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In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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contributions to Bill Fuller %Earlyjas, or
e-mail: jazzytubs@aol.com
It is said that Duke Ellington understood something about jazz that few other
leaders did; namely, that the musicians in a band comprise one instrument. It was
that instrument that Duke played. Yes, he was a wonderful composer, arranger,
and pianist, but first of all he was a musician, and his instrument was the band.
The musicians he sought were sought with this in mind; and most of them stayed
on with him for years.
This instrument, the band, by his own admission, set him at great advantage in
terms of composition because it was the tool at hand by which he could instantly
judge the soundness of what he wrote, such as:

EAST ST.LOUIS TOODLE-OO- recorded for Vocalion in 1926, it was one of the
most important of Ellington’s early compositions. It was inspired by a New
England billboard for a dry cleaner.  It became the band’s theme until 1941, when
they switched to arranger Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Ellington always
insisted that the last word of the title was “toodle-o” but the record companies
kept adding an extra “o” making it “toodle-oo.”

RING DEM BELLS- recorded for Victor in Hollywood in 1930, it was introduced in
the first feature film in which the Ellington band appeared, “Check and Double
Check,” starring Amos ‘n’ Andy.  A noted band leader himself later on, a 16-year-
old Charlie Barnet, who had been hanging  around Ellington trying to make
friends with musicians in order to break into the band business, played the chimes
on this record.

I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART– recorded for Brunswick in 1938, it was a
tune originally written by Ellington and lyricist Harry Nemo for the “Cotton Club
Revue of 1938.” But the tune, the melody for which Duke dashed off in a hotel
room during some spare time, was never used in the revue because Irving Mills,
Ellington’s manager, felt the show needed something more “Hawaiian,” for which
Duke supplied “Swing-time in Honolulu.”

BLACK BEAUTY – recorded for Victor in 1928, it was originally entitled
“Firewater,” but later retitled  “Black Beauty” and presented as a musical portrait
of Florence Mills, a dancer/comedienne known as “ the little black mosquito.”

Part Two

Ellington looked aslant at musicians who insisted everything be played “as
written.”  He used to quote the answer of a player who was asked about his
ability to read music:  “Yeah,” he said, “I can read, but I don’t let it interfere with
my blowin’.”
Finally, I (as a non-reading drummer) have to include this little gem paraphrased
from critic/writer Stanley Dance, which I love: It seems that Ellington was one of
the few leaders who was sympathetic toward those of his musicians who said
they preferred a drummer who couldn’t read music because reading made
drummers too precise, too smart, and too insensitive to the rhythmic needs of the
ensemble or a soloist.

Here’s some more from the Ellington book:

BLACK AND TAN FANTASY: Interestingly, this Ellington/Bubber Miley
composition was recorded twice within eight days in 1927, for two different
record companies. On Oct. 26, it was waxed for Victor, and on Nov. 3, for Okeh –
both in New York. Irving Mills, Ellington’s longtime manager, first became
interested in the band after hearing this record.  In the second recording trumpeter
Jabbo Smith replaced the tune’s co-composer, Bubber Miley.

JUBILEE STOMP:  Recorded for Victor in 1928, this tune was credited to Ellington
but  was actually borrowed from the great stride pianist/composer, James P.
Johnson who called it “Victory Stride.” Ellington much admired and often
emulated Johnson.

MOOD INDIGO:  Recorded for Brunswick in 1930, Ellington wrote out the
melody in 15  minutes while waiting for his mother to cook dinner. His clarinetist,
Barney Bigard, refined it and shares composer credit. But actually it’s based on a
much older New Orleans tune by Lorenzo Tio Jr. called “Dreamy Blues,” which
was reportedly used as the theme song of the A.J. Piron Orchestra in the 20’s.

KO-KO:   Recorded for Victor in Chicago in 1940. The tune evolved from a 1938
recording entitled “Old King Doojie”.   It was a simple 12-bar blues in a minor key
named after a mythical African king. Some critics consider this a candidate for
Ellington’s ultimate masterpiece. The recording was made with what many
consider the best band Ellington ever had.

C-JAM BLUES:   Recorded for Victor in Chicago in 1942. This one saw the light of
day  “somewhere on the road” according to clarinetist Barney Bigard.  “Duke
thought of hitting that one note like that, and the boys played  blues around it.”

RIMSHOT to Stan Ebin for the following info regarding "East St. Louis Toodle-oo."
"...Here is a quote from the liner notes of an album of 78's with the Dec. 19, 1927
recording and written by John D.Reid: 'A combination of names on a signboard
over a department store started a tune running through [trumpeter] Bubber's
[Miley] head, and he passed it on to Ellington. To the Duke it suggested an aged
negro wearily wending his way home at the end of day's work. With this idea in
mind, Duke wrote his famous theme song'."
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization