| || THE INTERNATIONAL|
DUKE ELLINGTON MUSIC SOCIETY
04/2 August-November 2004
FOUNDER: BENNY AASLAND
HONORARY MEMBER: FATHER JOHN GARCIA GENSEL
EDITOR: SJEF HOEFSMIT
ASSISTED BY: ROGER BOYES
Voort 18b, 2328 Meerle, Belgium
Telephone: +32 3 315 75 83
Duke's Brass, 1937-38
By Steven Lasker
Sjef tells me that the personnel in Duke's brass section
during 1937-38 has been a hot topic of late on the Duke-LYM list.
This comes as no surprise, as the subject seems to have bedeviled
discographers and historians for years. Stratemann and Vail got it
pretty much right, in no small measure due to research reported by
yours truly, some of it in DEMS ("Comments on Timner's fourth
edition" pages 8 and 11, included with DEMS bulletins 98/3 and 98/4
respectively). This piece gathers all the relevant research in one
place for the first time. Those for whom the subject is still unclear
will be relieved to learn that the mystery is largely solved thanks
to clues found in published literature. The original
Master-Variety/A.R.C. ledgers document the number of brassmen present
at the various recording sessions, and enables us to further perfect
discographical listings of these sessions.
According to Barry Ulanov's 1946 biography of Ellington, Art Whetsel
was replaced circa March 1937 by Danny Baker who was in turn replaced
by Wallace Jones. Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz places Harold Baker
with the band in 1938. However, I have found no account prior to
Ulanov's that places Danny Baker with Ellington. The earliest print
references I have seen to a musician named Baker in Ellington's band
date to 1942, when Harold Baker joined. Press accounts from 1938-39
that I have seen list only the following trumpet/cornet players with
Ellington: Whetsel, Jones, Williams, Jenkins and Stewart. Solid
evidence, to be detailed below, establishes that Whetsel left on
19Feb38 and was replaced by Jones on 24Feb38. (Ellington played just
one engagement between those dates, on 23Feb with a small group that
included Cootie Williams. Thus, Ulanov's assertion that Baker
replaced Whetsel and was in turn replaced by Jones is wrong.)
Between the springs of 1937 and 1938, Ellington's band carried a
complement of three to four trumpets. Williams and Stewart were
dependable regulars--although according to Stewart (Boy Meets Horn,
p193), relations between them were frosty: "Wallace Jones, who had
replaced Whetsol [sic] in the first trumpet chair, tried to be the
peacemaker between Cootie and me, but to no avail. We didn't speak to
each other for at least two years."
When Whetsel rejoined Ellington early in 1928, he replaced violinist
Ellsworth Reynolds (per Reynolds, quoted in Jazz Monthly, Feb67p6).
He stayed with the band continuosly thereafter, with only two
absences prior to his retirement that I know of, the first between
mid-June and early August 1935 when he was replaced by Charlie Allen.
The April 1937 issue of Metronome reported he was "always on the job
even when not well." When the band went on the road in early November
1937, Whetsel stayed in New York; Melody Maker (13Nov37) reported his
"absence from the band will probably be permanent because of serious
illness." Whetsel was nevertheless back with the band at its 30Nov37
Birmingham engagement (per International Musician, Feb38). Whetsel's
final engagement with the band was a dance at Rutgers University in
New Brunswick, New Jersey on 19Feb38. According to the Pittsburgh
Courier (3Mar38) Whetsel was "scheduled to leave the profession he
loves so well as the result of a brain disorder from which he has
been suffering many months. Whetsol [sic], who is in his thirties [actually
about age 34], received his most recent shock from his prolonged
illness during the band's engagment at Rutgers University Saturday
night. At that time it became apparent that he could no longer walk
in active circles in a world of music."
Jenkins, who first joined the band in 1928, took a leave of absence
just before Christmas 1934 when a bout of illness (tuberculosis
according to Ulanov, p204) sent him to Harlem Hospital (Chicago
Defender, 5Jan35; Baltimore Afro-American, 5Jan35). By July 1935 he
was much improved, the 13Jul35 Chicago Defender noting he was "never
seen without that big smile ... and the surprising thing about it all
is his faith in future possibilities for a great comeback." According
to Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz, Jenkins in 1935 joined "Adrian's Tap
Room Band," led by Adrian Rollini. Jenkins is heard with them on
titles recorded for Bluebird on 26Aug35, some under his own name.
When Louis Armstrong opened at Connie's Inn on 29oct35 Jenkins was
present, filling in for Armstrong during changes (Swing Music,
Nov-Dec35, p258) and conducting Luis Russell's Orchestra. The job
lasted into late 1936 according to Chilton.
Jenkins rejoined Ellington at the Cotton Club in March 1937. A
feature in the April 1937 issue of Metronome included profiles of
Ellington's sidemen. Jenkins was noted as "back in the band after two
years' absence due to illness." Reviewing the Cotton Club Parade for
Jazz Hot (June-July 1937, p11), Stanley Dance noted "Jenkins was in
the band each time I went there, and the seven-piece brass section
had such tone, volume and punch as I'm sure has never been equalled
in jazz." A photo taken at the Cotton Club of the band with the
seven-man brass team of
Whetsel-Williams-Jenkins-Stewart-Nanton-Brown-Tizol appears in
Stewart's Boy Meets Horn.
In the fall of 1937, Jenkins was temporarily "bedded following an
intricate throat operation" (Melody Maker, 13Nov37). The 30Apr38
Chicago Defender, in a story datelined the day before, noted that
Jenkins was out of the band; "none of the musicians would say why"
but Harlem rumor had it that he "needed a rest." Photographs of the
band on the occasion of their 29May38 Randall's Island concert show
Jenkins in his last known engagement with Ellington.
Although Ellington had seven brass players on call during parts of
1937-38, he seldom used that many at record dates, at least judging
from the evidence found in the recording ledgers, which routinely
noted instrumentation but seldom the names of sidemen in the large
Here are the various sessions by the full orchestra from 1937-38
listed by recording date, followed by the brass instrumentation as
noted in the recording ledger and finally the initials of the
brassmen who I believe played on each session, based on what I hear,
the historical data presented above and additional data presented
5Mar37; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT. (Some
discographies show Jenkins "tap dancing" on I've Got to Be a Rug
Cutter and playing "bells" on The New East St. Louis
Toodle-o, but what is heard on the former is consistent with the
foot stomping performed by the entire band on this title as seen and
heard in the film "The Hit Parade," while the bells on the latter
title sound consistent with Sonny Greer's bar chimes.)
9Apr37, also 22 Apr37; "6 brass"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.
14May37, also 8Jun37: "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.
20Sep37; "4 trumpets, 2 [sic] trombones"; AW, CW, FJ, RS; JN (absent
from M646 and possibly M647; present on M648 through M651), LB, JT.
The ledger sheet for M646 shows 14 men and the instrumentation just
cited, i.e., two trombones; those for M647 through M651 indicates the
instrumentation to be "same as M646," yet three trombones are heard
on masters M648 through M651. Willie Timner (per letter dated
23Jul04) speculates that Nanton was absent for the "roll call" at the
start of the session and the ledger-keeper neglected to note his
presence on thesheets for the later masters. (In "Comments on Timner"
I posited just two trombones on this session; thanks to Michael
Kilpatrick for setting me aright that there are actually three, at
least on masters M648 through M651. T. Larsson and Benny Aasland, in
DEMS 83/3p7, also reported hearing three trombones. Brooks Kerr
believes that he can hear three trombones instead of two in
Chatterbox, M646.) Although Nanton doesn't solo on this
session, both Timner and I believe we occasionally detect his
distictive sonority within the section.
13Jan38, also 2Feb38; "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, FJ, RS; LB,
24Feb38; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW, FJ; LB, JN, JT. The
session, which produced just two titles, went from 6:30 p.m. to 2:00
a.m. according to the recording ledger. According to Melody Maker
(12Mar38, p1), "the other night, the band was up at Brunswick for a 7
p.m. session, remained there until two in the morning, and only got
two done! Rex Stewart could not show up owing to illness in his
family, and Freddy Jenkins was hurriedly sent for. Wallace Jones
played first trumpet on this date in place of Artie Whetsel, who is
said to have become very eccentric in his ways. Jones, by the way, is
a cousin of Chick Webb." Per Down Beat (Apr38), "Duke Ellington ....
has replaced Arthur Whetsol [sic] because of illness, with Wallace
Jones whose only bid to swing fame thus far is his previous
association with Willie Bryant and his close kinship to Chick Webb.
Jones joined the band on its recording date when Ellington put on the
wax several new tunes from the Cotton Club revue."
3Mar38 (2:00 to 7:00 p.m.); "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW, FJ,
RS; LB, JN, JT or Herb Flemming. Flemming recalled this session in a
1970 interview with Bo Scherman: "I replaced Juan Tizol for the
recording session which produced Braggin' in Brass. I played
the virtuoso trombone duet with Lawrence Brown (actually the trombone
trio passage) on Braggin' in Brass, which made a great
impression on musicians at that time." (E. Biagioni: "Herb Flemming,
A Jazz Pioneer Around the World," Alphen aan de Rijn, 1978, p57.)
11Apr38; "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW (master M809 only), ?RN
(masters M810 and M811), FJ, RS; LB, JN, JT. According to the ledger
sheet for M810, "Cootie left this number." His replacement was
reportedly Ray Nance, who recalled the session independently to both
Bruce Davis (DEMS 85/4p4) and Brooks Kerr. Note, however, that Nance
was then a member of Earl Hines' orchestra, which was likely in the
deep South at the time at least judging by that orchestra's
chronology as presented in Stanley Dance's The World of Earl Hines
(p297). (I haven't independably researched Hines' itinerary.) Note
also that Ray Nance recalled in 1973 to Brooks Kerr that the arranger
of I'm Slappin' Seventh Avenue (M810) was Chappie Willett, the
same who arranged Prelude in C Sharp Minor (Cotton Club
7Jun38, also 9Aug38, 19Dec38, 22Dec38; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ,
CW, RS; LB, JN, JT. (However, note that only two brass play on
Blue Light, WJ and LB.)
20Jun38, also 4Aug38, 2Sep38; "6 brass"; WJ, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.
As for the second trumpet on Rex's The Back Room Romp
(7Jul37), the ledger sheet for master M549 helpfully names all eight
men: Stewart, Jenkins, Hodges, Carney, Ellington, Fleagle, Alvis and
Maisel. According to Paul Eduard Miller (writing in the September
1937 issue of Down Beat), "The trombone part is ably played by
Jenkins on the trumpet." I don't hear Jenkins on any of the other
titles made that morning (at a session that went from midnight to
Benny Aasland (DEMS 84/2p8) placed Danny Baker in the band from
December 1939 until February 1940 on a supposed tour booked by
Consolidated Radios Artists, an unsourced assertion unsupported by
any evidence found in the contemporary press by Ken Steiner or me,
and at a time when Ellington was booked by the William Morris Agency.
We are accordingly dubious of thereport.
While Ulanov, Aasland (in DEMS 83/3p7 and 84/2p8) and others have
shown Danny Baker with Ellington, I haven't found any hard evidence
that a trumpeter of that name ever existed, which leads me to suspect
that "he" is a phantom. (If anyone who reads this has access to a
membership directory from the late 1930s for New York musician's
union local 802, please report whether a Danny Baker is listed
therein.) As for Harold "Shorty" Baker, I've found no credible
evidence to support John Chilton's contention that Baker was "briefly
with Duke Ellington in 1938." Would someone who knows Chilton please
ask him where he found his information, and report his answer through
DEMS? Absent convinving evidence from Chilton, I am inclined to
believe that when Stanley Dance wrote (The World of Duke Ellington,
p166) that Baker began his "long and occasionally interrupted career"
with Ellington in 1942, he got it right. (Note: a photo of the band
taken in 1938 or 1939 and reprinted on the cover of Max MLP 1001 is
miscaptioned to show Harold Baker rather than Wallace Jones, who is
the trumpeter depicted--at least to my eyes.)
Topics for further discussion: Are two or three trombones audible on
M646 and M647?
Did Herb Flemming replace Juan Tizol on the session of 3Mar38 as he
Is Ray Nance actually on M810 (and presumably on M811 as well) as he
Isn't it about time to say adieu and R.I.P. to Danny Baker (1946-2004)?
Request: Can any collector with a Jenkins autograph tell us how he
signed his first name?
7 August 2004