Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born 111 years ago today.

Rex Stewart (1907–1967) played cornet with Duke Ellington from 1934 to 1945. Stewart’s immediately recognizable half-valve playing is heard on his signature piece, “Boy Meets Horn,” and on many other Ellington recordings. Stewart was an elegant, witty writer. Here he describes the working habits of “the Governor”:

The Duke’s creativity works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform. He snatches ideas out of the thin air. Many’s the time that I’ve seen him on the Ellington orchestra’s Pullman with his feet propped up and a towel draped over his eyes, seemingly in complete repose. Then, he’d suddenly jump up as if a bee had stung him, grab a sheet of manuscript paper, a yellow pencil, and scribble madly for hours — or sometimes only for a minute. Other times, he has been observed riding in a bus of ancient vintage that seemingly had never heard of springs, jounced around like a dodg’em at a carnival. But the Governor wrote on and on, not concerned as we, the members of his band, were with the lack of comfort. As I recall, it was a rare day that Duke didn’t write something, even if it was only four bars.

Rex Stewart, Jazz Masters of the Thirties (1972)
Related posts
Beyond category
The Duke Box
Ellington for beginners
On Duke Ellington’s birthday (2008)
On Duke Ellington’s birthday (2009)

comments: 2

Slywy said...

Apropos of nothing, I passed through your neck of the woods last weekend. Ever go to Common Grounds?

Michael Leddy said...

Yes! I saw your first post in my reader and thought, That’s pretty close. Then I saw Common Grounds. If you’re ever this way again, let me know.