Meeting report

Day 1 (Thomas Erikson))

Ellingtonia is a vast country with many different regions. The first day of Ellington 2022 experienced presenters took the participants through three such regions of Ellingtonia.

Leîla Olivesi, musicologist, composer, pianist and also vice president of the French organisation Maison du Duke, was first on the floor with her presentation of the Ellington Medleys. Using the definition in the Cambridge Dictionary she mentioned that a medley is a mixture of different things, especially tunes, put together to form a longer piece of music. Ellington had combined some of his tunes into medleys  recorded as early as 1932 and 1936 and used this format during the nineteen forties, for instance in the 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert. But, as Leîla pointed oiut, it became an important part of his concerts only in the fifties and onwards. A trade mark as she expressed it. The medleys came in two orms, one a triptych composed of Black And Tan Fantasy, Creole Love Call and The Mooche, the other of various combinations of popular Ellington songs like Mood Indigo, Solitude and Sophisticated Lady. Normally the triptych was performed at the beginning of a Concert while the other medley came at the end.

Leïla played some concert recordings  to show how Ellington could vary his presentations focusing on his piano introductions to Black And Tan Fantasy. As she told she had gone through 41 recorded versions of this piece but the recordings she chose to play gave an idea of the way Ellington developed his part adding new motifs over the years.

Other themes of her presentation included the question why Ellington played medleys. As an answer she told that he wanted to please the public. Combining short versions of his popular tunes into medleys enabled him to play as many of them as possible gaining time to play his other works

Marcello Piras, music researcher and author of a book on John Coltrane among others, next took the floor with his theme Evidence of subtext in Ellington´s Music. His presentation dealt with the possibility of finding descriptive elements in music such as pictures and associations. He told that he has worked with this for many years and met with resistance to accept it as a legitimate topic for research. As Marcello put it, there are people who simply reject the idea that music can be descriptive but everybody agrees that Ellington, who started as a painter, could paint in music. In his presentation Marcello did not want to deal with this discussion. Instead he pointed to some criteria that can be used to find descriptive elements in a given piece of music. These include 1. Context (for instance if written for a show), 2. Title, 3. Lyrics, 4. Testimony (for instance comments by the Composer) and 5. Musical analysis. By finding at least two of these criteria to be true for the music piece in question  you may, according to Marcello, be on the right way to finding what it describes. As he added, there may be risks and pitfalls here. A title may have changed or mean something else than we understand and testimony by the composer may be false. As Marcello said, Ellington gave a lot of correct information throughout his life but he also said an incredible lot of lies.

To demonstrate how descriptive elements can be found Marcello played two early Ellington records. One was Choo Choo recorded in  1924. Marcello showed the music sheet for this piece which indicated that Ellington wrote the music and also that there were lyrics to it written by Dave Pringle. These were about a man boarding a train hurrying to meet his beloved woman. Ellington did not use the lyrics in his recording which was wholly instrumental. However Marcello could show that Ellington in his recording had added a musical motif not found in the sheet Music. This was a quotation from the well-known march Anchors Aweigh where the title signals the departure of a ship at sea. This would make sense as a reference to the sense of departure in the lyrics to Choo Choo. Musical quotations was a common practice at this period and one that Ellington would often u se and refine in later years.

Last to take the presenter´s floor this first day of Ellington 2022 was Jack Chambers, professor, teacher of music and language, author of several books including one on Ellington, Sweet Thunder. In his presentation, Buried treasures, he wanted to play some pieces by Ellington less known than they should be. He pointed out that there are dozens of Ellington compositions performed maybe once or twice, never recorded in a studio and then left on the shelf. Out of this category Jack, as he said, had selected four gems and novelty tune. The first piece was a Beautiful ballad, Beautiful Woman Walks Well, recorded 1966 for the soundtrack of the film Assault on a Queen. Ellington played this tune in Concerts for a period to publicize the film, then dropped it.

Jack next brought out three recordings from the Carnegie Hall Concert of November 13 1948. The first one was a gospel-tinged blues, My Friend, featuring tenor saxophonist Al Sears. ”Imagine how it might have sounded by Gonsalves or Harold Ashby”, Jack commented. From the same concert Jack then had selected a novelty, a sort of Ellington jazzy take on Antonín Dvorak´s well-known Humoresque, featuring ”the string section of Ray Nance in his finest fiddling form” as Jack expressed it. Returning to proper Ellington terrtory with the last piece from this Carnegie Hall concert Jack presented Fantazm, described by Ellington as ”a little tune that is supposed to be the resulting sound of, I suppose, two people living a lush Life”. It is, as Jack said, a very sensitive arrangement with beautiful solos by Lawrence Brown and especially by Harry Carney on bass   clarinet. These three pieces were repeated during a later concert on December 10 1948 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and then disappeared with the exception of Humoresque  which was performed on three more occasions.

The last piece presented by Jack was Feet Bone in a recording from the Newport Jazz Festival July 3 1958. The history of this piece goes back to a stockpile recording session on January 3 1956 after which it was aired in an NBC broadcast the same month and not Heard of until the Newport performance. After that it disappeared. In Jack´s opinion shared by many others including David Berger it is a treasure in Ellington´s repertoire with great playing by the the brass and reed sections in one of Duke´s greatest bands. Jack finished his presentation by mentioning that there are many more buried treasures to discover.

Day 2 (Thomas Harne)

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Day 3 (Ian Bradley)

Excellent teaching ran like a golden thread through the third day of Ellington 2022. As the best teachers do, Anna Celenza inspired her audience to think for ourselves. If we reached the conclusion that the relationship between Ellington and Leonard Bernstein, the focus of her keynote address offered only further proof that Ellington’s music was frequently misunderstood, appropriated or patronized by the establishment, we reached that conclusion through no prompting, simply the meticulously- marshaled evidence of Anna’s meticulously researched presentation.

The issue of social injustice that rumbled darkly beneath the surface of Ellington’s work was brought sharply into focus on the video presentation of the late Mark Tucker’s dissertation in New York, 1993 on New World A-Coming and its relationship to Roy Otley’s book. Rob Bamberger’s live introduction to the video was equally authoritative, moving and thought-provoking.

The meeting concluded with a good-humoured and celebratory presentation entitled Kenny Burrell and Duke Ellington by Steven Bowie. Steven was an engineering student at UCLA who became a teaching assistant in the mid-1970s to Burrell on his programme of musical study called Ellingtonia.

Steven’s engaging presentation took us through aspects of Burrell’s programme and the guitarist’s involvement with such alumni as Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves.

Steven’s thorough-going research and judicious use of audio visual material was an uplifting finale to another superb and thought-provoking evening, echoing Burrell’s own mantra as a teacher: the more you listen, the more you look – the more you hear, the more you see.

Day 4 (Ulf Lundin)

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