him.

`He did use me in the suites. In Such Sweet Thunder I had the role of the funster Puck where I had to create a voice effect with the cocked valve and say "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

`I did some writing for the band myself and you can hear my style in things like Jones. Duke gets half composer credit and Barney Bigard always claimed that he wrote Mood Indigo, but the main credit there goes to Duke too.

`He was very well known for that. For instance Cootie had as his warm up before a session the phrases that Duke later turned into Concerto For Cootie and Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me. Duke wrote down his warm up. But Cootie would never have made a tune out of that, so if it hadn't been for Duke there wouldn't have been the two or three very beautiful tunes that fitted right in there with the same set of chord changes. So Duke wasn't really a person who stole things, he used the ideas of his surroundings, which were the guys in his band, and they used to say that Ellington could play his band like an instrument. It's so true. Like he did with me in A Drum Is A Woman. He said "Hey, Sweetie, you're going to portray the role of Buddy Bolden." Obviously I'd never heard Buddy Bolden, but after about five or ten minutes of convincing me that I could do it I thought I was Buddy Bolden. "That's it!" he shouted. "You're Buddy Bolden!" He was very good at that. 1 would say it was very important that he took some of these ideas - perhaps even Barney would never have written down Mood Indigo, but Duke did it and of course with his harmonic structures - neither Cootie nor Barney had the expertise or the know-how to voice and compose and arrange like Duke did, so I think it was a beautiful idea. Now about Jones, it was customary always if a member of the band brought a tune in, Duke would say "OK, we'll play it." If he liked it he'd explain that, in order to record it, he would have to make himself half-composer. But what you didn't realise was that he was going to publish it too - he had his own publishing company. First of all, publishing-wise, half belongs to the publishing company, so he's already got half of it. Now he's half-writer of it as well so whack! There goes another bit, and he's got six bits and you got a quarter!

'I was with Duke for almost nine years. Many many people ask me why I left. It was almost like they thought I'd left heaven to go to hell or something, but people don't realise that a musician is constantly trying to better his financial condition. There were occasions when I went out on a gig for someone else and on just half of the gig I made as much as I would have done in two full weeks with Ellington. It's sad, but it's true.

`I left the band to join the show Free And Easy which Quincy Jones was putting together. We were due to go to Europe with Duke's band, so I went to him and said "Maestro, I don't particularly want to go this time." He said, "Oh, come on! You've got to go!" At that time my salary was $235 a week. I knew I had a deal with Quincy making about $200 a week more. I said "If you need me, just pay me $450 a week." He said "You drive a hard bargain, Sweetie!" "I can get you a guy for $200, Duke," I told him. So he said "Yeah, but he's not you!" We didn't discuss it any longer, but then he came back later and said "Well, I think you win. We'll give it to you." So I was on $450, but just for the European tour.

`When I was with Quincy at first I was the contractor, that is the guy who hires the musicians, but after a lot of politicking Jerome Richardson, who thought he should have had the job, finally got it. All of a sudden I wasn't being called, although I had called him for all the jobs. Same thing happened to me with another good friend of ours. There's an organisation in New York called Mark Brown Productions. Mark and I were very good friends. He needed a couple of guys to write for him and I got Jay Jay Johnson the gig. I had hired Jay Jay on contracts, you know. So Jay Jay got the gig with an office and a secretary, and all of a sudden he's hiring people and Mark comes to him and says "Where's Clark? I don't see him on any of the gigs," and Jay Jay says "I don't know, he's probably busy." So Mark calls me and asked if I had been busy on any of the dates. "No," I said. So then he passes the word down that for all the dates hereafter the first person to be called is Clark. If he's not available make the dates so that he is available.

`The studio work was drudgery to a degree, but we did have a chance to play lots of new and varied music and at the same time we were in a position to do all of the club things. There are many times when there was so much to do that you would start early in the morning and work straight through the day and work your show at the studio. Then if you did a jazz club like Bob Brookmeyer and I used to do the Half Note, we'd finish so late in the morning that we couldn't even go home. We'd have to stay in a hotel close to the next morning's gig. One of the old timers warned me when I first went into the studio: "This is referred to as `The House', but remember, Clark, a house is not a home!"

`Bob Brookmeyer and I got along beautifully and we still do. That band, which included Roger Kellaway, was the product of a sort of mutual admiration society, because I'd always loved Brookmeyer, and my first instrument had been valve trombone. He was a fan of mine so we had it automatically made because we both had great respect for each other. The merger of the flugelhorn and the valve trombone, two illegitimately scaled instruments, played by guys who had put a lot of time into them, seemed natural. It's like the fish horn, the soprano, it had the same difficulties. I first took to the flugelhorn in November, 1957. The horns made a beautiful marriage and Bob and I were good friends so the result was good, happy music. We were fortunate enough to get some good players in the rhythm section and we had some good tunes together. We had a nice `home' at the Half Note where we could go in any time and play as long as we wanted. There were three groups Zoot and Al, Jimmy Rushing and our group used to take turns playing there.

'Bob and I first met when he was on tour with Gerry Mulligan's Quartet and I was on the same tour with Ellington. We shared a dressing room together. Bob was very much in his cups in those days and Mulligan was married to a very strange lady. Then Bob and I were in the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band together just before we formed our own group.

`What was Gerry like to work for? Kinda different! He was very much of a perfectionist. He still is today. He brought a group on a cruise last year. They thought they'd just come on and play a couple of times a day, but he rehearsed them every day for a couple of hours and the guys didn't like it too much. He's a great player and a good writer. He writes some excellent tunes. But 1 think he's made a lot of enemies. Some of the guys who've worked with him are not too fond of him. I like him. He always has superb big bands.

`I've always loved big bands, and of course had my own for a long time. In that first one we had a lot of youngsters who were then on their way up, people like Randy Brecker, Lou Soloff and Lloyd Michaels, as well as veterans like Frank Wess, Ray Copeland, Chris Woods, Ernie Wilkins, Ernie Royal, Ron Carter and Grady Tate. I recorded the band under my own label and fortunately with a Japanese company ordering a couple of thousand and Big Bear in England using a lot more I almost broke even on that!

`As it is I'm very happy because Ursula and I are fortunate enough to enjoy the best of both worlds, Europe and America, and it's nice that way. We spend half the year in New York and half in Zurich. I was directly responsible for the return to manufacturing the flugelhorn. I used to tell Keith Ecker, who was technical adviser on brass at Selmer in Akron, Indiana, "I'd like some kind of horn with a more intimate sound." I used to put the felt hat over the bell of the trumpet to acquire the intimacy which I had always sought. "What about the old flugelhorns they used to use all those years ago?" Now there'd been a couple of guys who used them, Shorty Rogers and Miles Davis, but they both put trumpet mouthpieces in them and played very high because of the larger tubing. They were using them in that fashion and the horns weren't really good models or old models so Keith said "Let's just see what we can put together." We sat in this basement and got some tubing and put it together and tried different curvatures and tubing and so forth, and eventually we put together this horn right in his basement. The very first one that was made by Selmer was the one that I was playing.

`One of the first jobs I had after I had got it was a record date for Riverside. I used Thelonious Monk as a sideman, but when Monk died they brought the record out as by Monk with me as a sideman! I'd played with him on his Brilliant Corners album. It was always a challenge playing with him and I always loved his music. I feel that he was creative and as different from other musicians as Ellington was, although he didn't have the finesse nor was he as knowledgeable as Duke. I think Monk took much of his style from Ellington and he would like to a have been an accomplished pianist who could have articulated in the fashion of Ellington. Ellington was a great pianist, as you know - a lot of people are asleep on that. Monk wanted to play like that but because of his shortcomings he was thrown into another category which, although it was a strange type of playing, created something that was different. We love him for that.

`I was surprised when he agreed to do the gig with me. I thought he would probably say no, but he was happy to and he was very easy to work with. He had his moments, but he was a beautiful person and I loved him very much. I wrote most of the pieces for the session and when they reissued it some years later, they retitled one of my pieces.

`I had a brief foray with the electric trumpet. I was with the Selmer Company. I felt so bad about that because it was teaching young people to rely on a gimmick. But I was being paid to do it and what could I do? I still have the gadget at home in my garage. I look at it with contempt and spit on it occasionally. I made that one record with it, It's What's Happening.

`It's funny, you practise and practise all your life to try to become as near perfect as you can on the trumpet, try to articulate, manipulate and do everything to have the right sound and then you make one record of a stupid song where nobody knows what you're singing and it opens up all the doors that you thought would have been opened by practising legitimate trumpet.

`Brotherhood Of Man? Yes, I recorded it twice. It came from the show How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I did it once with Gary McFarland and the other time was with Gerry Mulligan's group. Both versions were at the same tempo and in E flat. They were pretty much at the same time, because that tune was very popular then.

`Gary McFarland was a fantastic talent. It was such a waste that he went out the way that he did. He was just a beautiful cat. He was in a bar with some friends and he did something very stupid. They were playing Russian Roulette with a poisonous drink. He swizzled it around with the other drinks, and he got the bullet. He was just that daring type of person, like Joe Maini in California doing the same with a gun, spun the chamber around, put the gun to his head and just happened to get the bullet.

`With Oliver Nelson I did that tribute to Louis on Winchester Cathedral and do you know, I haven't heard that thing to this day. I would love to have a copy of it. I was trying to pay tribute to Pops and in retrospect I think about how important that was because later on towards the end of Pops' career I had occasion to go by his house, to tell him that Harvard University wanted to offer him an honorary doctor's degree. He was still in good spirits, but his limbs were very frail and he was very thin - he'd lost lots of weight. It was about three and a half weeks before his total demise. He called me in and asked how I was. "I'm fine, Pops, aside from just the pleasure of coming by just to see you and be inspired and get my batteries charged again. I'm on a special mission because Harvard University wants to offer you an honorary doctor's degree." So he said "The hell with 'em, Daddy. Where were they 40 years ago when I needed them?"

`The last thing he said to me, he said "Yeah, Pops, you know you're my man!" He looked me up and down and he said "I love you, you're Pops' man and I gotta tell you one thing, you know. The people love trumpet playing, but you gotta sing more. People like to hear you sing." I took that as good advice and I try to include a little singing in every performance I do.'

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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This interview was first published in Jazz Journal in 1984.
added 2011-07-26

Phil Wilson is a very good friend of mine. Apart from being a virtuoso trombonist, he is a professor of music and a voice teacher. He has a deep interest in the antecedents of jazz and studied the speech patterns in the playing of various instrumentalists. We had a long conversation one night when he stayed with me in 1984 and in this extract from it he makes interesting observations about Tricky Sam Nanton, amongst others. -

'Benny probably has perfect pitch, but whether that's where the B G Ray comes from, I don't know. Did you ever hear the story about the band Benny took to Moscow? It had Phil Woods, Joe Newman, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis and guys like that. Benny was being a bit temperamental, and I guess he was coming onto these guys. They had a rehearsal without Benny on the day of the big Moscow concert. You know the end of Let's Dance, the opening theme? You know that last note? Well, by mutual agreement the guys in the band moved the last note over one quarter note! Benny, who had been going through a particularly bad period in his relations with the band, never did discover what went wrong, and it set the timing of the whole concert off.

'Duke's way of band leading went to the other extreme, of course. I liked everything about Ellington. I admired his philosophy of band leading which is to use the mood, the personality of the individual at that particular moment. It's as if he was saying – "Well, that's the way my band sounds today, because that's the way the music comes most naturally." You can't force it. You can hear the contrast on the Capitol Ellington '55 album where for some reason the band had rehearsed other people's arrangements and they sound awful. The arrangements themselves aren't bad, but it just sounds wrong for that band, and Duke was smart enough to know that. Duke as a piano player got colours out of the instrument that people never knew of before – the sounds of nature and what he heard, very much like Vic on the trombone and then of course Duke as a writer was unmatched, absolutely unmatched and comparable to Bach in his time.

Add to that the solo team that he'd put together over the years and the combination was unsurpassable. So many great moments. I remember doing a blindfold test once and they played me that long concert version of Black And Tan Fantasy which featured Tricky Sam Nanton more or less all the way through – I think there was a trumpet solo but otherwise it was a trombone feature.

It's surprising how blindfold listening concentrates the mind and how well you hear. My God, what a tour de force that was !

'No that style with the two mutes doesn't limit the range of the instrument. It's just a question of application and practice. We did some with Woody. You remember Wa Wa Blues? That was Joe Carroll's song and my arrangement. Joe was actually imitating Tricky on that one. I did a plunger solo.

'Talking of mutes, Dickie Wells was going to make me one like the one he made for Tommy Dorsey with the ice pick. Unfortunately he never did, which was a disappointment, I always wanted one of those. I love Dickie's playing – speech patterns again! Unfortunately he got beaten up very badly on the streets of New York a few years back and it was a very sad setback. I invited him to play with me in Boston at Sandy's, a very famous jazz club, with my big band for one night and with my small group for the next. I think he felt a bit out of it. He didn't know anybody and they didn't know him. He'd say a few words to me because he liked me and he liked my trombone playing and he remembered me from the Copper Rail in New York with Woody's band. The only reason that he'd left his house in New York was because Sandy sent a car there to bring him to Boston, 200 miles away. So he hadn't played for a while, but the second night, the second solo he played, his chops began to take hold and he played one of those beautiful blues that he can do with just the speech pattern.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 2009.)
added 2011-07-24

Louie Bellson, drummer, bandleader, composer: born Rock Falls, Illinois 6 July 1924; married 1952 Pearl Bailey (deceased) (two daughters), 1992 Francine Wright; died Los Angeles 14 February 2009.

Although he was with Duke for only a couple of years, Louie Bellson must be regarded as the last of the great Ellingtonians, for he had a lasting effect on the band. He replaced Sonny Greer, who had been the drummer in the Ellington band since it began in the Twenties, and he brought in a new and powerful style that brought Ellington’s music out of the almost classic style of the Forties into the new, more aggressive sounds of the Fifties.

Bellson’s long experience in guiding the bands of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman from the drum chair flowered into maturity with Ellington. His then unique device of using two pedal-operated bass drums gave the band a new power, and yet his playing was always tasteful. He had firm control of the bands and guided them with an amazing technique.

Were it not for the almost supernatural Buddy Rich, Bellson could have been considered to be the very greatest big band drummer. But where Rich was flashy, Bellson was more subtle and complemented the music of the bands in which he played; when Rich played, brilliant though he was, he tended to crowd out the other musicians. In addition, Bellson was perhaps the only man who could play a 15-minute drum solo and sustain the rapt attention of an audience throughout.

The list of the big bands for which Bellson played covered a wide range of the very best in jazz. He changed the character of each of them for the better, and as well as Ellington’s, they included the bands of Benny Goodman – whom he joined when he was 17 – Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, as well as the many fine bands that he later led himself.

As a boy, Bellson spent much of his time in his father’s music store in Moline, Illinois, where over the years he learned to play most of the instruments in stock. But it was the drums that attracted him most, and he was still in school when he developed the technique of using two bass drums at once, one for the left foot and one for the right. He had tap-danced at a local nightclub with the barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red and he thought that this helped him to play the two bass drums with such dexterity.

In 1940, when Bellson was 16, he won a nationwide drumming contest sponsored by Gene Krupa, an idol of swing fans. The Second World War caused a shortage of band musicians and as a result Bellson was swept straight from high school into the Ted Fio Rito band when it passed through Moline. From here, Benny Goodman hired him late in 1942. Three years in the Army interrupted his progress, but he returned to Goodman in 1946. Although not the most famous of his bands, the Goodman band of this time was to have a powerful effect on big band style.

Goodman was a perfectionist. “He taught me how to listen, how to play in a big band, and how to swing. He wanted the sections playing in tempo on their own,” Bellson said. “He needed them to keep time without relying on the rhythm section. We’d have to sit through the entire rehearsal until Benny added the bass, drums and piano.”

When work in the Goodman band dipped, he moved to Tommy Dorsey’s band. Goodman and Dorsey were both, in their separate ways, monsters. Goodman was mindlessly cruel, whereas Dorsey’s sadism was usually calculated. But even amongst such a great band of musicians Bellson’s talent was outstanding and Dorsey valued him highly. Bellson, a slight man, had a huge appetite. Dorsey would show him off to friends by taking him to a restaurant and ordering half a dozen T-bone steaks, which Bellson would swiftly devour.

In 1950, business slowed for Tommy Dorsey and Bellson joined the resurgent Harry James band. He became friends with Juan Tizol, a valve trombonist who had previously been with Duke Ellington.

“We would play before 3,000 at the Hollywood Palladium,” recalled Bellson, “but I remember some of those navy and air force bases where we played to 14 or 15 thousand people.”

Then, in 1951, came what became known as the “Great James Raid”. “The phone rang in Tizol’s flat,” Bellson remembered. “It was Duke and he asked Juan to rejoin the Ellington band and to bring Willie Smith, Harry’s alto-sax star, and me along with him.” This was to tear the heart out of James’s band, but he took it in good part and wished the musicians well.

On the face of it, things didn’t look good for Bellson. He was the only white musician in a black band – then a serious problem – and not only were there no band parts written for a drummer, but most of the music existed mainly because the musicians knew it by heart. Also, the band was about to embark on a tour of the Deep South. “We’re going to make you Haitian,” said Ellington, and that was how Bellson was described to avoid trouble.

Bellson brought an original composition with him that became a permanent part of the Ellington repertoire and took the band’s big band sound into a new dimension. “Skin Deep”, a drum solo set in the band which covered two sides of a 78 record, became a huge hit. Soon after, Bellson wrote another seminal hit, “The Hawk Talks” (Hawk was Harry James’s nickname).

Whilst he had been with James, Tizol and his wife had often told Bellson stories of the singer Pearl Bailey and said that he should meet her. “When we were in Washington DC with the Ellington band this young lady came up and said, ‘Well, I’m Pearl,’ and I said ‘Well, I’m Louie.’ Four days later we got married in London.”

Bellson left Ellington early in 1953 to become Pearl Bailey’s musical director, although he returned to Duke on special occasions over the years. In 1954 he began a long association with Norman Granz, appearing in Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, sometimes in duet with Buddy Rich. Over the years, Granz teamed Bellson with Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of other luminaries.

The drummer joined Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey for a year in 1955 and made a Scandinavian tour with Count Basie’s band in 1962. That year, he also composed a jazz ballet called The Marriage Vows. He rejoined Ellington from 1965 to 1966 and then moved back to Harry James in 1966.

From 1967 he led his own big band based in North Hollywood and this included ex-Ellingtonians and many of the jazz stars from the Los Angeles studios. During the Seventies he also taught at jazz workshops in a variety of universities.

He was shattered when Pearl Bailey died in 1990, but picked himself up, and in 1991 met Francine Wright, a computer engineer, and they were married in September 1992. In 1993, Bellson travelled to New York where he assembled a potent big band of leading musicians to perform and record Duke Ellington’s seminal “Black, Brown and Beige” suite.

“There were ordinary nights when the music was very good,” said Bellson. “But there were others when you had to pinch yourself and ask if it was real. How do you explain that? You don’t. I had moments like that with Duke and Benny and also with Tommy Dorsey and with my dear late wife Pearl."

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(Mr. Berry's obituary appeared in The Independent in 2002.)
added 2011-08-03

William Richard “Bill” Berry, cornettist, band leader and music educator: born 14 September 1930; married (one son); died Los Angeles 13 October 2002.

Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw wrestled with the insuperable problems of employing black musicians in a white band when, at the end of the Thirties, they hired Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.

Duke Ellington was later to be the first to take on the similarly fraught reverse problem by bringing first Louie Bellson and then Bill Berry into his otherwise black band.

So it was no surprise when the cosmopolitan Berry employed ex-Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton soloists when he came to form his own big bands.

There is a powerful posse of great cornet players stretching back to Bix Beiderbecke in the Twenties. The others included Bobby Hackett, Ray Nance and Ruby Braff. “Stretching” is the right word, for they were all men of small physical stature, who took advantage of the cornet’s shorter length when compared with the trumpet.

Berry’s rugged touring career with some of the most demanding of the big bands gave him an accomplished technique on the instrument. Coupled to his imaginative improvisations this made him well regarded amongst brass players and he ranked highly in the styles of both Swing and Bebop. While Braff, Nance and Hackett, like Berry, played Mainstream, Berry was one of the few to use the instrument also as a Bebop player.

He claimed to have drawn his style from elements in those of all the leading trumpet players from Bunny Berigan to Miles Davis. It was perhaps because he took so little from each that his own playing sounded so fresh and original.

Berry’s father was a bass player in a touring dance band and Bill was born in Benton Harbour simply because that was where the band was working that week. It was the beginning of a life spent largely on the road. Given his first trumpet when he was 15 and the family was based in Cincinnati, he was soon good enough to join in 1947 the ‘territory’ band led by Don Strickland which toured continuously throughout the mid-West.

“All the bands had sleeper buses because they didn’t pay enough to afford hotels. We used to check in once a week on Mondays, just to take a bath.”

When the Korean War began in 1950 Berry volunteered for the US Army so that he could enlist in a service band. After his discharge four years later he enrolled at a Cincinnati music college, but soon transferred to Boston’s Berklee College where he studied under Herb Pomeroy, a trumpet player who also led the college big band. Berry was a voracious student and in 1957 progressed to his first “name” band, that of Woody Herman. More endless touring followed, with Berry’s favourite trombonist, Bill Harris, with him in the brass section for much of the time.

Berry’s ambition was to break into the New York scene and eventually he joined Maynard Ferguson’s Band in 1960 because Ferguson spent six months of each year playing there. This gave him the opportunity to play with other bands in the city and his reputation grew.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1961 he went to see the Duke Ellington band at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. After the show Berry was taken to Ellington’s dressing room and introduced to him.

“There were about a hundred people there, but I was gassed to be in the same room as Ellington.” As he left, Berry was grabbed by the arm by someone who turned out to be Ellington’s manager. He asked if Berry would leave on tour with the band. “Yeah,” said Berry, “I’ll leave town with you. How much money?” The question was never answered but Berry joined anyway.

“My time with Ellington changed my life in every respect, not only musically but socially, philosophically, everything. One of the reasons was that while the guys in Woody’s and Maynard’s bands were about the same age as me, these guys were 20 years older. They were 20 years older and 20 years hipper. Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, everybody took me under their wings and showed me how to live. It was marvellous.”

Berry became the “modern” trumpet soloist with the band and can be seen to good effect in the film Duke Ellington And His Orchestra (1962). He played on innumerable Ellington recordings during the period.

Finally leaving Ellington in 1964 Berry returned to New York and work in the studios. He played in the band for The Merv Griffin Show on television and ghosted the trumpet playing for Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film A Man Called Adam.

Studio work left him lots of free time during the evening and he became a founder member of the highly regarded Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, working with it from 1966 to 1968. Two years later Berry drew on his own vast experience to form the New York Big Band, which included colleagues from his Ellington and Herman days and some of the cream of New York’s finest jazz musicians. But his leadership was short lived because, when The Merv Griffin Show moved from New York to Los Angeles that year, Berry and many of the musicians went with it. It was little trouble to reform as Bill Berry and the L.A. Big Band and the leader found he had an even greater bank of jazz musicians from which to draw. Virtually every member of the band was a star jazz soloist, and Berry’s natural gravitation towards Ellington music was immeasurably helped by the presence of fellow Ellingtonians Cat Anderson, Buster Cooper and Britt Woodman at the corners of his brass section. His trumpets also included Jack Sheldon, Conte Candoli and Blue Mitchell and all that was just the tip of the iceberg as the finest musicians on the West Coast queued to join the band.

In what was to become a remarkably full life, Berry now began to tour abroad and, with the help of his wife Betty, began to organise workshops for young musicians and eventually in 1991 the celebrated International Jazz Party, an annual Los Angeles festival that featured musicians from across the world.

Berry toured Britain as a member of the Louie Bellson Big Band in 1980 and made several visits here where he worked with British musicians, a notable success being in a front line partnership with the Scots tenor player Jimmy Thomson.

Berry became a major name in Japan where he had toured with Benny Carter in the Eighties and Nineties and toured there often with the Monterey Jazz Festival High school All Stars, a group he had worked with since 1981 when he had been appointed musical director of the festival.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 1988)
added 2011-07-24

Lawrence Brown, trombonist: born Lawrence, Kansas 3 August 1907, died Los Angeles 6 September 1988.

WHEN Lawrence Brown joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1932, he changed not only Ellington's music, but the whole approach to jazz trombone playing.

Until his appearance only a few trombonists, like Jimmy Harrison, Jack Teagarden and Jay C. Higginbotham, had managed to break free from the circus type noises which had been accepted as the horns metier. These three had given the trombone a new eloquence and had dispensed with the very basic role developed for the instrument by the earlier New Orleans players like Kid Ory and Honore Dutrey.

Brown brought to the instrument another kind of eloquence, based on a sweetness and purity of tone which he introduced to jazz. Later, too, he became one of the best blues players on his instrument.

His arrival in the Ellington band started a controversy that is still discussed today. The audiences on Ellington's first English tour in the early Thirties were outraged when, as well as the popular "Rockin' in Rhythm and "Mood Indigo", Duke featured Lawrence in a lugubrious version of "Trees". In fact, this was one of the earliest examples of jazz ballad playing, but to the jazz fan of the time, it was "commercial" and not jazz.

Born in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1907, Brown, whose father was a minister, had a strict upbringing. He remained a temperate man, uninvolved and unaffected for 30 years by the boozing and gambling which was the Ellington band's modus vivendi. His nickname in the Ellington band was "Deacon".

"I never smoked, drank or gambled," he said, "but I didn't keep away from those who did. The bar is still the main place where I meet my friends. I have a Coke and buy them a whisky."

The Brown family moved to California in 1914, where Lawrence learned to play piano, violin, tuba and saxophone. He was eventually drawn to the trombone because few people seemed to play it and he tried to model his trombone sound on that of the cello. "It was my own idea," he said. "Why can't you play the melody on the trombone just as sweet as on the cello? I wanted a big, broad tone, not the raspy tone of tailgate."

A trombone solo Brown played on a 1926 broadcast from Pasadena was heard by the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and led to him playing in her Los Angeles temple. "After I began playing professionally," Lawrence said, "the musician I liked was Miff Mole. His work was very artistic and technical. To get the smoothness I wanted, I tried to round the tone too much, instead of keeping it thin. Mine, to my regret, has become too smooth."

Brown consistently denigrated his own playing all his life, although he was regarded as one of the greatest jazz trombonists by Tommy Dorsey and Bill Harris, both of whom he influenced strongly. When Lawrence was 19, he and his older brother Merrill, a fine pianist, both wanted to become professional musicians, but their father objected. Merrill gave up the idea, but Lawrence persisted.

His father gave him an ultimatum: "Either behave yourself and quit disgracing me, or get out!" Lawrence got out. His father was convinced that he would finish up in jail.

Brown was such a good player that, within two weeks of leaving home, he had a regular job playing at a dance hall in Los Angeles. Soon he moved to the band at Sebastian's Cotton Club, where Lionel Hampton was the drummer and Louis Armstrong the featured attraction. Armstrong's playing had a profound affect on the trombonist. "He was the only musician who ever influenced me. I think the two greatest influences in the music of this century were Armstrong for his melodic style and," he added controversially, "Paul Whiteman for making a complete change in band style away from the symphony and dance band."

Hampton and Brown remained at the club in the band backing Armstrong until Brown had an argument with Armstrong's manager , who had called a rehearsal on Easter Sunday. Lawrence always visited his parents on Sundays and, after a confrontation, left the band. Coincidentally, the Ellington band was in town and Ellington's manager Irving Mills, who had heard Brown playing "Trees" as a trombone feature in the club, asked him to join Duke. He did, and stayed for the next 19 years. Ellington's use of his individual musicians was brilliant, and he used Brown's legato sound as a major voice in the band. This was in contrast to that of the other strong character in the trombone section, Tricky Sam Nanton. Nanton used plunger mutes to produce the "jungle" sound, a vigorous style of trombone playing uniquely his. When Tricky died, Ellington sought successors to emulate him – Tyree Glenn and Quentin Jackson. Eventually, during the Sixties when Lawrence had rejoined the band, Duke demanded that Lawrence should use the mutes and play what had been Tricky's very rugged role in the band. Brown's playing depended on a precisely blown and delicate lip technique. Lawrence hated Duke for making him play in the Nanton style as well as his own and always maintained that, in doing so, he had destroyed his own trombone style by making unorthodox demands on his lip. Money was always a problem in the Ellington band. Duke paid the men on an individual basis, and there were jealousies over who was being paid more than his fellows. Johnny Hodges was ahead of the field and pretty avaricious. When, in 1951, Duke finally stood up to him and refused his demands, Johnny left, taking drummer Sonny Greer and Lawrence Brown with him to form his own small band. The Hodges band was very successful and Lawrence's bucketing blues solos matched the powerful solos of the leader for drive and swing. Brown stayed with the band until it broke up in 1955. Jobs in the recording studios of New York, although boring, were very well-paid and extremely hard to get. On leaving Hodges, Lawrence was lucky to take over trombonist Warren Covington's post in the studios of the Columbia Broadcasting System when Warren resigned. At first Lawrence loved the work, particularly since it meant that he could take jazz jobs in the evenings.

The musicians in the studios were of the highest calibre, but any individuality had to be ironed out. "There's a peculiar thing about studio musicians," said Lawrence. "They all sound alike. They're great musicians and any one can sit in another's chair and it doesn't change a thing at all. My sound was too individual, and I couldn't suppress it properly." Eventually the boredom persuaded him to resign. He worked in jazz clubs for some time until he received a call from Ellington, and went back into the band in 1960.

He remained a melancholy man, unconvinced of his talents as a jazz musician. "I can't play jazz like the other guys in the band," he told me. "All the others can improvise good solos without a second thought. I'm not a good improviser." He was totally wrong in this assessment, as innumerable jam session recordings prove.

He finally retired in 1970 with the typically morose remark: 'You have to realise that being popular is nowadays more important than producing anything of value."

During the Seventies, he worked in a business consultancy and took part in Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Before his final retirement, he took up a post with the Hollywood branch of the American musicians' union.

Several attempts were made to persuade him to take up the trombone again after he left Ellington

"When I finally left Duke," he said, "I called in to see my Auntie in Cleveland on my way back home to California. I left my trombone behind her rocking chair. As far as I know, it's still there. It can stay there."

Trombonist Lawrence Brown was one of the most amazing characters in jazz. Although he stayed with the Ellington band for many years, he would never speak to Duke about anything other than music. This was because Duke had seduced Lawrence's wife shortly after Lawrence's marriage in the 30s. The two had a fight at the end of the 60s when, according to Lawrence, Duke knocked some of Lawrence's teeth out and this was the reason he never played again.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 1997.)
added 2011-07-24

Johnny Coles, trumpeter: born Trenton, New Jersey, 3 July 1926, died Philadelphia, 21 December 1997

“Johnny moves by the moment,” said pianist Herbie Hancock. “He plays things with such sheer beauty that I wonder where it’s coming from.”

Johnny Coles would perhaps have been regarded as one of the jazz greats had he not been so close to Miles Davis in his sound and style. The similarities clouded the fact that his inventions were completely original and that he barely borrowed from Davis at all. He was basically a self-taught musician who developed his playing by working in a military band.

He joined a sextet called Slappy and his Swingsters when he was 19 and in 1948 joined the band led by the blues-singing alto player Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Although Vinson played the rhythm-and-blues so popular at the time, he was in fact a sophisticated modern jazz musician, and his band also included future giants of the music in pianist Red Garland and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.

Coles continued to work amidst a mixture of contemporary jazz and rhythm-and-blues during the first half of the Fifties when he played for the drummer Philly Jo Jones, singer-saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson and, from 1956 to 1958, tenor saxophonist James Moody.

He first came to the notice of jazz fans with his remarkable solos with the Gil Evans orchestras between 1958 and 1964. In retrospect this proved to be the ultimate setting for his work. When I interviewed him in 1973 he told me “Gil Evans’s composition was easy to read, but it was the interpretation of it which made the music. I remember once asking Gil how he wanted me to play something and he said ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re going to play it right anyhow.’ He left me a bit mystified, you know.”

The 1960 ‘Sunken Treasure’, one of the most haunting performances in all jazz, best illustrates the inspired perfection of the partnership. Evans’s composition provided an eerie seabed for Coles’s fastidious and plaintive improvisation. “We did it all in one take,” he told me with pride. The album, one of the most magical jazz collections, was called Out Of the Cool on the Impulse! label, and its six tracks brought out Coles’s most effective work on disc. Potent, too was his reappraisal in 1959 of Bix Beiderbecke’s ‘Davenport Blues’, where again his relaxed choice of notes was inspired by Evans’s imaginative setting.

When work with Evans became more sporadic in 1964 Coles joined the Charlie Mingus Workshop and appeared on some of the bassist’s recordings, creating music of great fire with the remarkable saxophonist Eric Dolphy.

In 1968 he became a member of the sextet newly formed by Herbie Hancock. Hancock had earlier given up leadership of his own band to become, for five years, the pianist in one of Miles Davis’s most influential quintets. Coles worked in Hancock’s new sextet for more than two years at the end of the Sixties.

“Herbie Hancock’s was the only group I played in that I got to work ahead of time. I’d warm up for at least a half-hour, ready to play. I had a ball with that band. I really couldn’t tell you in words how gratifying it was.” Coles left Hancock to join Ray Charles’s band. “A man must eat,” he reflected.

Both he and Miles Davis had the ability to express themselves powerfully using a minimal number of notes. It was wrong to punish Coles for having the Davis aura, for his improvisations were both creative and original.

Hancock lionised the veteran. But Duke Ellington took a more detached view of the trumpeter when Coles joined his orchestra in 1971. “I asked Duke’s son Mercer, and he said that Duke was considering writing something to feature me.” At the time of our conversation in 1973 Johnny Coles had been with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra for some years. It seemed odd to me then that Ellington was so remote from the musicians who worked for him that they had to deal with him formally through Mercer.

A few weeks ago the widow of the Ellington trumpeter Ray Nance seemed to confirm this distancing when she told me that her husband respected his leader so much that “Ray would never have questioned a decision of Duke’s, musical or otherwise.” (In contrast, I was once on a coach with the Count Basie band when his trumpeter Thad Jones reached over the back of his seat and, to great merriment all round, swiped the Count over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Nobody could ever have done that to Duke). Nance had been in the band for a quarter of a century.

“I’ll stay with Duke for a while, because it’ll give me a measure of prestige that I haven’t yet had.” Johnny Coles, who was with Ellington from 1970 to 1974, He gave the impression that, unusually amongst musicians, who normally deified Ellington, he considered working for Duke to be a routine job. “As far as Gil was concerned, Ellington was the biggest influence on his writing. I enjoy playing in both bands, but I had more freedom playing in Gil’s band,” he said. “

Coles found Ellington’s music too confining. “I like to play,” he said. This was a rueful reference to the fact that his solo work with Duke was confined at each concert to a fluent two-minute improvisation on ‘How High The Moon’ played on trumpet over a backing of sprightly Be-bop piano from Ellington. There was little or no orchestration involved.

“Some of Duke’s writing is sparse. Sometimes he might write twelve bars and leave it to the guys in the band to fill it up. He has musicians in the band who have been with him for many years and they just about know what he wants without him having to tell them. “ Coles was lonely because Ellington’s band was made up of cliques and he wasn’t accepted into any of them.

When Ellington died in 1974 Coles rejoined Ray Charles and in 1976 worked with drummer Art Blakey’s quintet.

Settled in San Francisco, he worked in the Count Basie “graveyard” band (Basie had died in 1984) in 1985 and had also been a member of “graveyard” bands devoted to the music of composers Charlie Mingus and Tadd Dameron.

His health declined during the Nineties and he moved to Philadelphia where he died after a long illness.

Coles had shown enormous talent as a trumpet player. He mentioned Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis as the line of players who had influenced him. He also acknowledged the fiery work of Freddie Hubbard.

“But I’m more of a melancholy player,” he said.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 1999.)
added 2011-07-24

Stanley Frank Dance, author, journalist, record producer: born Braintree 15 September 1910, married Helen Oakley (two sons, two daughters); died Rancho Bernardo, California, 23 February 1999.

It’s probably a testimony to their ability to write well and to communicate lucidly. Leonard Feather and Stanley Dance, both British writers, were able to move to the United States and rise to the top of the heap as experts on jazz, a completely American art. The textbooks say that Dance went to live in Connecticut in 1937. He found this suggestion offensive and in fact had stayed in England throughout the war. Total deafness in one ear precluded him from army service and he worked in his father’s business until, having inherited it, he sold it up and went to live in the United States in 1959.

His interest in jazz began when Dance was a pupil at Framlingham College from 1925 to 1928. The progressive jazz records that he heard in this period included the first made by the pianists Duke Ellington and Earl Hines. Dance was later to become very close to both men.

He wrote his first essays in the French magazine Jazz Hot in 1935 because “so much of what I read about jazz was so ill informed and so bad” and over the next two decades continued to write often for collectors’ magazines when his work in the tobacco industry allowed. Dance’s own tastes were set in the jazz playing, that at that time had no title, of black players and in the music that, when white musicians played it, became known as Swing (in practice both were the same).

Dance’s writings continued to appear copiously until his death. Over the years he was one of the most influential of authors who, through his friendship with Ellington, Hines, Count Basie and other musicians, became more involved with the music than any other non-instrumentalist was. His chronicles, well composed and lucid, made him one of the major jazz historians and he had a hand in shaping the direction taken by the music that he loved.

In 1970 Duke Ellington wrote “Stanley is well informed about my activities and those of my associates. He has been a part of our scene for a long time, maybe longer than he cares to remember. He and his wife Helen are the kind of people it is good to have in your corner, the kind of people you don’t mind knowing your secrets. In other words they are friends - and you don’t have to be careful with friends.”

Dance, working in the tobacco importing business, wrote his pieces in his spare time. “I didn’t like business, but I was fairly good at it.” He contributed a monthly column, “Lightly And Politely”, to Jazz Journal from 1948 to 1976. In it he used the royal “we”. As his fellow columnist I found this an irritating flaw in such a stylish writer and I tackled him about it on a couple of occasions. He explained only that it lubricated the flow of his prose. He continued to have articles published in the magazine until his death.

The so-called Bebop Revolution of the mid-Forties was perhaps not the cataclysmic change that critics like Dance made it out to be. It mostly concerned the speeding up of musical thought and the apparent changes in the music were not as radical as at first appeared. But they were more than enough for Dance, who pulled the blinds down at the appearance on the scene of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and as far as developments in the music were concerned kept them down ever after. Additionally, since the best players of the Twenties had been black, Dance believed that this would always be the case, and this further limited his views.

In 1957 the bandleader Johnny Dankworth created an incident when, appalled by the showmanship and general hysteriaof Lionel Hampton at a Royal Festival Hall concert he shouted from his seat in the audience “How about playing some jazz?” Dance’s support in Jazz Journal of the black Hampton gave him the chance in passing to clobber a white modernist.

“What we would like to know is whether Dankworth attended the (Stan) Kenton concert. If he did was he heard to bawl the same question? If not, why not? We sat through the Kenton concert indignant and incredulous without bawling once, because we knew that in the audience there were several hundred jackasses who had come long distances to hear the noise.” Kenton’s music had far more depth and cerebral activity than the direct and raw passion of Hampton’s and hindsight suggests that Dance’s assessment was diametrically wrong. However, a paragraph from him in the current edition of Jazz Times suggests that it hasn’t changed.

“I liked Stan Kenton personally, but invariably found his music too grandiose and heavy to swing. It was no surprise when he made a Wagner album. Teutonic ambitions having cost me friends and relatives in two world wars, I was doubly prejudiced against such contra-jazz ventures.”

Only Leonard Feather had ever made a living out of jazz journalism. Dance needed the financial cushion that he got from selling up the firm that he had inherited from his father when he decided to move to the United States in 1959 to be a full-time writer. The move was prompted also because his Canadian-born wife, Helen Oakley, a jazz authority and record producer in her own right, didn’t like the English climate. Oakley, who survives him, had organised concerts for Benny Goodman and had recorded small jazz groups, including some made up of Ellington musicians, from 1937 onwards. She and Dance married while she was in England with the OSS during the war.

In 1958 Sir Edward Lewis, the chairman of the Decca Record Company’ had sent Dance to New York to make a series of albums by outstanding jazz musicians who Dance felt had been under-recorded. It was not a coincidence that they were all black, for, although he never spoke of the matter or engaged in racial politics, Dance felt that black players made superior music to their white counterparts. On one occasion he wrote that Ruby Braff was the best of the white trumpet players. “Why did he have to say that I was white?” Braff wonders.

The Decca albums, issued on the Felsted label, became classics and with them Dance established a new jazz context that he called Mainstream. The categorisation caught on because it was useful. Dance defined it: “Primarily it is a reference term for the vast body of jazz that was at one time in some danger of losing its identity. Practically it is applied to the jazz idiom which developed between the heyday of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton on the one hand and that of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the other.”

Dance regarded Swing as the purlieu of white musicians like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. He thought that the term Swing didn’t cover the music of black musicians including Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins and Buck Clayton. It was for them that Dance coined the term Mainstream. The music and its roots were similar. The unspoken reverse discrimination on grounds of colour was hard to reconcile. Although Dance’s actions helped to bring them new prosperity the subjects of his new category were not impressed and some felt that he was being patronising. Later, when Dance travelled with Duke Ellington, closer to him than anyone else as he helped him with day-to-day matters and wrote continuously about the band’s activities, the trumpeter Buck Clayton said to me “Every time that Duke wanted a pee, Stanley was there to unzip his fly for him.”

In 1964, when Earl Hines’s career was at a low ebb, Dance persuaded some promoters to support three concerts by the pianist at New York’s Little Theatre. They were sensationally successful and as a result Hines, with Dance’s support, resumed his rightful place at the head of the jazz pantheon. “I always say I’m an amateur manager,” said Dance, but his guidance of Hines and Ellington was faultless. He was largely responsible for the surge of recordings by the two men, and contributed endless informed and enlightening notes to their albums. He had already won a Grammy Award in 1963 for his liner notes to the record set The Ellington Era.

His output of articles and books was breath taking in size. Already a contributor to “Down Beat”, “Metronome”, the “New York Herald Tribune” and “Saturday Review” he began to collect together his pieces in books such as The World of Duke Ellington (1970) The World of Swing (1974) The World of Earl Hines (1977) and The World of Count Basie (1980). He won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1979 for his book Duke Ellington in Person: an Intimate Memoir, on which he had collaborated with Ellington’s son Mercer. He had probably also been responsible for writing Duke Ellington’s biography Music Is My Mistress.

He wrote for the American Jazz Times from 1980 until his death, being in charge of the book review section. Many of the reviews were his own and because he was so well-informed and because his writing style remained so vivid it was not possible to detect any deterioration in his skills as he reached his great age. He was as eloquent as ever when he joined me for a BBC North radio programme last year. His love of his music and his insights into it shone through to show that he would also have been an excellent broadcaster, had he had time to turn his mind to it.

“When you get somebody like Stanley in your corner,” said Earl Hines, “you’re a very lucky fellow.”

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 1997.)
added 2011-07-24

Rolf Ericson, trumpeter, band leader: born Stockholm 29 August, 1922, died Stockholm, 16 June, 1997.

There are three European trumpeters who ranked with the classic great Americans – the Scot Jimmy Deuchar, the Yugoslavian Dusko Goykovich and the Swede Rolf Ericson. All could easily make their way in the home of jazz, and indeed Ericson did from the time he emigrated to New York in 1947.

Drawn to jazz at eleven when he heard Louis Armstrong play in Stockholm, Ericson turned professional in 1938 and during the Forties recorded with the eminent singers Valaida, who was also a trumpeter, and Alice Babs. Once in America Ericson was soon called on to play in the sections of the top name bands, including those of Stan Kenton, Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman. He also had radio work with Benny Carter and played with with Wardell Gray, Elliot Lawrence and Charlie Ventura.

By the time he returned to Sweden in 1950 he had established himself as an accomplished soloist and he toured in Scandiavia with Charlie Parker that year, as well as forming his own band with the eminent saxophonists Arne Domnerus and Lars Gullin. ‘It was a good group, and we had a ball, but the interest in jazz in Sweden was too limited, and I missed the United States.’ After a year he returned there. ‘It may be a rat race, but it’s where it’s happening.’ Although he worked in small groups with the saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Harold Land, he had to re-enter the sections of the big bands to make his living. This time he played with those of Charlie Spivak, Harry James, Les Brown, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and once again with Woody Herman. Ericson put together a quintet which included the notable bassist Scott LaFaro and other well-known names, but it wasn’t heard outside the Los Angeles area.

In 1953 he replaced trumpeter Shorty Rogers in the eminent Lighthouse All Stars band which played regularly at a club in Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles.

Ericson returned to tour in Sweden with his own American musicians in 1956. It was a fine group which included the baritone player Cecil Payne, drummer Art Taylor and pianist Duke Jordan, but it fell apart due to complications with the personnel.

Leaving Stan Kenton in 1959 he joined trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s lively big band for a year. In 1961 the drummer Buddy Rich was invited by President Kennedy to take a sextet on a tour of the Far East for the State Department and he chose Ericson on trumpet. At the end of the trip the band recorded in New York.

Returning home again in 1962 Ericson played with a rhythm section at the Golden Circle, a Stockholm night club, also working with the American tenorist Brew Moore in Copenhagen, where Moore lived. ‘Rolf is one of the best trumpet players I’ve worked with,’ said Moore, ‘and I’ve worked with a lot of them. He’s trying to do his own things and he doesn’t copy anybody.’

‘I like to be part of the whole thing in the States,’ Ericson said at the time. ‘There are a lot of good jazz musicians in Europe, but they don’t get together like they do in New York.’ As he spoke he had a ticket for the trip back to the United States in his pocket.

Back in New York he played with Benny Goodman and Gerry Mulligan and joined Charlie Mingus’s ten-piece band from 1962 to 1963.

In the meantime his girl friend became pregnant. Ericson had no money and approached Duke Ellington for a loan. ‘How much do you want?’ asked Ellington, opening his wallet. ‘I don’t know how or when I can pay you back,’ said Ericson. ‘Come into my band and work it off,’ said Ellington.

He joined Ellington’s band on 18 April 1963 and stayed for two years, concurrently working as the trumpeter in Rod Levitt’s distinguished octet in New York. The pay in the Ellington band was low (‘But you get the chance to play with me, Sweetie,’ Duke used to wheedle).

On one occasion the trumpeter Leo Ball had just come out of customs at Amsterdam Airport when he saw Ericson, an old friend of his, talking to someone outside. He rushed down the stairs and threw his arms around Ericson. The other man vanished swiftly. ‘Leo, I love you,’ said Ericson. ‘But I’m not glad to see you right now. I’ve been trying for a year to get next to Duke Ellington to ask him for a raise. I finally had him cornered, and because of you he got away!’

From 1965 to 1970 Ericson worked in the studios as a freelance musician in radio, television and in the Hollywood film studios before returning yet again to Sweden where he was able to form his own big band for a while.

Staying in Berlin for most of the Eighties, he made return visits to the States before settling permanently in Los Angeles. His life was disrupted when his German wife Evelyn, an accomplished vocalist, returned home to the States from a tour of Europe in the early Nineties. The American immigration authorities discovered that she didn’t have citizenship and she was refused permission to re-enter the country. She was sent back to Europe and Ericson had no alternative but to sell up everything he owned and follow her. They lived in Stockholm where Ericson’s health eventually deteriorated.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 2001.)
added 2011-07-24

Wendell L. Marshall, bassist and pianist: born St. Louis, Missouri 24 October 1920; married, three daughters; died St. Louis, Missouri 6 February 2001.

Wendell Marshall learned to play the bass from his cousin, Jimmie Blanton. Blanton had revolutionised jazz bass playing in the Forties and Blanton’s instinctive use of counterpoint and harmony led him to influence the whole of the music. He was virtually the first sophisticated bass player to swing by instinct (the little known Israel Crosby had also done it in the late thirties). Blanton played “lines” on the bass rather than simply keeping time and his adventurous improvisations came to dominate the band. He glowed brightly but briefly for he died from TB at 21. The fact that Blanton developed his innovations in the 1940 Duke Ellington band, one of the greatest bands of all time, assured him of eminence and jazz immortality.

Wendell Marshall inherited not only his cousin’s instrument, but also, more importantly, his big tone and ability to swing. Eventually he succeeded to the job in the Ellington band in 1948. His ability to second-guess Ellington made him vitally important and during his stay the Duke, a reluctant soloist in the form, recorded a dozen of his best piano trios.

Marshall was comparatively reticent, preferring to prop up the edifice rather than being the red-painted front door as Blanton had been. When he left Ellington he became one of the major players in the New York studios.

Raised in St. Louis, he left Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri to join the U.S. Army in 1943. He returned to St. Louis and played there on his discharge in 1946, making his first record around this time with the jazz violinist Stuff Smith. He moved to New York in 1948 and joined the band led by Duke’s son Mercer Ellington, but was swiftly purloined by the father for the major organisation.

At the time Marshall joined him in late 1948 Ellington had been much criticised in the press for the new directions that his band was taking. In the event as always he knew better than the critics and the last years of the Forties saw a radical and potent advance in his music. Marshall joined at the same time as the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, friend of Blanton’s in the 1940 band, returned. Marshall played in the band for the difficult period when the drummer Sonny Greer, an Ellingtonian since 1927, gave way to the lightly swinging and more creative modern outlook of Louie Bellson. Marshall was happy to be part of what became a revolution in the rhythm section. He played on Ellington’s multitudinous recordings that included various famous concerts given by the band and in 1952 appeared in the band’s Snader Telescriptions short, five-minute films done for juke boxes. Ellington rarely rested and the band toured continuously over the years. After seven years of the life Marshall decided to leave in 1955 and to settle in New York. He found work immediately as bassist in the house rhythm section with the Savoy record label. This jewel of a group was made up of Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar) and Kenny Clarke on drums and its backing for the various soloists who recorded for the label was both masterly and tasteful. In retrospect it was one of the major jazz groups of its time, rivalling the more eminent Modern Jazz Quartet, the Oscar Peterson Trio or the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In his first year away from Ellington Marshall recorded with Clark Terry, Carmen McRae, Mary Lou Williams and the now ex-Ellingtonians Louie Bellson and Lawrence Brown. He also recorded an album for RCA Victor with an orchestra led by Billy Byers on which Marshall was the featured soloist. The album with pianist Mary Lou Williams, called “A Keyboard History”, used his bass work prominently and for the first time on record showed the full range and ingenuity of his playing.

In 1956 he added work as the house bassist for the Prestige record c ompany and worked with a multitude of great names from the folk-blues singer Lonnie Johnson to the more progressive Coleman Hawkins, Oliver Nelson and Lucky Thompson. It was for Prestige that he recorded with the classic quintet led by Pee Wee Russell and Buck Clayton. Occasional returns to the Ellington orbit included later recordings with both Duke and Mercer as well as with Johnny Hodges. Whilst playing in the pit bands for Broadway shows over the next decade he recorded with more adventurous groups led by Art Blakey, Tal Farlow and Roland Kirk. He was also a member of the quintet led by Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1968 Marshall retired early and returned to St. Louis. He had been due later this month to be interviewed by the distinguished American writer Patricia Willard on behalf of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 1999.)
added 2011-07-24

(Mary Elizabeth Roché, singer: born Wilmington, Delaware, 9 January, 1920; - died Pleasantville, New Jersey, 16 February 1999.

If ever anyone was at the right place at the wrong time, then it was Betty Roché.

Despite the inspiration and sure-footed nature of his music, Duke Ellington’s taste in band singers proved controversial, and most of them only found grudging acceptance from jazz fans. But nobody argued over Betty Roché. She had a particularly clear diction, and her style was light and swinging, particularly suited to Ellington’s music of the Forties. Her recording of Ellington’s signature tune “Take The A Train” with the band in 1952 has remained one of the most famous of Ellington’s recordings. Despite it, Roché slipped through a crack in the floorboards.

Ivie Anderson had been the singer with the Ellington band throughout the Thirties. “Poor health” was the altruistic reason given for her leaving the band in 1942. But in fact she left to oversee the running of her Los Angeles restaurant “Ivie’s Chicken Shack”. Ellington replaced her with a trio of girl singers. One of them, Phyllis Smiley, left fairly quickly. Another, Joya Sherrill, had to leave the band at the end of the summer to go back to school. The third girl, Roché, stayed on.

Like so many future stars, Roché had started off by winning a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre when she was 17. This led eventually to her joining the Savoy Sultans, the resident band at the Savoy Ballroom, in 1941. Typifying the episodic nature of Roché’s career, the band broke up soon after she joined it. She made her first record on the band’s last recording session, a song called “At’s In There”. She also sang briefly for bands led by the tenor sax player Lester Young and trumpeter Hot Lips Page

She travelled to Hollywood with the Ellington band to make the film “Reveille With Beverly” in October, 1942. The film also featured Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie and Bob Crosby bands as well as Ellington’s. Roché was to sing “Take The A Train”. The A Train was a subway train that famously travelled through New York to Harlem. Roché ‘s lyrics said of the train “You’ll find it’s the quickest way to get to Harlem.” In a typical Hollywood generalisation the train in the film as she sang was shown racing across the open prairie.

The American musicians’ union (the AFM) had imposed a ban on recording that lasted throughout Roché’s period with Ellington and she was thus denied the fame that would undoubtedly have come to her had she featured on the band’s records..

In January 1943 Ellington ‘s became the first black band to give a concert at Carnegie Hall. That evening he gave the first performance of one of his most controversial compositions, his 45-minute “Black, Brown and Beige” suite. Roché sang the famous “Blues” section, with its pyramid-like construction of lyrics. This piece was designed to express the feelings of black life in the cities of America at the beginning of the century. The concert was recorded, but the results were not issued until 40 years later. By the time Ellington was able to record a studio version in 1944, Roché had left the band.

Roché’s attitude to working tended towards the feckless and she left Ellington during 1943, eventually joining the band led by pianist Earl Hines in 1944, with whom she also recorded. Again, she didn’t stay long, and left music altogether for a number of years, unexpectedly rejoining Ellington in 1951. In June 1952 she recorded the extended version of “Take The A Train” with the band, and this became so successful that Ellington repeated it in all his broadcasts of the time. It was to be the high point of her career, and when she left the band again in 1954 Ray Nance, a highly original trumpeter and singer with the band, continued to use the version of the song that Roché had created. The album that included Roché’s performance of the song is still a big seller to day, and it is this version, rather than the original solely instrumental version that most people remember.

Roché’s career remained erratic. She recorded an album for the Bethlehem label in 1956, predictably called “Take The A Train”, and another, “Singin’ And Swingin’” for Prestige in 1960. Her last album was done for Prestige the following year, and both the albums for the label remain in the current catalogue. Although she worked sporadically in clubs, she seemed to be half-hearted about her career, and eventually slipped into obscurity a few years later.

Ellington wrote of her in his biography “She had a soul inflection in a bop state of intrigue and every word was understandable despite the sophisticated hip and jive connotations.”

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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First published in Jazz Journal in 2010
added 2011-07-24

Rex William Stewart, Cornet: born February 22, 1907, died September 7, 1967, played with Ellington from 1934 to 1945

Duke Ellington held Rex Stewart in high regard. Reduced to a financial comparison, he was the second best paid of the sidemen after Johnny Hodges. In 1943 Duke paid Rex $160 a week. Taft Jordan was on $140 and Lawrence Brown earned $125. Sonny Greer, who Ellington seemed not to like in those later years, was on $120.

In his time with Ellington Rex was usually an inspired and unpredictable soloist who added powerful character to the music. His 1940 Morning Glory feature was a substantial jazz classic and his various interventions with his mutes threw a stimulating turbulence into the music.

A good example of this is in the Black Brown And Beige suite. Rex wasn’t on the studio recordings made for RCA and his place was taken by the still very effective Taft Jordan.

But on the series of weekly broadcasts by the Ellington band during 1945, sponsored the U S Treasury, Ellington frequently played extracts from the suite. Here Rex assumed the role that had probably been written for him and the music leaps to life in a way that it hadn’t done in the studio. The Victor recording was not highly regarded by the critics and, on the evidence of the Treasury Shows, it seems that Rex made all the difference.

The pungent use of mutes in the brass was of course a prime characteristic of Duke’s music. The greatest exponents included Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Rex, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson, Tricky Sam Nanton, Tyree Glenn and Quentin Jackson. Lawrence Brown claimed to have been forced to play the Nanton style trombone by Duke when there was no other specialist in the later band. He claimed that this ruined his embouchure.

Many of the trumpet players were particularly nasty towards one another. The amiable Bill Berry recalled his first night with the band and the notorious difficulties with missing bits of charts. He turned and asked Cootie a question about the piece that they were playing and Cootie snarled ‘F… you,’ out of the corner of his mouth. Cat Anderson recalled that when he first joined the band one night when Rex wasn’t there he took Rex’s role in Blue Skies. He played it an octave higher than Rex did. ‘When I ended up on a double C the people were applauding… As luck would have it Rex came in the stage door as I was blasting away. He didn’t speak to me for 15 years. He was highly strung, and so am I.’

Taft Jordan, a severely underrated jazz musician, although primarily influenced by Louis, was able to create a good imitation of Rex’s style and used it during his time with Duke. For some time they were both with the band and seem to have got on well. The Treasury shows contain their duet, Tooting Through The Roof, which is an explosion of great and dextrous brass fire.

Times were hard for the Ellington band in 1947 and Duke asked the men to take a pay cut. Taft (along with Wilbur de Paris) decided to leave.

‘When I left after almost four years I was so tired that I slept for almost a whole year. I’d had too much road. For a long time I actually slept two or three times a day, and not cat naps but for two or three hours. I hadn’t realised how tired I was when I was out there.’

Amongst themselves the trombonists seemed to have been a pretty amicable lot. For one so prolific amongst Ellington’s successes we know comparatively little about Tricky Sam Nanton. Intriguingly he was a freedom fighter before the term was invented. Rex Stewart came up with a good physical description.

‘Joe Nanton was a gingerbread-coloured man, kind of on the squatty side. His facial contours reminded me of a benevolent basset hound, with those big brown eyes that regarded the world so dolefully, framed in a long face with just a hint of dewlaps.

‘What a variety of sounds he evoked from his instrument! From the wail of a new-born baby to the raucous hoot of an owl, from the bloodcurdling scream of an enraged tiger to the eerie cooing of a mourning dove, Tricky had them all in his bag of tricks and he utilised them with thoughtful discretion and good taste.’

Tricky was at his best by the time of the Treasury broadcasts, contributing a couple of haunting versions of Black and Tan Fantasy. On one of them he was partnered by Rex and, oddly, this was the only time that Rex ever recorded the tune with Duke.

For those who don’t know them, I’d better say a little more about the Treasury series. Eddie Lambert writes well about them in his magnificent ‘Duke Ellington - A Listener’s Guide’ (Scarecrow Press). You should also read Rex Stewart’s ‘Jazz Masters of the Forties’ (MacMillan) for absorbing portraits of his fellow Ellingtonians.

As Lambert points out, the Treasury broadcasts became the single largest Ellington project of Duke’s career. They began in the spring of 1945 in the last months of World War II and were weekly broadcasts under the title of ‘Your Saturday Date With the Duke’. They were recorded at various locations into the following year and had as their raison d’être the government’s need to fund the war. The frequent appeals to the public to buy war bonds are a minor irritant throughout the transmissions, but if they hadn’t existed, neither would the music.

The master Ellington devotee Jerry Valburn eventually managed to collect all the broadcasts together, mainly from AFRS discs, and did a remarkable job of re-engineering them to produce a more than acceptable good sound quality. At first he issued all the broadcasts on 48 LPs, but now the process of bringing them out on double CD albums is well under way on Storyville, or indeed may have been completed by the time you read this. Lambert describes this Ellington series as ‘one of the most exciting ever produced.’

The specialised nature of the RCA recordings is relinquished of course and there is some dross amongst the popular songs of the day that are included. Generally the quality of the vocals (excluding those by Ray Nance, of course) is not up to that of the purely instrumentals. As with the titles so far referred to, there are a good many not recorded elsewhere, including a couple of features for Lawrence Brown.

Oddly I found one of the Treasury Show double albums for under eight quid on Amazon, but most of them seem to sell at £16.59. Add the carriage and it’s out of my price range. However if you want just one and can sort out the album that includes Broadcast 20 you’ll find that Black and Tan mentioned above, along with a cracking reworking of In A Jam (Rex, Tricky and Hodges rampant) and alsoThe Jeep Is Jumpin’, Mood Indigo, Indiana, Let The Zoomers Drool and the piano feature Tonk, which oddly appears as Pianistically Allied.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 2001.)
added 2011-07-24

Norris Turney, reed and woodwind player: born Wilmington, Ohio, 8 September 1921: died Dayton, Ohio, 17 January 2001.

“In November 1969 the Duke Ellington band was coming in from West Berlin into East Germany,” said Norris Turney. “I was just new in the band then, and I didn’t have a visa. One of the border guards looked at me and said ‘He can’t go in.’ So Duke got off the bus and walked very nonchalantly into the office. He had an album by the band with him and he gave it to the guy and they let me in. That was during the Cold War! The power of Duke Ellington!”

Turney was a unique jazz journeyman who played several instruments very well. He was the first and only man to play flute in the Ellington band, although he originally joined Ellington as a saxophonist, replacing the remarkable trombonist Benny Green and managing, incredibly, to play trombone parts on the alto sax. Ellington later used his alto to replace any gap, including amongst the trumpets, that appeared in the band. Turney stepped into Johnny Hodges’s place in the band for two weeks when the great alto player was ill.

“What you doing sitting up there?” asked Hodges when he returned. “Nothing man, just trying to hold a gig down for you,” said Turney. Turney played trumpet and trombone parts with the band before finally being called into the saxophone section as a full member in 1969.

The two men became friends. Turney had copied Hodges’s playing when he was a child and had dreamed of one day joining Ellington’s band. His alto style remained similar to Hodges.

One night in New York the Turney’s doorbell rang at half past three in the morning. His wife Marilee answered the door. It was Johnny Hodges’s wife Tootsie, who had been drinking heavily.

“You ain’t nothing,” she said to Norris Turney. “You can’t play like Johnny.”

“I threw her ass out of there,” reflected Marilee.

Happily the friendly relations between the couples weren't affected and when Hodges died in May 1970, Turney took over his role. He wrote a piece, “Chequered” Hat”, in tribute to Hodges, and it was one of the few pieces composed by one of his sidemen that Ellington played in concert and also recorded. Turney’s beautiful ballad style now blossomed and he became a fully-fledged Ellingtonian. His flute playing gave the band a new colour, although he was never quite able to step out of the shadow of Hodges on alto. With Ellington he travelled in Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Duke Ellington’s son Mercer recalled how Turney left the band in 1973. “We were into a period when Pop was very dissatisfied with the rhythm section. One night he was screaming at it during Norris’s solo and Norris protested about this in a way Pop felt was defying his authority. He needled Norris so much between numbers that Norris became furious, packed up his instruments and left the stage during a performance. So Ellington lost the only musician capable of succeeding Johnny Hodges.”

Turney had begun playing with lesser known bands at the end of the Thirties, eventually replacing Sonny Stitt in 1945, first in Tiny Bradshaw’s rhythm and blues band and then when Stitt left Billy Eckstine’s band. In the Eckstine band, where Charlie Parker worked as a sideman, Turney played with Art Blakey, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro, all pioneering Bebop musicians. Life on the road was rugged, and Turney went back to Ohio where he organised his own band for two years. Coincidentally he used Junior Raglin, an ex-Ellington bassist.

He returned to New York in 1950 for one dreadful year. “Just give me a job mopping up. I’ll do anything. I need a job,” he said to one club owner. In 1951 he moved to Philadelphia joining Elmer Snowden’s band for five years. He returned to New York in 1957 and he freelanced, living at one time only on his wife’s unemployment benefit.

“We went on like that for a few years but we did all right. Then in 1967 I joined Ray Charles for a year and I went with him to Australia and New Zealand. Things were steadily picking up.” In New York he worked with bands led by Clark Terry, Frank Foster and Duke Pearson.

After the break with Ellington Turney worked in Broadway shows for ten years. These included “Guys and Dolls”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Sophisticated Ladies”. “Sophisticated Ladies” was made up from Ellington’s music and it was in this band that he made friends with another ex-Ellingtonian, Joe Temperley. The two men worked together and finally rejoined the Duke Ellington “ghost” band led by Mercer Ellington after Duke’s death. His flute playing won him the Downbeat award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in 1971.

During the Eighties Turney returned to jazz, joining Panama Francis’s Savoy Sultans, Illinois Jacquet and then touring with George Wein’s Newport Festival All Stars. He was much in demand for concert tours and he recorded with leaders as diverse as Roy Eldridge, Paul Gonsalves and Randy Weston.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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This essay was first published in Jazz Journal in September 2010
added 2011-07-24

Charles Melvin (Cootie) Williams, trumpet: born July 24, 1911, died September 15, 1985

‘I don’t think Cootie Williams ever forgave Duke for hiring Rex. I believe Cootie’s jealousy of Rex is what caused him to leave the band.’ – Sonny Greer quoted by Steven Lasker.

When Cootie was 14 he joined the carnival band run by Lester Young’s family for a summer. ‘I got 50 cents a day and I ate with the family,’ he recalled. Later his pal Edmond Hall, taking up job with pianist Eagle Eye Shields in Jacksonville, managed to get Cootie into the band as well

Another friend of Cootie’s whilst the trumpeter was still with the Fletcher Henderson band, was Johnny Hodges. It was probably Hodges who, at the beginning of 1929, recommended the 17-year-old Cootie to Ellington who was looking for a replacement for Bubber Miley. Rarely throughout his career did Duke fire a musician. Miley was the first and Charlie Mingus probably the last. With his ‘jungle’ style Bubber was a key member and his frequent absences had ruined several important appearances by the band. Miley died from tuberculosis three years afterwards when he was 29.

‘When I joined the band,’ Cootie told Eric Townley, ‘Tricky Sam Nanton would be growling, playing the trombone with a plunger mute and I used to laugh. This was funny sounding music to me.’’

Ellington didn’t ask Cootie to adopt the muted style. Cootie, who was one of the main Armstrong disciples, had never heard Bubber live and it was only when he’d been with the band for six weeks or so that he decided to play a growl solo, delighting Duke and the other musicians. ‘Keep that in,’ said Duke. His brazen muted solos drove the band’s work for the next decade as he became a master of his craft. More direct than the sinuous Rex Stewart, a record paradoxically perhaps exemplifies his work, not with Duke, but with Lionel Hampton – the irresistible Ring Dem Bells. Not necessarily his best work, but certainly representative of it. Like the other muted trumpeters he was most effective in combination with the giant of the style, Tricky Sam Nanton, with the two reaching the ultimate with the 1931 Echoes Of The Jungle.

Williams was well established in the Ellington dynasty when he first led a band from within the band under his own name. The 1937 session produced at least one track that might be regarded as a masterpiece. Diga Diga Doo had fine solos from Tricky Sam, Hodges, Carney and Ellington as well as the trumpeter. The whole thing was set off and given extra character by Hodges’s soaring soprano, proving without doubt that the Rabbit was a Bechet disciple.

‘Everybody contributed compositions to the band on their own – Tizol, Hodges, Bigard, Carney and myself,’ said Cootie, ‘but Duke used to get all the credit for them. Sometimes we’d write a complete number and Duke would still get the credit and all the money. I did Echoes of Harlem and Concerto for Cootie and they were entirely mine, but Duke got his name on the label. I didn’t mind.’ Cootie pointed out that, since Ellington never wrote feature pieces for the instrument, each of the trumpeters had to write his own.

The arrangements for the Ellington small groups led by Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart and Cootie himself ‘were rehearsed beforehand and not made up in the studio.’ This is at variance with record producer Helen Dance’s assertion that ‘Very little was written on these dates...and the musicians would arrive at the studio almost totally unprepared.’ Listening to the polish of the bands, particularly on the Bigard tracks, one must doubt what Helen said.

Ellington helped Williams to negotiate a good salary when he joined Benny Goodman in November 1940 (the year of Concerto For Cootie and all the classics with the Blanton band). Cootie stayed for about a year.

‘That Goodman band! I loved it. It had a beat and there was something there that I wanted to play with. When it comes to music, I forget about the world. Everything else leaves me.

‘Benny is a great musician... He’s just Goodman. Not one way with this man and another with someone else, the same with everyone. I think I was happier in music that first year I was with him than I ever was.’

One would like to think that in the Goodman band Cootie forged a friendship with Lou McGarity. At the time McGarity’s playing was a match for that of any trombonist (including Teagarden). In and out of the band at various times, some of Lou’s best solos are on Benny’s tracks – note particularly his work on ‘Benny Goodman Plays Mel Powell’, one of Alastair Robertson’s magnificent quintet of Goodman albums, this one on Hep CD 1055.

After he’d been with Goodman for six months Cootie made a session of four tracks under his own name for Okeh (I had it on Regal Zonophone 78s!) which had a wonderful tribute to Louis in a reworked West End Blues. Lou was on trombone along with other Goodmanites including Johnny Guarnieri.

Lou appeared again when Cootie had his own date for RCA some 18 years later in 1958 (RCA 74321 21826). In the big band Cootie was the only trumpet and apart from his own horn there was effective soloing from Lou and Boomie Richman. Others in the band included George Barnes, Eddie Safranski and Don Lamond.

‘That’s my favourite recording of my own,’ said Cootie, ‘and my wife is crazy about it.’

After the year with Goodman Cootie, as agreed, asked for his job back with Duke. But Duke had taken on Ray Nance and suggested that Cootie formed his own big band. He led a brash big band at the Savoy Ballroom that didn’t do justice to him or the unlikely talents that he discovered for it. In 1944 his youngsters included Pearl Bailey, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and the 16-year-old Bud Powell. The first recordings of Epistrophy and Round About Midnight were made under Cootie’s name. Later tiros included Eddie Vinson, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Gus Johnson and Ed Thigpen.

Monk, Parker and Powell were at a frontier that was surely alien to Williams.

‘Bud was a genius,’ said Cootie. ‘...we went to play a job in Philly and he was a little late. And high when he got there. So he didn’t come back with us when we had finished work. The next day the FBI called and told me they had him in jail. I gave them his mother’s phone number. She found they’d beaten him so badly round the head.. she couldn’t bring him back on the train and had to hire a car. His head was so damaged he ended in Bellevue. His sickness started right there.’

The band headed away from jazz into rhythm and blues and, like most of the other big bands, it broke up in 1948 but Cootie kept a small r&b group and had a hit record with ‘Gator’, featuring honking tenor from Willis Jackson. By now the band functioned as a r&b band and not as a showcase for the leader’s trumpet. It worked in comparative obscurity at the Savoy until the ballroom closed down in 1962. After a brief season leading a quartet at The Embers Cootie rejoined Duke later that year. He stayed with the band, outliving Duke, who died in May 1974.

Cootie enjoyed a year of complete retirement. ‘My wife and I love horse racing and we would go to the races nearly every day and then go out to dinner. When I was retired I was in bed by about eight o’clock and waking up at six in the morning.’ Sporadic festival appearances including Newport and Nice were part of the winding down of his magnificent career. After that he resumed a comparatively lengthy retirement, dying at 75 on September 15, 1985.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(This piece appeared in The Independent in 2000.)
added 2011-07-24

(Britt Bingham Woodman, trombonist: born Los Angeles 4 June 1920; died Los Angeles 13 October 2000.)

Duke Ellington always claimed that whenever he needed a musician he simply hired the best player available locally. He certainly made an exception when Lawrence Brown gave two weeks’ notice, and Ellington cabled the young trombonist Britt Woodman in Los Angeles to come out to join the band for a season at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas in February 1951.

“Thank God I’ve got a fortnight to learn the book,” Woodman said to Lawrence Brown when he arrived. “To hell with that,” said Brown. “I’m taking off in the morning.”

Ellington’s musicians were notorious for turning their backs on a newcomer. The sheet music in the band’s library was in tatters with large parts missing. “I felt lonely and insignificant. A kind word from someone would have made all the difference,” said Woodman. “Fortunately the first night went well for me. I had no difficulty in sight-reading the scraps of parts, for which I had to thank my years of study. When it was over Duke sent for me and thanked me.”

Britt Woodman first astonished Duke Ellington fans at the same time that another trombone virtuoso of similar stature, Frank Rosolino, was dazzling audiences at Stan Kenton concerts. Both men set new standards of technique, and jazz trombone was never the same again. But despite the prodigious bravura of his playing, Woodman never became a major soloist in the way that Lawrence Brown had been. His playing was full of fire but favoured technical display over emotion and beauty.

When he wasn’t working regularly Woodman used to practice trombone for three hours each day, soaring from the pedal tones at the bottom of the instrument to the altissimo tones at the other extreme. He frequently played solos that would take him through the four octaves of the trombone. Since his tone was full throughout the whole range of the instrument, he must have had lips of tungsten.

In 1955 Ellington and his band were playing a week at New York’s Birdland. Never one to waste time, Ellington used to compose during the intermission. One night he wrote a brief four bars of a theme on a piece of paper and asked Britt Woodman to play it. Ellington came back the next night with the piece written out, handed it to Woodman and had him play it for the audience without any rehearsal. It was to be called “Hank Cinq” and it was played and recorded as the third movement of Ellington’s Shakespearean suite “Such Sweet Thunder”. It was a minefield of a piece that took advantage of Woodman’s ability to leap through the octaves, and was thought to be beyond copying. But, in a tribute to Ellington, Cleo Laine recorded the piece using Woodman’s solo in what must be one of the most extraordinary vocal performances by this amazing singer.

As a boy in Los Angeles, Woodman had a vital role to play in the development of his lifelong friend, the jazz composer Charlie Mingus. Unlike Mingus Woodman came from a thoroughly musical family. His father, once a well-known trombonist in New Orleans, taught his son to play piano, trombone, clarinet and tenor saxophone. The young Britt played in the family band with his two brothers.

Throughout his life, Mingus was a man both violent and sensitive, who was never able to come to terms with his surroundings. As a child Mingus was taught trombone and cello (badly) by his church choirmaster. With a false confidence that was to persist he took on the more accomplished Woodman in a cutting contest on trombone. Woodman, two years older than Mingus, didn’t ridicule the boy, but took him under his wing. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Mingus died in 1979.

“The kids in grade school used to take his lunch. He was very timid then. And very bowlegged. “I was an expert at gymnastics and athletics. So I showed him all that. I liked to play him Ping-Pong with my left hand because he could never really play. He used to get mad at me and say ‘Play with your right hand,’ and I’d say ‘You got to learn.’

“Charles,” I told him, “everything you do, there’s an art to it. I never showed him what it was for arm-wrestling, so I could beat him twelve times with my right hand and nine times with my left. I didn’t weigh but 125, but I had lifted weights, and I was pretty strong.” The Woodman family soon absorbed Mingus, who had an unhappy home life.

Woodman played with the Les Hite band at the end of the Thirties until 1942 when he was called into the army. On his release in 1946 he, Mingus and the saxophone players Buddy Collette and Lucky Thompson formed a co-operative band in Los Angeles, which they called The Stars of Swing. This had a promising run at the Downbeat Club on Central Avenue, the city’s jazz street. But it broke up and, on Thompson’s recommendation, Woodman joined the “progressive” band led by Boyd Raeburn. He played on Raeburn’s avant-garde recording “Boyd Meets Stravinsky”. Later in the year he moved to the Lionel Hampton band and managed to persuade Hampton’s wife Gladys, who did the hiring and firing, to bring Mingus into the band. By now Mingus was composing as well as playing bass.

“I warned him not to write, because he wouldn’t get paid. Nobody who wrote for Hamp got paid. That’s how Gladys worked it. So Charles said okay. But he wrote ‘Mingus Fingers’ and they recorded it and he had to get a lawyer to try and get paid.”

Woodman came off the road to study music for two years at Westlake College in Los Angeles before the call came from Ellington in 1951. He stayed with Ellington for the next nine years, finding time in 1955 to record with Mingus in a quintet led by trumpeter Miles Davis.

Tired of travelling, he left Ellington and settled in New York. Work proved hard to find, although he eventually worked in several musicals on Broadway, including “Half A Sixpence”, starring Tommy Steele. He played for Mingus, now an established leader in New York, and made more recordings with him. He was a player at Mingus’s notoriously anarchic and disastrous Town Hall concert in 1962. Another Los Angeles friend, Eric Dolphy, found work for him with John Coltrane and during the Sixties he joined bands led by Quincy Jones, Johnny Richards, Oliver Nelson, Chico Hamilton, Ernie Wilkins and even the Benny Goodman Sextet. He played at the Newport Jazz Festival several times with Ellington and then in 1961 with Quincy Jones and in 1967 with Lionel Hampton.

In 1970 Woodman returned to Los Angeles to live and starred in the Bill Berry L.A. Big Band, the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut and the Akiyoshi Tabackin Band. He found regular jobs in the film and television studios and for a time worked for Nelson Riddle. It was the first time in his life that he and his wife Clara could afford a car, by then considered essential for American families. He recorded with his own octet in 1977 and toured Japan twice with the all-star group led by Benny Carter that year and again in 1978. Woodman played on recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson amongst others.

Returning east in 1979 he joined the New York Jazz Repertory Company and came with it to England – he’d last been here in 1958 with Ellington. In New York he befriended another ex-Ellingtonian, baritone saxist Joe Temperley, and the two played in the Broadway revival of Ellington’s songs “Sophisticated Ladies”. Like Temperley, Woodman played on some of the jazz cruises to the Caribbean.

Woodman’s health began to fail and eventually he had to take an oxygen cylinder with him wherever he went. Last year he returned to Los Angeles to be with his family and lived there with his brother Coney. A widower who had no children, Woodman is survived by his three brothers.

"He was always one of my inspirations, a good friend," said the trombonist Steve Turre, a contemporary trombone star, who featured Woodman on two of his albums. "As far as playing the trombone goes, he was top shelf. His chops were ridiculous. He was a grand master, and just a sweetheart."

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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by Eddie Lambert.***
General editors Dan Morganstern and Edward Berger, additional discography by Sjef Hoefsmit.
Published by Scarecrow Press Inc. Hb, 374pp, £85. ISBN 0-8108-3161-9.

Reviewed for Jazz Journal April 1999.

added 2011-08-06

Immortality is for musicians and escapes most writers about jazz – some of the best, for example, Peter Clayton and Charles Fox, are receding fast in peoples’ memories. But not so Eddie Lambert. Twelve years after his death recollections of him remain vivid and tributes to this remarkable man still abound, Here’s another one. His book is one of the great jazz masterworks.

Let us identify, and then set aside, two controversial topics.

First, that of jazz historians who choose to restrict themselves to tunnel vision and reject an overview of jazz to exclude all music except that of one artist. For example, Eddie Lambert/Duke Ellington, Michael Sparke/Stan Kenton, Christopher Logan/Jack Teagarden. This may be a good thing in that it produces unique expertise, but it disables those historians from commenting on (or enjoying?) other music. Lambert has spent years writing this book, and it is easy to see why. He has listened to Ellington’s recordings over and over again and extrapolated them applying an insight that I didn’t know he possessed.

Secondly, the problem of writers about jazz who see a musician’s career in terms of recordings alone, and who write as though musicians simply move from recording session to recording session with nothing happening in between. This characteristic, recently seen within these pages, is not a problem for Lambert, who intertwines comments on concerts, television programmes and radio broadcasts that he has heard into his text.

If you have this book together with Stratemann’s “Duke Ellington Day By Day And Film By Film”, Mark Tucker’s “Duke Ellington Reader” and Vol. 6 of Ole Nielsen’s “Jazz Records”, then you do not need any more literature on Ellington to enable you to enjoy his music to the full. Of course you can still enjoy it without any of them. There is a good case for suggesting that any further and deeper research borders on fanaticism and that Lambert’s invaluable book should represent a kind of drawing of the line.

Today many musicians copy out Ellington scores with love and many others try to recreate his works with orchestras of their own. There is unending discussion of his works and posthumous speculations about what he might or might not have intended. There is for sure knowledge to be gained from all these exercises, but they are a game, and a game without facts.

But all such efforts must pale to insignificance beside the original recordings of the master himself. Lambert, who writes with lucidity and good style, encapsulates the value of the recordings near the beginning of the book. “But for the phonograph the music of jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker would have died with them, posterity knowing no more of the true quality and flavor of their work than it knows of a 17th-century keyboard virtuoso or an 18th-century singer. And just as the phonograph provides the only authentic record of the jazz soloist’s art, it also offers the only truly valid record of the works of jazz composers like Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. A written score alone would give a totally inadequate impression.” Well put, and not the simple truism it appears at first sight to be. (The same assertion, with Morton and Bechet added, is rehearsed again in the overview in the final Chapter 32).

The quality of the author’s research is so good and his sources so wide that he is able to give fuller portraits of some of the more enigmatic Ellingtonians. There is for instance more here about Bubber Miley’s personality than I have seen published before. Lambert is also expansive about individual instrumental styles and writes well about Arthur Whetsel and Tricky Sam Nanton in the earlier section of the book.

On the other hand, one mustn’t take everything here as tablets of stone. In a conversation the author had with Cat Anderson the trumpeter suggests that “discipline of a formal kind did not exist at all in the Ellington Orchestra. The band was based on respect, the mutual respect of the musicians for Duke and his for them.” This impresses me as a romanticised view, and one had only to talk about money to Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown and some of the less disingenuous musicians for the subject of “respect” to be quickly blown up the chimney. It is most revealing to read George Duvivier’s reasons (not in the book) for refusing on the three occasions he was asked to join the band. His account of Ellington’s band playing for the first time opposite the Lunceford band at a dance is thoroughly revealing of how little “respect” the sidemen had for the leader.

“It was just a sloppily run organisation,” said Duvuvier, after having noted that Ellington was a great man and a delightful human being. “It doesn't distract from the music that came out of the band. I just didn't want to be a part of it. I didn't want to be a part of saying the bus leaves at one and finally the last soul staggers on at three and we finally get going. Or we are going to hit at eight and we start with four men on the stand. You know? That would have driven me right up the wall. I said rather than be involved in that I won't take the job.”

Lambert is clear about Ellington’s powerful talents. One of them was to develop his own music continuously without ever losing sight of the importance of providing superb settings for his soloists. Having chosen the best soloists, he then led them to play above themselves. The Ellingtonians who ever sounded better away from the Ellington band are rare (Willie Smith is almost alone in this – Ellington and Strayhorn didn’t make best use of his great solo talent).

Hadju’s book told us a lot we didn’t need to know about Billy Strayhorn’s sex life, and I willingly concede that Hadju is the expert on this. But what of Strayhorn’s role as Ellington’s musical partner? Has it been over-rated? If Ellington had died in 1935 he would still have his place in history as the greatest jazz composer. All the devices that he used in the band were in place and well-used by that time. Lambert devotes a chapter to Strayhorn that makes absorbing reading. He appends to it a most useful list of compositions by Strayhorn alone as opposed to in partnership with Ellington.

There is plenty of controversial opinion here, too. The album by Duke’s trio with Mingus and Roach, “Money Jungle”, is a restless affair that cannot fail to stimulate the listener one way or the other. There has been much expert writing on its merits and lack of them. Lambert has his own view. Roach describes the session as “one of the most advanced masterpieces in jazz”. Miles Davis said, “That’s ridiculous. You see the way they can screw up music? It’s a mismatch. They don’t complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can’t play with them, and they can’t play with Duke.”

As the reader will gather, Lambert has covered his subject exhaustively, and his book is laid out with great intelligence. There are few detectable mistakes. The classic version of Solitude with Coleman Hawkins is not mentioned, but then when Lambert was alive it had only been issued as part of an obscure anthology LP. Its omission is all the more glaring because so little else is missed.

The book will of course generate much thought in the reader’s mind. Although its stated intention is to guide them through the records, it is effectively two books, since the lengthy and informed histories of the band that Lambert has inserted at the various periods are both all-embracing and better than anything that has appeared before. This in particular will make the book important reading for both the Ellington tyro (it’s good to find young people coming to him on the Internet) and expert alike.

Dan Morgenstern has edited the work that Lambert almost finished. Presumably he is responsible for the Americanisms that have crept in. Would Lambert have written “No man could have gotten through the amount of work this involved…” or used the word “equaled”? Nor would the Lambert I knew have fallen for “centred around”. These are minor carps, and Morgenstern is to be thanked for his part in at last bringing to us the definitive volume on its subject.

It was wise not to attempt to update the manuscript, despite the new material by Ellington that has emerged since Lambert’s death. The comprehensive appendix containing Lambert’s listing of Ellington albums up to 1974 is complemented by Hoefsmit’s exhaustive discography of subsequent issues. Other similarly thorough appendices include a bibliography, a listing of musicians and the dates that they were in the band and a sorting out of the complex problems of the French Victor LPs, withdrawn and subsequently reissued without the transcription sessions they originally included. There are 23 well-reproduced photographs – apart from Ellington Gonsalves must have been the most photogenic Ellingtonian, and there are three good ones of him at the 1969 Manchester concert. A selection of LP covers is reproduced at chapter headings. The excellent 21-page index includes tune titles as well as names, dates and ephemera and, although it’s only a small benefit, I was pleased to see a dozen blank pages at the back of the book for the reader’s notes.

The fact that the book has been published at all is due to the unrelenting efforts of Elaine Norsworthy who has spent years bringing it to fruition. Anyone less devoted to the project would have given up the search for a publisher years ago, and she must be very satisfied to see this marvellous volume in its final form.

Scarecrow Press is offering a 20% discount off the American price of $95 to members of the Duke Ellington Music Society. If you are fortunate enough to qualify the price is reduced by almost 50%

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Classics 1057, 64'42"
added 2011-08-03

(1) I Cried For You; Stompin’ At The Savoy; Madeleine; Muskrat Ramble; Storyville; Cherokee; Run To The Corner; Georgia; (2) Let’s Try It; (3); I Didn’t Know About You; I’m The Luckiest Fool; At The Barclay’s; Jug Blues; (4) Night And Day; Confessin’; (5) Stardust; Vernon’s Story; Never let It Be Said; Swamp Mist; Goofin’ Off; All On Account Of You; Sacknasty; Last Blues

(1) Rex Stewart (c, v); Sandy Williams (tb); John Harris (cl, as); Vernon Story (ts); Don Gais (p); Ladislas Czabanyck (b); Ted Curry (d). Paris, December 4, 1947.
(2) as (1) plus Honey Johnson (v). December 10, 1947.
(3) as (2) minus Johnson.
(4) Stewart (c); Hubert Rostaing (cl, as); Django Reinhardt (g); Czabanyck (b); Curry (d). Same date as (2). (5) Stewart (c, v); Williams (tb); Story (ts); Gais (p); Jean-Jacques Tilch¾ (g); Lucien Simoens (b); Curry (d); Louie Williams (v). Paris, January 1948.

Ruby Braff told me that at the time when Rex Stewart was with Fletcher Henderson Rex was second only to Louis in trumpet stature. Ruby suggested that his decline began when, with Ellington, he developed his techniques with mutes and half valve work. '‘I hate,'’ Bob Brookmeyer told me, ‘to listen to those half-valve smears I used during the Fifties and Sixties.’

Poor Rex then, for if that is true then he was the master of the blind alley. In later years when I knew him he was a very insecure man, who had no confidence that people liked his playing.

In fact this band was one of the most exciting of the time, and particularly so to us since some of the French 78s filtered over here.

Stewart had been booked to tour European jazz clubs for six months. Because money was tight he used unknown musicians (apart from his pal Williams). They turned out to be magnificent and I’d particularly like to know what happened to Story, whose assured playing here is as substantial and pleasing as that of Stewart and Williams. At the end of the tour Rex had to send them home when he was invited to tour German by the U.S. Army who wanted to select in England a band ‘of dark people’ from Ceylon and Trinidad. The band had muscle and imagination, using a wide variety of arrangements and soloists. It used swing and be-bop phrases and achieved the sound of a bigger group.

Madeleine is a typically perky Stewart theme, whilst Jug Blues has Rex half-valving (the best example of this was in Mobile Bay at the Salle Pleyel, and I trust that this concert will follow next in the Classics series. Gais is very effective in his accompaniment, and of course one of Rex’s aces was the wailing trombone, with Williams loading the cares of the world on his back. He features on I Cried For You. The two tracks with Reinhardt (acoustic) are delightful with good uncredited alto from Rostaing. Storyville features the tenor and is the tune that Charlie Ventura recorded as Ha in 1949. Curious. Vernon’s Story has a fine example of barging Websterian tenor and Rex at his perkiest. Swamp Mist is one of the mood pieces at which Stewart excelled and he, with mute, and Story give the theme a beautiful statement. Sacknasty is more moody muted blues with good declamatory tenor too. It is repeated in a different take as Last Blues. The various vocals are attractive enough but of no moment.

This is hot, swinging and yet unusual music. The album is highly recommended.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Mosaic MD11-248

Published in Jazz Journal February 2011 .
added 2011-08-03

CD 1 (75'12"): Moon Over Dixie; It Don’t Mean A Thing; Lazy Rhapsody; Blue Tune; Baby When You Ain’t There; St. Louis Blues; Creole Love Call; Rose Room; Blue Harlem; The Sheik Of Araby; Swampy River; Fast And Furious; Best Wishes; Slippery Horn; Blue Ramble; Clouds In My Heart; Lazy Rhapsody ( -B); Blue Tune ( -B); St. Louis Blues ( -A); Creole Love Call( –B); Best Wishes ( -A); Blue Ramble ( -B); Clouds In My Heart ( -A)

CD2 (62'33"): Blue Mood; Ducky Wucky; Jazz Cocktail; Lightnin’; Stars; Swing Low; I Must Have That Man ( -A); Baby! ( -A); Any Time, Any Day, Any Where; Delta Bound; Blue Mood ( -C); Blue Mood ( -B); Ducky Wucky ( -B); Jazz Cocktail ( -B); Lightnin’ ( -B); Stars ( -B); Swing Low ( -B); I Must Have That Man ( -B); Baby! ( -B); Any Time, Any Day, Any Where ( -B); Delta Bound ( -B)

CD3 (60'08"): Diga Diga Do; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Porgy; I Must Have That Man! (master take –C; Baby! (master take -C); Eerie Moan; Merry-Go-Round; Sophisticated Lady; I've Got The World On A String; Down A Carolina Lane; Diga Diga Do ( -B); I Can't Give You Anything But Love ( -B); Porgy ( -C); Porgy ( -B); I Must Have That Man! ( -D); Baby! ( –D); Eerie Moan ( -B); Merry-Go-Round (matrix W265049 alt. tk -2); Sophisticated Lady ( -1)

CD 4 (74'19"): Slippery Horn; Blackbird Medley (Part I); I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Must Have That Man! ; Doin’ The New Low Down ; Blackbird Medley (Part II); Dixie; Diga Diga Do; Porgy; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Drop Me Off At Harlem; Happy As The Day Is Long; Raisin’ The Rent; Get Yourself A New Broom; Bundle Of Blues; Sophisticated Lady; Stormy Weather; I’m Satisfied; Jive Stomp; Harlem Speaks; In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree; Solitude; Saddest Tale; Moonglow; Sump’n ‘Bout Rhythm; Slippery Horn ( -B); . Blackbird Medley (Part I) ( -B); Blackbird Medley (Part II) ( -C); I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Blackbird Medley (Part II) ( -B); Drop Me Off At Harlem ( -B); Bundle Of Blues (alt tk.-B); Jive Stomp (alt tk.-B)

CD 5 (77'47"): Admiration; Farewell Blues; Let’s Have A Jubilee; Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (alt tk.); Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (master take); Margie; In A Sentimental Mood; Showboat Shuffle; Merry-Go-Round; Admiration; Cotton; Truckin’; Accent On Youth; Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 1); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 2); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 3); Reminiscing In Tempo (Part 4); I Don’t Know Why I Love You So; Dinah Lou; Isn’t Love The Strangest Thing?; There Is No Greater Love; Clarinet Lament; Echoes Of Harlem; Porto Rican Chaos (Moonlight Fiesta) (alt tk.); I Don’t Know Why I Love You So (alt tk. -2); Dinah Lou (alt tk. -3)

CD 6 (66'21"): Love Is Like A Cigarette; Kissin’ My Baby Good-Night; Oh, Babe! Maybe Someday; Shoe Shine Boy; It Was A Sad Night In Harlem; Trumpet In Spades; Yearning For Love; In A Jam; Uptown Downbeat (Blackout); Exposition Swing; Scattin’ At The Cotton Club; Black Butterfly; The New Birmingham Breakdown; Scattin’ At The Kit Kat; I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter; The New East St. Louis Toodle-O; Exposition Swing (alt tk. -2); Black Butterfly (alt tk. -2); The New Birmingham Breakdown (alt tk. -2); I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter (alt tk. -2); The New East St. Louis Toodle-O (alt tk. -2)

CD 7 (58'34"): There’s A Lull In My Life; It’s Swell Of You; You Can’t Run Away From Love Tonight; Azure; The Lady Who Couldn’t Be Kissed; Old Plantation; Caravan; Azure; All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (II); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M520); Alabamy Home (II); Chatter-Box (Jumpy); Jubilesta; There’s A Lull In My Life (alt tk. -2); It’s Swell Of You (alt tk. -2);You Can’t Run Away From Love Tonight (alt tk. -2); . Azure (alt tk.-2); Old Plantation (alt tk.-2); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M519 alt tk.-2); All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm (matrix M520 alt tk.-2); Alabamy Home (alt tk.-2)

CD 8 (76'28"): Diminuendo In Blue; Crescendo In Blue; Harmony In Harlem; Dusk On The Desert; Stepping Into Swing Society; Prologue To Black And Tan Fantasy; The New Black And Tan Fantasy; Riding On A Blue Note; Lost In Meditation; The Gal From Joe’s; If You Were In My Place; Skrontch; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart; Braggin’ In Brass; Carnival In Caroline; Diminuendo In Blue (alt tk. -2); Crescendo In Blue (alt tk. -2); Harmony In Harlem (alt tk. -X); Harmony In Harlem (alt tk. -1); Dusk On The Desert (alt tk. -1); Riding On A Blue Note (alt tk. -2); The Gal From Joe’s (alt tk. -2); If You Were In My Place (alt tk. -1); Skrontch; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart (alt tk. -1); Braggin’ In Brass (alt tk. -2)

CD 9 (68'58"): Swingtime In Honolulu; I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue (With The Sole Of My Shoe); Dinah’s In A Jam; When My Sugar Walks Down The Street; You Gave Me The Gate; Rose Of The Rio Grande; Pyramid; The Stevedore’s Serenade; La De Doody Doo; Watermelon Man; Gypsy Without A Song; A Blues Serenade; Love In Swingtime; Please Forgive Me; Lambeth Walk; Prelude To A Kiss; Hip Chic; Buffet Flat; Twits And Twerps (Boy Meets Horn) (matrix 1); Mighty Like The Blues; Rose Of The Rio Grande (alt tk. -2); Pyramid (alt tk. -2); Prelude To A Kiss (alt tk. -2); Twits And Twerps (matrix 2); Mighty Like The Blues (alt tk. -1)

CD 10 (54'23"): Jazz Potpurri; T.T. On Toast (Lady In Doubt); Battle Of Swing; Old King Dooji; Boy Meets Horn; Slap Happy; Pussy Willow; Subtle Lament; Lady In Blue; Smorgasbord And Schnapps; Portrait Of The Lion; Something To Live For; Solid Old Man; T.T. On Toast (alt tk. -2); Battle Of Swing (alt tk. -1); Slap Happy (alt tk. -2); Subtle Lament (alt tk. -X); Lady In Blue (alt tk. -X); Portrait Of The Lion (alt tk. -2)

CD 11 (73'36"): Cotton Club Stomp; Doin’ The Voom Voom; Way Low; Serenade To Sweden; In A Mizz; I’m Checkin’ Out-Go’om Bye; A Lonely Co-Ed; You Can Count On Me; Bouncing Buoyancy; The Sergeant Was Shy; Grievin’ (matrix WM 1064); Little Posey; I Never Felt This Way Before; Grievin’ (matrix WM 1093); Tootin’ Through The Roof; Weely; Your Love Has Faded; Killin’ Myself; Country Gal; Solitude; Stormy Weather; Mood Indigo; Sophisticated Lady; I Never Felt This Way Before (alt tk.-B); Tootin’ Through The Roof (alt tk.-B)

There is a telephone box in the village of Dunsop Bridge which is claimed to be at the exact centre of Great Britain. CD 8 from this set might be said to be at the exact centre of jazz. Classics like The Gal From Joe’s, Diminuendo and Crescendo (suffused with a delicacy that was thrown aside in the more famous 1956 version), Riding On A Blue Note and Braggin’ In Brass stand as untarnished masterpieces for the Duke and his men. That’s my opinion and yet I’m writing this review without having heard every track in this sublime box (the contents play for approximately 12 hours and 45 minutes).

Probably the most important body of Ellington’s pre-1941 work comes from the RCA Victor vaults and that has been dealt with by that label in a 24 CD set. That left two main areas of the master’s recordings still to be covered – the 252 tracks in this set was the first and the Musicraft and Columbia studio recordings of the ‘40s and ‘50s the second. It’s to be hoped Mosaic can now look attentions to the latter.

Ellington’s genius came to maturity over the period covered here and the box leaves us on the doorstep of the 1940 period (which, on reflection, probably was at the centre of jazz music. But this box covers his most creative period. He wrote his best tunes and devised his ingenious arranging methods during the ‘30s so, as I have suggested, the music here is the very heart of the Ellington oeuvre.

Pace Whetsel and Jenkins, but Cootie mainly had the dominant trumpet role to himself here, and these sides hold some of his most potent contributions. The period up until the arrival of Rex Stewart at the end of 1934 must have been wonderful for him, and it’s easy to see how Rex would have been resented. Rex came into the band to replace Freddie Jenkins who had tuberculosis. When Jenkins returned in autumn 1937 the trumpet section went up to four for the first time and stayed that way.

The riches bestowed upon us by Bigard, the infallibility of Hodges and Carney and the propulsive and sometimes even skittering bass of Braud are all woven into the most advanced and inventive arrangements of his day by the great master. Is Braud’s prodigious role in the ‘concert’ version of Creole Love Call the first example on record of walking bass? Oddly, only the ever-reliable Joe Nanton has just another day at the office. His mastery on Black And Tan and a few others here never quite reached the heights of inspiration that became before and after these sessions during Ellington’s days at RCA (remember Echoes of the Jungle and the 1945 Black and Tan?).

Mosaic always goes straight to the best authority for its notes and these by Steven Lasker are particularly perceptive and exhaustive (I reckon they would fill a complete issue of this magazine). Nobody has ever researched this period so thoroughly and the results are all included here. There’s one quirk. Steven quotes Dance on Cootie Williams’s masterful Riding On A Blue Note performance and then a couple of lines later seems to incorrectly credit the trumpet work to Freddie Jenkins (the piece had to wait until October 1945 for a breathtaking and unforgettable interpretation by Rex Stewart and Johnny Hodges).

Parlophone’s ‘Ellington Era’ LPs were the first admirable attempt at issuing a substantial number of these tracks in good sound. Lasker’s (for it was he) transfers here easily surpass those and bring great clarity to every instrument in the orchestra. Some of the original recordings and pressings were suspect but they have been engineered for optimum sound, and I doubt that anyone could improve on what you hear here. Mosaic has now produced seven boxes containing in all 40 CDs and three LPs of Ellington related material. It’s to be hoped that the response from the Duke’s followers will enable the company to finish the job.

The 56 big band personnels involved would take up many pages so forgive their exclusion here.. They are all easily accessed with detail concerning alternative takes etc. at

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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(Mosaic MRLP-3002)
Published in Jazz Journal February 2011.
added 2011-08-03

LP 1 (37'58"):
(5) Mack The Knife; (3) The Old Circus Train Turn Around Blues; (4) Lullaby Of Birdland; (3) Trombonio-Bustoso-Issimo; (1) Diminuendo In Blue / Blow By Blow

LP 2 (38'23"):
(7) It Don’t Mean A Thing; All Too Soon; (6) Misty; (4) Jazz Samba; 1) Rose Of The Rio Grande; (4) The More I See You; (2) El Viti; (8) Just Squeeze Me

LP 3 (37'50"):
(3) La Plus Belle Africaine; (2) West Indian Pancake; (3) Soul Call; (2) Skin Deep; Jam With Sam

(1) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ts); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d). Juan-les-Pins, July 26, 1966.
(2) Same as (1) except omit Ellington on El Viti.
(3) Same as (1) except omit Ellington on Soul Call.
(4) Jimmy Jones (p; arr); Jim Hughart (b); Grady Tate (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (3).
(5) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ ts); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Jimmy Jones (p); Jim Hughart (b); Grady Tate (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (C).
(6) Same as (4). Juan-les-Pins; July 29; 1966.
(7) Cat Anderson; Mercer Ellington; Herbie Jones; Cootie Williams (t); Ray Nance (c/vln/v); Lawrence Brown; Buster Cooper (tb); Chuck Connors (b-tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl/as); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ts); Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (cl/b-cl/bs); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d); Ella Fitzgerald (v). Same location and date as (F).
Add Jo Jones (d) and omit Hodges for It Don’t Mean A Thing.
(8) Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster (ts); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d); Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Nance (v). Same location and date as (6).

Ella was relaxed and sounded happy with the band. The informal edge she had in live performance was always appealing. Oddly she had just returned from the States after breaking her tour because of a personal bereavement. Out of sympathy Ellington left her out of the second half of the second of the three nights, much to the annoyance of producer Norman Granz and their always bumpy relationship exploded on this night. Duke was later to be annoyed by Granz’s retitling of The Old Circus Train.

This was to be the last time Ella appeared with Duke. She sings in different settings, most effectively with just the piano of Jimmy Jones on The More I See You, but wades in happily to share vocals with Ray Nance on It Don’t Mean A Thing and Squeeze Me (Nance and Webster had been brought back to the band as guests by Granz).

Circus Train runs for eleven and a half minutes and is a riff thing featuring Duke and, later, Hodges. Ellington plays particularly inventive piano in support. Cooper gives his extrovert and flatulent party piece and Gonsalves takes the wailing interval on the eight minute Diminuendo. Soul Call features Paul and he’s even more effective on Pancake, where he takes a superb coda. Carney solos here and on Africaine, which also spotlights Lamb and Hamilton. Rose Of The Rio Grande served Lawrence Brown throughout most of his years with the band, and this is a beneficent version from the Deacon. Nance and Webster join Ella and the band for It Don’t Mean A Thing, Cat has Gerald Wilson’s El Viti and Woodyard is splendid in a remorseless Skin Deep. Duke introduces the individuals in the band via a very ragged Jam With Sam.

All this material has appeared before. A double LP with the same title appeared in England on Verve 833 562, whilst the rest of the music was contained in ‘Soul Call’, US Verve V6-8701. Seven of the Ellington tracks made up English Verve 2317 073.

But set that aside. These heavy (180 gram) Mosaic LPs are the results of unique careful remastering and specialised pressing. Given that the original recordings were superb, the excellence is compounded by the quality of the transfers. I listened on Audiolab/Systemdek equipment and the experience is as near to actually being seated in the band as makes no matter!

I understand that Mosaic’s next 3 LP set will comprise all the Getz-Brookmeyer Clef/Verve sessions from the ‘50s. I’ll be first in the queue.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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Classics 896 and

Classics 930
Published in Jazz Journal January 1997.
added 2011-08-03

tombstone data

BARNEY BIGARD 1944(59'29")
(1) Sugar; Ain't Goin' No Place; Someday Sweetheart; That Old Feeling; (2) Tea For Two; Steps Steps Up; Steps Steps Down; Moonglow; (3) Oh Didn't He Ramble; Crawfish Blues; (4) Barney's Bounce; Lulu's Mood; (5) A Portrait Of Louise; A Lull At Dawn; Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; Soft And Warm; (6) Salty Papa Blues; Evil Gal Blues; Blow Top Blues; Long, Long Journey Barney Bigard with (1)The Capitol International Jazzmen: Shorty Sherock (t); Les Robinson (as); Eddie Miller (ts); Pete Johnson (p); Stan Wrightsman (p, cel); Nappy Lamare (g); Hank Wayland (b); Nick Fatool (d); Peggy Lee (v). LA, January 7, 1944. (2) Barney Bigard Trio: Eddie Heywood (p); Shelly Manne (d). January 22, 1944. (3) Zutty Singleton's Creole Band: Norman Bowden (t); ShortyHoughton (tb); Fred Washington (p); Bud Scott (g); Ed Garland (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, June 30, 1944. (4) Zutty Singleton Trio: Fred Washington (p); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, June 30, 1944. (5) The Roger Kay Strings: Remo Palmieri (g); Al Hall (b); string section; Billy Moore (arr). NYC, November 27, 1944. (6) Etta Jones with Barney Bigard and his Orchestra: Etta Jones (v); Joe Thomas (t); George Auld (ts); Leonard Feather (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, December 29, 1944.

Bigard 1944-1945 (70'26")
(1) Blues Before Dawn; Poon-Tang; Nine O'Clock Beer; How Long Blues; (2) Can't Help Loving That Man; Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone; Sweet Marijuana Brown; Blues For Art's Sake; (3) Rose Room; Bojangles; Coquette; Borobudor; (4) My Melancholy Baby; (5) Sweet Georgia Brown; (6) Youg Man's Blues Pt. 1 & 2; (7) Wini's Blues; My Complaint, Baby; (8) Lazy River; YouTook My Man; (9) Rockin' Chair; I Want A Little Boy

Barney Bigard with
(1) Barney Bigard & his Orchestra: Joe Thomas (t); George Auld (ts); Cyril Haynes, Leonard Feather (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, December 29, 1944.
(2) Barney Bigard Sextet: Joe Thomas (t/v); Art Tatum (p); Billy Taylor (b); Stan Levey (d). NYC, January 5, 1945.
(3) Barney Bigard Quintet: Joe Thomas (t); Johnny Guarnieri (p); Billy Taylor (b); Cozy Cole (d), NYC, February 5, 1945.
(4) Lamplighter All Stars: Ray Linn (t); Vic Dickenson (tb); Willie Smith (as); Calvin Jackson (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December 12, 1945.
(5) as (4), December 18, 1945.
(6) Claude Trenier and the Lamplighter All Stars: Claude Trenier (v); Eddie Beal (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December 28, 1945.
(7) Wini Beatty & the Lamplighter All Stars: as (6) but Wini Beatty (v) replaces Trenier.
(8) Wini Beatty & the Crystalette All Stars: as (7) plus Vic Dickenson (tb).
(9) Monette Moore & the Crystalette All Stars: Monette Moore (v); Eddie Beal (p); Allan Reuss (g); Red Callender (b); Zutty Singleton (d). LA, December, 1945.

Barney Bigard is unquestionably one of the finest jazz clarinettists. He didn't possess the pinpoint accuracy of Shaw and Goodman, but for a combination of technique and emotion he was unbeatable. Of the New Orleans players only Edmond Hall and Al Nicholas at their best were able to approach him.

Barney had his down periods, created by alcohol and health problems, that in turn were brought on, as were Teagarden's, by his time with the Louis Armstrong All Stars. The roots were probably in Barney's time with Ellington, for, by the time he fetched up back in Hollywood, he must have been worn out by a life of travelling. I learned from a conversation with his wife Dorothy some years ago, that by then Barney desperately wanted a quiet life.

This collection captures the cream of his California period. True, it was the time when he began to develop his library of cliches, but at this stage he applied them minimally and they aren't a problem during these 42 tracks. By Bigard's post-Ellington standards this is as good as he got.

If it doesn't match contemporary collections that could be made of Goodman and Shaw recordings, then that is because Barney didn't have the good material to work with that they did. But what he had is lifted by some very fine playing from his sidemen, notably by Joe Thomas, excellent throughout but particularly on Beer and Can't Help Lovin'. Shorty Sherock has been even more overlooked than Thomas and it's gratifying to hear him as consistently good here as he always was. Peggy Lee and Tatum keep their heads down in relation to their celebrity status. Peggy is agreeable on the blues, and delightful with That Old Feeling. Tatum plays with unusual reticence and shows just how well he could accompany (odd that his best accompanying work seems to have occurred in the company of either Bigard or Ed Hall). Any criticism of these felicitous tracks would have to be carping, and so I'm delighted to be able to recommend both discs without cavil.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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((Mosaic MD6-200)
(Published in Jazz Journal February 2010.
added 2011-08-03

CD 1 (77'07"): Hi 'Ya (1); Snibor (1); I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter (1); Texas Blues (1); A-Oodie-Oobie; Meet Mr. Rabbit (2); Duke’s In Bed (2); Just Squeeze Me (2); Ballade For Very Tired And Very Sad Lotus Eaters (2); Confab With Rab (2); It Had To Be You (2); Black And Tan Fantasy (2); Take The “A” Train (2); Viscount (3); Bouquet Of Roses (3); Digits (3)

CD 2 (75'56") Early Morning Rock (3); Blues-A-Plenty (4); Cool Your Motor (4); Gone With The Wind (4); Honey Hill (4); I Didn’t Know About You (4); Satin Doll (4); Reeling And Rocking (4); Don’t Take Your Love From Me (4); Saturday Afternoon Blues (4);Just A Memory (5); Let’s Fall In Love (5); Big Shoe (5); Ruint (5); Bend One (5); You Need To Rock (5)

CD 3 (79'06")M. H. R. (6); Broadway Babe (6); Three and Six (6); Not So Dukish (6); Central Park Swing (6); Preacher Blues (6); Jeep Bounced Back (6); The Last Time I Saw Paris (6); First Klass (C'mon Home) (7); Second Klass (7); Straight Back (7); Steerage (7); Third Klass (7); Meet The Frog (8); Nite Life (8); My Melancholy Baby (8); Lotus Blossom (8); Free For All (8)

CD 4 (67'53")Br’ Rabbit (9); Starting With You (I'm Through); The Hare (9); The Things You Miss (9); I Told You So (9); Wiggle Awhile (9); Get Ready (9); The Peaches Are Better Down The Road (9); Hygiene (9); Ben's Web (10); Side Door (Don't Kid Yourself) (10); Blues'll Blow Your Fuse (10); I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me (10); Dual Highway (10)

CD 5 (76'45")Big Ears (10); Shorty Gull (10); Ifida (10); Big Smack (10); I'd Be There (10); Just Another Day (10); Lollalagin Now (10); Medley: Am I Blue / Something To Remember You By (11); Once In A While (11); Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (11); Medley More Than You Know / Memories Of You (11); The Very Thought Of You (11); When Your Lover Has Gone (11); Blues Serenade (11); Night And Day (11); Lover Come Back To Me (11); I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (11); Two Sleepy People (11)

CD 6 (50'06")Exactly Like You; I’m Beginning To See The Light (12); Val’s Lament (12); Tipsy Joe (12); Waiting On The Champagne (12); Sweet Cookie (13); Frog Hop (13); Zag Zig (13); Dag Knows (13); Twice Daily (13); John Smith (13); Romeo (13); Black Sapphire (13)

(1) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts), Johnny Hodges (as),Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Fine Sound, NYC, January 11, 1956. (2) Clark Terry (tp, flg), Ray Nance (tp, vln-1, voc-2), Quentin Jackson (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts), Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Universal Studios, Chicago, September 1, 1956.
(3) Clark Terry, Shorty Baker, Ray Nance (tp), Quentin Jackson (tb), Russell Procope (as), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl-1,ts), Harry Carney (bari), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Universal Studios, Chicago, September 3, 1957.
(4) Roy Eldridge (tp-1), Vic Dickenson (tb-1), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts-1), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Fine Sound, NYC, April 5, 1958.
(5) Roy Eldridge (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Billy Strayhorn (p), Wendell Marshall (b), Jo Jones (d). Nola Studios, NYC, August 14, 1958.
(6) Roy Eldridge (tp, flg), Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Jimmy Hamilton (cl), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Billy Strayhorn (p), Jimmy Woode (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Nola Studios, NYC, September 10, 1958.
(7) Shorty Baker (tp), John Sanders, Quentin Jackson (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl), Ben Webster (ts), Jimmy Jones (p), Les Spann (g, fl-1), Ray Brown (b), Jo Jones (d). Columbia Studios, NYC, April 7, 1959.
(8) Same as (7). Columbia Studios, NYC, April 8, 1959 Lawrence Brown, Booty Wood (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Jimmy Rowles (p), Ray Brown (b), Ed Thigpen (d). Radio Recorders, LA, June 1, 1960
(9) Shorty Baker, Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown, Booty Wood (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Hamilton (cl-1, ts), Harold Ashby (ts), Jimmy Jones (p), Aaron Bell (b), Sam Woodyard (d). Nola Studios, NYC, September 8, 1960.
(10) Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Herb Ellis (g), Lou Levy (p), Wilfred Middlebrooks (b), Gus Johnson (d). San Francisco, November 22, 1960.
(11) Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Jones (p), Aaron Bell (b), Sonny Greer (d).
(12) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb),Johnny Hodges (as), Ben Webster (ts), Emil Richards (vbs), Russ Freeman (p), Joe Mondragon (b), Mel Lewis (d), Jimmy Hamilton (arr). Radio Recorders,LA, January 31, 1961
(13) Ray Nance (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Jimmy Forrest (ts), Emil Richards (vbs), Russ Freeman (p), Leroy Vinnegar (b), Mel Lewis (d), Mercer Ellington (arr) Radio Recorders,LA, February 21, 1961.

Over seven hours more of Johnny Hodges to add to the six LPs on Mosaic MR6-126 that covered 1951-55! He was one of the finest jazz players and well deserved the copious sessions that Norman Granz heaped on him. He was never off form and even his rare blandness on a ballad came in a performance that was better than anyone else could achieve. The alto work is almost infallible and he was able to surround himself with players almost as good. The duet session with Webster is a monumental example and the Ellingtonians in particular provide relaxed and yet inspired support on all of the albums. Non-Ellingtonians, particularly Lou Levy, provide a piquancy and play up to the required standard. It’s not possible to comment on the many extraordinary highlights from the leader and his cohorts (like Eldridge’s unique explosion into Honey Hill) but be sure that they are there in every session and no track is ever less than very good.

There are 30 previously unissued tracks. They are all so good that it’s impossible to detect why they didn’t come out when they were originally recorded.

The reader should accept that this is, to quote the Rabbit, first klass stuff of an inordinately high calibre. There is as always in Hodges small groups a preponderance of blues/ Got Rhythm sequences which some, but not your reviewer, may find trying. More important is Mosaic’s decision not to include the tracks by big bands that Johnny led for Granz. These, a dozen titles in all, were by the Ellington band with Strayhorn at the piano. They would have fitted onto a seventh CD (which I have constructed for myself) and would have made a neater job. But the Mosaic box is titled “small group” so one can’t carp. The accompanying booklet is up to the Mosaic standard and includes a biography by Stanley Dance.

This is the 100th box issued by the label. When their first issues came out few thought they would prosper since they were so specialised and thorough on the collector’s behalf. One of the healthiest signs for jazz in the new century is that they did.

The box, well worth $96, is available by credit card from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford CT 06902, telephone 001 610 667 0501, or e-mail Mindspring.

-Steve Voce
(reproduced with the author's permission)

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