Friday, May 27, 2005

Duke and Ella, corrected

My dad clips and annotates and sends me error-filled articles by youthful journalists who evidently know very little about jazz (which alas doesn't stop them from writing about it). Here are two errors, from a brief profile of Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun that appeared in the Record, a New Jersey newspaper. The writer is one Elle Govea. The first error concerns Duke Ellington:

Ertegun's musical ear introduced him to legendary performers long before they became famous. He told New York magazine of seeing Duke Ellington play at the London Palladium in 1933.
Now, if Duke Ellington had crossed the Atlantic to play the London Palladium, wouldn't that strongly suggest that he was already famous? Here's an excerpt from the uncredited front-page story that appeared in Britain's Melody Maker on June 17, 1933:
Well! he's here! We have been reading about the Duke this last four or five years; he has become an almost legendary figure; it seemed impossible that we should ever see him in the flesh, or hear those amazing sounds other than via a gramophone. Yet, unbelievably, he is here. (From The Duke Ellington Reader, ed. Mark Tucker.)
Note: almost legendary.

How difficult would it have been to work this out? Not very. A Google search for duke ellington and 1933 turns up, as the fifth hit, a page with the biographical summary sections from Tucker's book. Just glancing at them would let one know that by 1933 Ellington was indeed famous.

The other error involves Ella Fitzgerald:
Ahmet recalled . . . that he was the first person to ask for an autograph from Ella Fitzgerald (then just a teenager), when she was a backup singer for Chick Webb.
My dad, with admirable restraint, has simply underlined the word backup. Ella Fitzgerald was a singer with Chick Webb. I wonder whether Govea was confusing Chick Webb with Cab Calloway. Or perhaps she assumed that a singer with someone else's "band" must be a backup singer. Good grief!

There's nothing wrong with making mistakes. But it's another thing to make mistakes in print, and in a context (the "entertainment" section) in which corrections are unlikely to appear. A proper respect for reality (and for Duke and Ella) makes me feel it appropriate to make the corrections here.

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