Willis Conover interviewed Duke Ellington on  numerous occasions . The last one took place on September 5, 1973 in Ellington’s home in New York City, two and a half month before Ellington started his gruelling 1973 tour of Europe and Africa. The interview was broadcasted on Ellington’s birthday April 29, 1974 on Music USA and the interview has a tone of Willis Conover saying farewell to Ellington.

The first interview Conover did with Ellington was more that 27 years earlier and it was done in the studio of radio station WWDC  in Washington D.C. with the Ellington family in attendance.

Maristella Feustle – Music Special Collections Librian at University of North Texas – writes about this occasions in her research article Willis Conover’s Washington published in Current Research In Jazz in 2018 (https://www.crj-online.org/v8/CRJ-Conover.php).

“On April 20, 1946, Conover scored a major coup in interviewing Duke Ellington and his entourage in connection with a performance in the area. The recording survives in the Willis Conover Collection at the University of North Texas and in the Ruth Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and the tone of the interview is very friendly and humorous, not at all stiff or formal. Weeks later, Conover also featured Lionel Hampton in person, [18] and on June 6 of that year, Conover emceed Ellington’s appearance at the Watergate Barge, a venue on the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial. It was the first time an African-American artist had performed there. [19] When Ellington appeared at New York’s Carnegie Hall in November of 1946, Conover was his emcee. [20] Several selections from that concert were used on V-Discs (742, 750, 759), but with introductions recorded by Leonard Feather on the first two.”

Feustle’sarticle has the photo above and for this article it has been extracted from The Duke Where And When (http://tdwaw.ca).

Back to the 1973 interview.

It starts with Conover triggering Ellington to talk about some of the honours and distinctions he has recently received like the French Legion of Honour and Honorary Professorships from top American universities like Yale, Fisk, Universities of Wisconsin and others. He then moves Ellington to tell about how he felt about coaching and lecturing music students at the University of Wisconsin the year before.

Finally, Conover gets Ellington to sit down at the piano to play fragments of Romantic Season and Volupté and talk about current things on his agenda like Music Is My Mistress, Third Sacred Concert and an opera he is working on.

Author: Ulf Lundin








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