Monday, 7 August 2017

Coventry Mystery Play

The recent reissue of the Storyville album The Jaywalker, anthologised in Duke Box 2 (reviewed this issue on page 18) set me thinking about the play for which Ellington composed this music. In an issue focused so strongly on the theatre and with 2017 being the fiftieth anniversary of the work’s alleged première at Coventry Cathedral in July 1967, it seemed appropriate to look a little further into this theatrical piece.

    Research into the background of the play reveals the fascinating confluence of high art and high living centred around the ‘bright young things’ of the twenties and thirties who could well have stepped from the pages of a novel by Evelyn Waugh.  

    The Jaywalker was written by the former actress Barbara Waring who eventually became Lady Cunliffe through her second marriage to the chairman of British Aluminium, Geoffrey Cunliffe. Her first marriage was to the theatrical agent Lawrence Evans and Barbara Waring was steeped in theatre. She had appeared in Nöel Coward’s Cavalcade and graduated to work in the film industry, her most famous appearance being made in the film In Which We Serve. She was also an habitué of art critic Arthur Jeffress’ social circles, going on from clubs such as the Blue Angel to frequent parties he held at Orchard Court. Was it at one of these gatherings she first heard Ellington’s music? The critic was used to auditioning ‘hot’ records he had brought back from America on such occasions in the company of fellow jazz enthusiasts like Constant Lambert. When Ellington first visited Britain in 1933, he had been lionised by and later met teenager Renee Gertler, neice of the artist Mark Gertler. As Mrs Leslie Diamond, in the 1950s Renee entertained Ellington at her Park Lane home and it was through this mutual friendship that Ellington came to write the music for Waring’s The Jaywalker.

In his book Duke Ellington’s Music for the Theatre, John Franceschina describes the plot of The Jaywalker as follows:
“The play tells the simple story of a boy named Mac who wants to stop the traffic on the highway so that people on one side of the road can have the freedom to cross to the other side. After being bullied by a gestapo-like policeman, and witnessing the callousness of the crowd at the sight of a hit-and-run accident, Mac decides to take it upon himself to stop the traffic by running out into the road where he is ‘crucified between a lorry and a Rolls Royce.’ ”

    The tune Mac (which means ‘Son of…’) subsequently found its way into Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert as TGTT or The Biggest and Busiest Intersection. Whilst the connection to Ellington’s sacred work is, of course, obvious, I’m sure there are connections to be discovered, too, to the narrative drive of other Ellington works as diverse as Monologue (Pretty and the Wolf), A Drum is a Woman and The Golden Broom and the Green Apple, all works which might be said to address the idea of congress in the widest sense of the word: the nature of the exchange between man and woman; man and God – Morality and mortality, if you will. I’m sure there’s an academic paper in there somewhere… Duke Ellington and his Orchestra recorded the music for The Jaywalker in a single ‘stockpile’ recording session in New York City on 23 March, 1967. The first recording of TGTT was made by Ellington alone, however, at the piano almost a fortnight earlier in Paris. The performance was part of a tape, Pianists in Paris play for Billy Strayhorn, made for Ellington’s composing and arranging companion who was seriously ill during this time with the cancer that would cost him his life. Little wonder that TGGT and the moving Meditation would become centrepieces eventually of the Second Sacred Concert.

     What of the play itself, however, for which the music was destined originally? John Franceschina writes:
    “… for some reason by 17 July, the author had not yet received permission from Ellington to use the score in production. With Duke’s touring schedule during the summer of 1967, it comes as no surprise that Lady Cunliffe had difficulty in pinning him down. Ultimately the production proceeded as planned, received warm notices, and except for the echoes of the score in Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert, disappeared forever.”

It remains a mystery still…

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Coventry Clippings

Here are some newspaper clippings relating to Duke Ellington's visit to Coventry in 1966...

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Subject is Jazz

More goodies from Ebay...

Hello. Up for sale is an original 16mm print of an NBC/NET television program from 1958 titled, The Subject is Jazz. Excellent condition with Near Mint image, SUPERB SOUND, complete from start to finish with Head, Countdown and Tail, no splices, no vinegar odor. It is a near perfect print. The film is 1100 feet in length, and the show runs 30 minutes. This is a print and not a telecine. This, the first show in the series, is titled, What is Jazz?
Note that my photos came out a bit dark because my aperture opening was incorrect. The two films listed after this one depict a more accurate resolution/brightness.
The Subject is Jazz was an innovative 13-week series hosted by Gilbert Seldes. It featured some of the giants in the world of jazz, both in live performance and in conversation. The guest for this premiere episode was Duke Ellington. The sound and mix the engineers got from this live jazz ensemble in an early studio setting is phenomenal. Here’s a list of the performers: 
Billy Taylor – Piano (also musical director)
Osie Johnson – Drums 
Mundell Lowe – Guitar
Eddie Safranski – Bass
Carl Severinsen – Trumpet (as “Doc” he led The Tonight Show band from 1967-1992)
Tony Scott – Clarinet
Jimmy Cleveland – Trombone 
Here’s a quick rundown of the program. Note that the songs played in their entirety are quite long, featuring many solos: 
  1. Intro music and opening with host Seldes.
  2. Royal Garden Blues. The entire number from start to finish.
  3. Seldes introduces and talks with Duke Ellington.
  4. Dixieland number is performed in its entirety (I didn’t catch the title).
  5. More conversation with Duke Ellington that turns into a tribute as Billy Taylor plays portions of three of his songs: Drop Me Off In HarlemSophisticated Lady, and Caravan. Ellington comments how great his songs sound in the hands of Billy Taylor (and it’s true). 
  6. Cottontail. The entire song is heard with plenty of solos all around.
  7. Seldes wraps up the show, end credits.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Heaven Sent to Coventry

Ghost Town: Civic Television and the Haunting of Coventry
is an exciting new project organised by Helen Wheatley, Centre for Television History, Heritage and Memory Studies, as part of Coventry's bid for the title City of Culture in 20121.

The project "programmes a series of civic screenings or hauntings in cinemas and other more unorthodox venues around the city to unleash the city’s ghosts and to bring past and present (and future) Coventry together."

The presentation includes the following...

  • Ellington in Coventry: A collaboration with Nicolas Pillai (Birmingham City University), Coventry Cathedral, Danny Greene (Coventry City Council), the Birmingham Conservatoire, and our archival partners, this event will incorporate a screening of Celebration (ITV/ABC, Sunday, 10 Apr 1966, 18:30 (55 mins)), the television programme of Duke Ellington’s performance of his suite ‘In the Beginning, God’ at Coventry Cathedral, on large screens placed next to the Sutherland tapestry, and a live performance of Ellington’s music at the Cathedral itself.
This is exciting news and Villes Ville will post news updates as they become available. The date for screening the television programme and the concert of Sacred music is early April next year.

Full details of the project  may be viewed here.

There will be more postings on Ellington's links to the city of Coventry later in the week.

Monday, 10 July 2017

More Sinned Against?

From a recent Ebay auction...

IT AIN'T NO SIN - Very Rare Original Paramount Pictures pressbook for Mae West's 1934 film.
This was the Pre-release title for Belle Of The Nineties starring Mae West
- with Roger Pryor, Duke Ellington's Orchestra, etc. -
Censors forced change of title, after some publicity material had been produced.
Entire pressbook had to be changed throughout, with title changed in every item.
Some changes and differences in materials / posters between this original printing and the later printing under the new title of Belle Of The Nineties.
Total of 38 pages, including both sides of covers.
22 numbered pages . . .
12 pages of Advertising . . .
4 pages, both sides of covers include posters, display cards, lobby cards, etc.
Sections on Exploitation, Publicity, Songs and Music, Advertising, etc.
No clips or missing pieces. Pressbook is complete as originally printed.
Very good condition. Front cover silver printing slightly smudged / dirty from storage.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Maple Leaves

I own the LP Concerts in Canada but not the liner notes by Andrew Homzy which came as a fold-out booklet. Courtesy of a vendor on Ebay here are photographs of the booklet which came originally with the record...

Friday, 2 June 2017

... and nothing but the tooth...


Did a punch thrown by Duke Ellington put paid to the career of trombonist Lawrence Brown? 
That is the astonishing claim made in the UK magazine Jazz Journal published in April 2015.

In 2015, the magazine published a profile of Lawrence Brown. Of Brown’s leaving the band in 1970, the piece asserts:
“His retirement was not voluntary. After more than 30 years of fury with Ellington, things had finally come to a climax and the two men had had a fight in a European airport. Ellington knocked out two of Brown’s front teeth and he was never able to play again.”
Someone on the Editorial or production team at Jazz Journal felt this assertion was important enough to box out and highlight at the top right hand corner of the page.

    The earliest reference I can find in print to this alleged incident is in Duke’s Bones by Kurt Dietrich (Advance Music, 1995).
Dietrich writes (p.182):
“Around the turn of the year 1970, Lawrence Brown, after almost thirty years with the Ellington organization, finally left the band for the last time. Resentments between Brown and Ellington that had boiled beneath the surface for decades finally erupted, and difficult as it may be to believe, it is now common knowledge that Ellington punched Brown in the mouth, knocking out several teeth.”
    Crucially, Dietrich nowhere makes the assertion that it was as a result of this incident that Brown never played the trombone again.
    To find that inference, we have to look at Terry Teachout’s biography: Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington Gotham Books 2013. Teachout says (p.346):
   “Now, too, came the terrible and crushing losses, the first of which was the departure of Lawrence Brown, who quit in December of 1969, claiming that he had “lost all feeling for the music” and had no desire ever again to play the trombone … the real reason for his sudden retirement, which he chose not to reveal save to friends, was that after decades of feuding, he and Ellington had finally gotten into a backstage fistfight, and his boss had knocked out his two front teeth. Brown never played again.”
    Whilst Teachout cites Dietrich as the source for this incident, Teachout’s own account is at variance with the evidence in Duke’s Bones: Dietrich claims that Brown lost several teethwhilst Teachout states explicitly “his two front teeth.” 
    Teachout does not claim that Brown gave up the trombone directly as a consequence of losing any teeth but that is clearly the inference that the reader might be expected to draw from the way Teachout has organized his ideas in that paragraph. 
    What is Teachout’s evidence for claiming that Brown “quit in December 1969”? The way this is phrased also leads to misunderstanding. It may be that Brown served his notice to quit in that month but Teachout’s prose gives the impression Brown was gone before the new year. In fact, Brown was still working with the Orchestra during the first week of January, 1970.
    What does Teachout mean by ‘backstage’? Is he talking metaphorically? If so, this only adds to the confusion. If he is talking literally, there is no ‘backstage’ in a recording studio.
    Was Teachout’s biography the source the Jazz Journal gossip writer was citing, uncredited, in his piece in Jazz Journal in April 2015? It is a possibility. Certainly the writer of the piece seems unaware of Dietrich’s work since, when reviewing the Teachout biography for Jazz Journal, the ‘eternal triangle’ which was alleged to have existed between Ellington, Brown and Brown’s wife Fredi Washington was news to him. It would not have been, had he read Duke’s Bones.
    Here again, Jazz Journal’s account creates a third version of these events. The magazine claims that the altercation between Ellington and Brown took place “in a European airport”. I can find no source amongst the Ellington literature I have for this assertion.
    Duke Ellington and his Orchestra departed from New York for a tour of Europe on 27 October 1969. Perhaps the most famous souvenir of that particular tour is the album Duke Ellington’s 70th Birthday Concert, a compilation of two live engagements the band played towards the end of the tour at Colston Hall, Bristol on 25 November and The Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 26 November. In the original liner notes to the issued album, Derek Jewell wrote:
    “His swing through Europe in 1969 was incredibly gruelling, the band roaming from Scandinavia to Italy on a hectic series of one-night stands.”
    Jewell creates a sense of the scope of the band’s travels concisely and eloquently. In which of these countries’ airports did the alleged punch-up take place? The puzzled music lover, taking his copy of Duke Ellington’s 70th Birthday Concert down from the shelf and listening, in particular, ironically enough, to Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me will hear the trombone of Lawrence Brown, recorded at The Free Trade Hall on 26 November. The punch up which meant Brown “was never able to play again” must have taken place after this concert, then. The next airport the Orchestra would have occasion to find themselves in after this would have been in London for their return flight home. A “European airport” is a decidedly odd way for a British writer to refer to an airport in London. It would be the last time Brown would find himself in a “European airport” with Ellington whilst a practising horn player.
    And if the blow meant that Brown “was never able to play again”, how can we explain the fact that a week later on his final engagement with the orchestra, Lawrence participated in recording three titles. The Kissing Mist remains unissued, but of the two other titles, Tippytoeing Through The Jungle and Noon Morning, on the former, the smooth, sonorous trombone solo towards the end of the track is instantaneously recognizable as belonging to one Lawrence Brown. 

The recording session took place in Las Vegas, Nevada on 7 January, 1970, a month after the Orchestra had returned to the States from their European tour.
    Perhaps the writer of the Jazz Journal article didn’t read his Terry Teachout closely enough. The New York critic’s prose on this point is somewhat slippery. Only by inference can we conclude from Teachout that Ellington was responsible for ending Brown’s career in this way. 

    This piece in Jazz Journal is the only article I have read on this subject which makes the connection directly: “His retirement was not voluntary... Ellington knocked out two of Brown’s front teeth and he was never able to play again.” This assertion is presented without qualification as fact. It is not a fact. It is an assertion. No evidence is offered in its support. The writer has been asked directly for evidence to support the claim that Brown was “forced” to retire.

No response has so far been received.