DUKE ELLINGTON MUSIC SOCIETY
09/1 April - July 2009
Our 31st Year of Publication
FOUNDER: BENNY AASLAND
Voort 18b, 2328 Meerle, Belgium
Telephone: +32 3 315 75 83
Patricia Willard, 2009 Good NEWS DEMS 09/1-7 NEW FINDS NEW BOOKS DVD REPORTS
See DEMS 08/3-4
I am very sad to hear of the passing of Frank Dutton. During the 1960's, when he lived in Ruislip, west of London, he and I met frequently to talk and play records. Apart from his love of Ellington's music, Frank was very keen and knowledgeable on Lunceford, the Blue Rhythm Band etc. His particular love was for Duke in the 20's, 30's & 40's and, since I came to the music in the 1950's, mine was at that time for the 50's & 60's. We got along very well together. Frank was a warm-hearted, generous man, with a great sense of humour (you will know that from correspondence with him) and I regret that we did not keep in touch when he went "back home" west to Malvern Link and I north to Derbyshire & N Wales. I miss his chuckling laugh - he would really have chuckled to hear that he is regarded as a giant.
I just received the monthly bulletin from the Jazz Institute of Chicago, where I learned that Sue Markle died on Dec. 19th. She was a former president of the Jazz Institute and active in the Ellington conferences along with Dick Wang. I don't have any further details. I think you knew Sue.
Jo Ann Sterling
I certainly knew Sue. I met her in 1983 for the first time in Washington at the so-called first International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference. I remember that when Joe Igo, Eddie Lambert and Klaus Stratemann were presenting their plans for new books about Duke, Sue stood up and asked if there would not be too many books about Ellington. She certainly was worried about the capacity of the market to absorb so many new publications in a short time. I remember Joe Igo’s response: “There can never be enough books about Duke!”
I cherish my memories of these good friends and especially of several get-togethers in Sue’s apartment.
Saturday's L.A. Times contains a (paid) obituary for Bob Udkoff, 17Jun17-21Jan09, who "passed away peacefully at home in Beverly Hills." It mentions that he was "lifelong friend and associate of Duke Ellington, Joe Williams, Kenny Burrell and many others in the jazz world."
Bob Udkoff was indeed a very close friend of Duke’s. Along with his wife Evelyn he has his own chapter in Music is My Mistress (p405). He donated to the Ellington community the tapes with the recordings made at his 50th birthday party (see DEMS 05/3-15 and 06/1-13). Bob and Evelyn were also present in Norman Granz’s studio when the recordings were made for the Pablo LP “The Big Four” (see DEMS 08/1-9).
I would just like to let you know that Birgit Åslund, Benny's wife, died on February 7. We in DESS learned about this today. The funeral is scheduled for March 10 at Järfälla church. Some of us plan to participate, and in our next Bulletin we will publish an obituary.
For the Duke Ellington Society of Sweden,
Not long before my friend Ove Wilson died (see DEMS 81/2-7), he arranged for me to meet Benny Aasland on 31Jan81. Benny invited me for dinner at his home and it was then that I met Birgit for the first time. Until that moment I lived with the assumption that Birgit Åslund was Benny Aasland’s secretary because she wrote the letters to the membership and handled the finances. I assumed that the similarity of the names was purely coincidental. I was surprised to learn that she was his wife and Benny explained that Aasland was an error by a type-setter and that Benny decided to keep it as his pseudonym.
Ever since my first meeting with Birgit I have been astonished by the great help she gave Benny in running the Duke Ellington Music Society. She was not only a perfect cook and a lovely wife, but she was also Benny’s greatest support, especially when Benny got problems with his health. DEMS members owe her a lot.
Louie Bellson, composer, innovative percussionist, bandleader, educator, corporate executive, tap dancer, author, poet and universally admired good person, died February 14 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, of complications of Parkinson’s Disease following a broken hip suffered three months earlier. He was 84.
His musical development began at age three under the tutelage of his father and progressed through continuing private study, and, from age 17, concurrent on-the-job absorption in the big bands of Ted FioRito, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and ultimately, his own large ensemble, tenures with the troupes of Gene Norman’s Just Jazz and Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, motion picture soundtracks and thousands of record dates with nearly every major instrumental and vocal performer.
Louie Bellson was much more than Edward Kennedy Ellington’s favorite drummer, 1951-53.
Repeatedly, in post-midnight telephone calls throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Ellington would ask, “What’s the world’s greatest musician doing? Do you think we can persuade him to come back…to help us out at Basin Street East (December ’54)…for ‘My People’ in Chicago (August ’63)…for our prestigious gig with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and the very important Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral and the television projects we’re doing for Ralph Gleason (July-September ’65)…for our ‘Assault On A Queen ‘ soundtrack for Sinatra (January ’66)…”
And those were just the entreaties Ellington won.
On November 19, 1952, Bellson married the singer and entertainer Pearl Bailey. It was she who ultimately convinced him to leave Ellington to become her musical director and eventually the leader of his own band. Ellington privately considered her his arch rival, sometimes remarking, “She just couldn’t stand hearing my band sound so good.” She died in 1990.
Bellson always described his Ellington years as the most illuminating and rewarding experiences of his life. His psychic/spiritual/extra-sensory rapport with Ellington was second only to that of Billy Strayhorn’s. Flashes of the Ellington-Bellson visual and musical connection can be seen and heard in exchanges on Norman Granz Presents Duke: The Last Jam Session, the DVD illumination of the LP Duke’s Big Four (with Ray Brown and Joe Pass), and in the Basin Street West band performances on Ralph J. Gleason’s documentary Love You Madly (Eagle Eye Media).
Louie was a student of the Japanese martial art of Aikido in which the ki is the positive force of mental inner strength that can be used physically to total relaxation and to communication. “I play with intensity but I am completely relaxed at the same time,” he explained. ”The body vibrations are really working like mad, and I’m more relaxed at the end of a long solo than when I began it, Marcel Marceau used Aikido. And the ki worked with Duke all the time. Often I could even see the vibrations coming from his body, and I could feel them.”
In 1951, Granz having lured Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Brown from the Ellington band and Sonny Greer no longer able to withstand the rigors of the road, Duke was talking to his good friend and former colleague Juan Tizol about returning. Tizol offered a package—straight out of the Harry James band, which was down to a one-night-a-week play schedule. Tizol would come back but he would like to bring his fellow sidemen, the famous alto saxophonist Willie Smith and the brilliant young drummer Louie Bellson. Ellington had been hearing a lot about Bellson but had never heard him play. Tizol vouched for him. The deal was done. The trio gave notice to their boss, whom they genuinely admired, that they were leaving to join Duke Ellington. Louie swore that James begged, “Take me with you!” For years, this historical music business defection has been known as “The Great James Robbery”--originally a reference to post-Civil War bank and train assaults by notorious Missouri outlaws Jesse and Frank James.
Bellson had been composing since he was 14 and was eager to learn more from the masters. He implored Strayhorn to show him how Caravan was orchestrated. He refused. Tizol convinced Louie to show Duke The Hawk Talks, written for but never played by James’s band. Ellington immediately called a recording session, and Louie’s tune became a successful Columbia Records single. Shortly thereafter, Duke summoned Bellson to the piano, saying “This is how we voiced Caravan.” Soon Ellington was proclaiming, “We are proud indeed to have been the first to present him as a musician extraordinaire in an entire fifteen-minute feature, his own composition Skin Deep.” That was a piece Bellson had written, then stored in a suitcase in 1948.
At 15, he decided that the only way he could produce the big sound he wanted was with twin bass drums. “I was ambidextrous,” he related. “I write with either hand, kick a football with either foot, I’m a switch-hitter in baseball, and I tap dance. I had to have two bass drums.” His detailed sketch earned him an “A” in high school art class. He saved for a year to be able to take his drawings to Slingerland in Chicago. “Even though I had the money to pay for what I wanted, they acted like I was off my rocker, he related. “The designers at the factory handed back my sketches and told me, ‘Look, kid, there’s nobody in the world who would play with two feet. Go back home and just read Buck Rogers [the comic book space explorer]; don’t try to be like him!” Seven years later, having triumphed over 40,000 teen-age drummers to win Slingerland’s Gene Krupa Drum Contest, the drum company built a drum set to Louie Bellson’s specifications. Ellington was so enthusiastic about the configuration and the sound that he decreed that all Bellson’s successors in the band must play drums of the Bellson design.
Less than a year after Bellson became Ellington’s “first chair percussionist,” Duke decided that Louie deserved to record as a leader and approached concert impresario/disc jockey/record producer Gene Norman, who knew Louie well. Norman, later to establish his own GNP and Crescendo labels, at that time had a recording and distribution agreement with Capitol Records. Capitol accepted Norman’s proposal with one exception—Louie as leader. The ten-inch LP was issued on the Capitol label (H348) as Just Jazz All Stars featuring Louis Bellson. On the back of the sleeve appears the notation that “Louis Bellson is surrounded by a group of his own choice: Willie Smith, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Clark Terry, Wardell Gray, Billy Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, John Graas [French horn].” Repertoire is comprised of two Bellson, two Strayhorn, one Ellington, one Tizol and two Shorty Rogers numbers. Norman’s brief liner notes acknowledge that, on The Jeep is Jumpin’, “Ellington himself set the mood and tempo from the booth.” Actually, Ellington produced the entire February 1952 session at Radio Recorders Annex in Hollywood, California, and with an extremely significant, lasting imprint. He picked one dramatic drum figure that Louie improvised on Rogers’s Sticks, and advised his protégé, “Louie, every artist should have an signature. In music it must be a unique sound that the listener will always identify with you. You just played yours. I’m going to play back this take for you. Remember it. This figure says Louie Bellson! Always incorporate it into your performances from this day on.” Louie complied.
Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni was born July 6, 1924 at Rock Falls, Illinois to Italian immigrants Louis Balassoni from Naples and Carmen Bartolucci Balassoni from Milano. The elder Balassoni preferred the name Louis. The son detested the name and preferred Luigi. To him Louie was an acceptable compromise. “Louie is a good nickname for Luigi,” he said. “I am Louie or I am Luigi. I am not Louis!” The public couldn’t get it, and throughout his life and on many record albums, his Louie inevitably was changed to Louis. Some said it was a demonstrated respect. He hated it. Balassoni became Bellson when customers of the father’s music store could not remember and rarely could spell the ethnic version. For many years and in many publications, Bellson’s birthdate was erroneously listed as July 26, 1924 because of a typographical error in Leonard Feather’s original The Encyclopedia of Jazz, published in 1955. Despite many entreaties to correct it in subsequent editions, Feather refused on the grounds of “I do not make mistakes!”
Belllson wrote more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements and more than a dozen books on drums and percussion, was honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) by its Jazz Living Legends Award with his name inscribed on its Jazz Wall of Fame and by the Living Legend Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and four honorary doctorates. He was voted into the Halls of Fame for both Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussive Arts Society. Yale University named him a Duke Ellington Fellow in 1977. He was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts with a Jazz Masters Fellowship, by the Avedis Zildjian Company with its American Drummers Achievement Award. His recordings were nominated for five Grammys by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His papers are archived at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. For several decades, he served as vice president of Remo, Inc., the drum manufacturer. His last recordings were The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and The Jazz Ballet and Louie & Clark Expedition 2 with Clark Terry. He is survived by his wife of 16 years, the former Francine Wright, and by daughters Dee Dee Bellson, a singer, and Debra Hughes; two grandsons; brothers, drummers Tony and Henry Bellson, and sisters, Mary Selhost and Josephine Payne, a retired dancer. A son, Tony Bellson, also a drummer, died in 2004.
We are extremely grateful that Patricia Willard accepted our invitation to write an obituary for Louie Bellson in DEMS Bulletin. Nobody could have done it better.
Clark Terry has been discharged from the Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Arkansas on Tuesday, March 3rd. He went into the hospital right after the inauguration. He had a finger-bone-tip infection on the middle finger of his right hand — “the finger I use to play with”. He is looking forward to playing again in April. Please go to Clarkterry.com for information on performances. Your readers may communicate with Clark via his website. All communication will be welcome and appreciated.
Clark's autobiography is now in the hands of his agent. Clark will select a title, and a publication date will be announced as soon as possible.
It was such a pleasure to learn about DEMS, and we appreciate Patricia Willard for introducing us to you.
Gwen and Clark Terry
Echoes of Ellington Conference
Here is the conference web link:
The “Echoes of Ellington” web page includes a full agenda and biographies of the presenters. The conference has a strong academic bias..... in fact I am one of only a few speakers not associated with a university.
Visiting this website gives you all details of the conference in Austin, Texas from 15 until 17Apr09.
Treasures from South Africa
See DEMS 08/3-6
Another “NEW FIND” in the Jerry Valburn collection is a recording, made on 12Aug70 at the Rainbow Grill and planned to be used for a broadcast on 15Aug70. It is justifiable to assume that what we have on the second date (15Aug) is taken from this pre-recording (of 12Aug), the more so, since in both recordings there was a promotion for Treasury Bonds. But that is not the case. The four selections from 15Aug, numbered DE7072 in the New DESOR, are all very different from the recording made on 12Aug, and the Bonds promo comes at a another point. The 12Aug pre-recording looked as follows:
Take the “A” Train
Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies
Aristocracy A La Jean Lafitte
Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta
Satin Doll (dedicated to Agnes O’Neal, who was in the audience)
See for this New FIND Correction-sheet 1093
Lance Travis and Klaus Götting
“Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” by Stephanie Stein Crease c.2009, Chicago Review Press
$16.95 / $18.95 Canada 148 pages Courtesy Photo
From the Washington Informer Book Review:
While “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” is a good book and quite interesting for a grown-up, it’s meant for kids nine and up. In the first chapters, author Crease draws parallels between Ellington’s life and that of children today, which gives kids a bit of a reference point.
By the middle of the third chapter, though, Crease has gone into territory that could tend to lose a kid’s interest: band members, who played where, and other information better suited for the child’s grandparents than the child.
If your older child – say, 12-to-17 – loves a variety of music, this book will quickly become a favorite. For them, “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” is out of this world.
Ellington Uptown - Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz
See DEMS 08/3-7
7Mar09. The release of "Ellington Uptown - Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz" was to have been this week. The author, John Howland, tells me the publisher told him that due to a production delay, the release has been delayed until March 13. Here's a link to the publisher's website:
John Howland will be a speaker at the “Echoes of Ellington” Conference (see DEMS 09/1-XX).
Visit this web-site for all the details about this book.
PARIS BLUES on DVD
See DEMS 06/2-16
I found a new DVD of “Paris Blues”: Optimum Classic OPTD 1348. It is a British release from 2008. The address is www.optimumreleasing.com. I bought it on Amazon. The recording is impeccable, but that was to be expected from the original MGM material.
Check and Double Check
There is a fascinating New Discoveries piece of Ellington to report. Mark Cantor, the knowledgeable film researcher, has just visited UCLA's film archive in Southern California where a French print of Check and Double Check has been found. ALL the Ellington portions of the film are DIFFERENT takes from the ones we've been used to seeing.
Back in August-September 1930, when the film was produced, RKO used a standard three-camera set up for each scene. What we now know, however, is that after each scene was photographed, it was re-shot again, without any changes, using the same three cameras, script, blocking, etc. When the photography was complete, the film was edited into two features, very similar, but with slight differences in delivery of lines, pacing, editing choices and so forth. In other words, there were two unique versions of the same feature produced in 1930.
Exactly why two versions of the same feature were produced is still a mystery. While the second version may have been distributed to Great Britain, it is not a foreign language version per se. It has been suggested that RKO felt the need for an alternate printing negative due to the extraordinary popularity of Amos and Andy, and the anticipated need for extra prints, but this is pure speculation at present. The only fact is that two versions of the film are extant!
The most important aspect of this discovery for the jazz research and for the Duke Ellington community is that all of the music in the second version, on both screen and soundtrack, is new and unique. The coverage of the band is slightly different, with a little less Ellington, a beautiful close up, clear and precise, of Johnny Hodges on his soprano sax, Jenkins hidden for a few seconds behind the curtains, and so forth. While Freddie Jenkins' solo follows the lead of his first take, it is less precise and not as well executed. However, both Carney and Hodges are effusive and articulate; it is a real joy to hear what are effectively alternate film takes on the featured numbers.
I don't know about plans to release this on DVD yet. It wouldn't be until later in the year at the earliest, but I will keep the [Ellington] groups informed about any progress in this direction.
On April 7, 2009 Universal Studios will release a DVD box set called: Pre-Code Hollywood Collection, including the 1934 Paramount (89 min. B/W) movie: Murder at the Vanities. Good news for people who do not own or if they do, want to replace their 1998 released Universal VHS tape! (The song Marijuana is great and can be found on YouTube)
Fantastic hearing Duke and his Orchestra jazzing up Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody in -Ebony Rhapsody- (it’s a pity only one-half of the number is featured in the film). This box (in NTSC format, with subtitles in English, French and Spanish) contains 5 other films from pre-Code period (1929 to mid-1934 in which censorship barely existed). The Cheat (1931); Merrily We Go to Hell (1932); Hot Saturday (1932); Torch Singer (1933); Search for Beauty (1934) and a bonus feature: Forbidden Film, The Production Code Era. The complete soundtrack is not yet released.
Milo van den Assem
Newport Jazz Festival, 8Jul62
See DEMS 05/2-15 and 08/3-29
We are reasonably sure that the Newport Jazz Festival 8Jul62 which was earlier released on a DVD Bach Films EDV1508 DIV 666 can now be found on the DVD Quantum Leap QLDVD-0373. The list of names of the musicians is the same on both, and in both cases Ruby Braff’s name was spelled Ruby Briff.
Patricia Willard, 2009