Just Jazz-Duke-The Maestro-And Making of Jazz As Art: Homage To Jazz Musical Signatures Of Yesteryear, and Tomorrow

Ellington At Newport 1956 [Original Recording Remastered Live]
Ellington At Newport 1956 [Original Recording Remastered Live]
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn by Joan Stoltman, 2012
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn by Joan Stoltman, 2012
Duke Ellington and his famous Big Band/or Orchestra
Duke Ellington and his famous Big Band/or Orchestra

Music Lessons Of A lifetime Gifted To Us By Duke Ellington

The music of Jazz has been relegated to the rubbish bin of history, and it is seen as some 'unrelatable' music that has seen its 'hey days'. Well, since I started about music here on HubPages, I have covered some ground on many shining star of the genres, and will still update them, with time. On this Hub, I will be using different accounts of various artists in a way of updating some news and reportage that has been done on Jazz, and will attempt to cover contemporary artists and those one can see looming in the future. I will also, for the first time, utilize their music videos in order to give the reader, a bit about them, and their best musical tracks. I would usually mix genres, but in this case, I will just stick to "Just Jazz".

I have elected to start this Hub With some coverage of Duke Ellington, and the reasons will be clear throughout his story. Those familiar with Duke will immediately understand when I say that Duke Ellington was the most prolific composer of the twentieth century in terms of both number of compositions and variety of forms. His development was one of the most spectacular in the history of music, underscored by more than fifty years of sustained achievement as an artist and an entertainer. He is considered by many to be America's greatest composer, bandleader, pianist and recording artist. We pick up the story of Duke as told by Gene Seymour:

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington

The Maestro's Artistry

By the 1980s onwards, decades when scholars, musicians and historians began taking the full measure of Ellington's greatness, the Maestro was revived. With the plethora of celebrations commemorating more than a centennial of his birth(Born in 1899 and passed away in 1974), it was clear that the appreciation of Ellington was now widespread. the knowledge, today, still is not.

There is a tendency to push Duke on a pedestal too high for people to reach. One cannot wrap ones arms around a monument, nor is is a known fact that he wanted to be cast in marble. He spent his life, after all, passionately engaged with humanity. Harlem may have been his center, but you can hear the music of five continents in his work. romance may have been a constant spur to his muse, but he also mounted ambitious works about the struggles and triumphs of African Americans. His bands performed in tents and dance halls across the country. He wrote music for movies, television shows and symphony orchestraas. Anyone can find something in his music with which to identify. And the music isn't hiding. But it does need help getting out there.

Makes one wonder how many people- of all races, can name more than a couple of pieces Ellington wrote. Many will say "Lush Life" or "Take the 'A' Train", both which were written by Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's longtime collaborator and arranger. On the other hand, Ellington did write "Satin Doll," "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," "Don't Get Around Anymore" ... Whenever one whistles "Satin Doll" can get acknowledging nods, but when one considers the thousands of recordings and performances, and the piles of compositions left unrecorded when he died at 75 in 1974. There is a pressing and dire need to increase the general knowledge of Duke Ellington's work, because there's a lot to be done.

The organization Jazz at Lincoln Center is enthusiastically accepting the challenge. Its celebrations comprises more than 400 programs, including lectures, high school band competitions and concerts across the United States and the world by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led by the center's artistic director, Wynton Marsalis. In addition, Washington, D.C., Ellington's birth-plce, is the site of several tributes, including an Ellington' concert by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

Marsalis is one of the most ardent Ellingtonians, and have seen in many of his Interviews explaining, very clearly, the legacy left for music lovers by Ellington. This now 49-year oldJazz erstwhile trumpeter 'wunderkind' is the most out-front Ellingtonian, with his Duke-sized ambitions as a composer of major works such as "Blood on the Fields" (which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, many believe that a Pulitzer should have gone to Ellington when he was alive.

Marsalis praised Ellington's "distinctly democratic vision of music in the service of the whole band sound and the maestro's understanding of 'blues attitude'" as being able to "accommodated many ways of hearing life from the tragic to the triumphant." All true.

What's also true is this: Before Ellington, jazz was regarded by its listeners as pop entertainment or virtuoso dance music. After Ellington, jazz was regarded as an art form. John Edward Hasse, believed that the maestro performed his musical alchemy on many levels. "I Think he did it above all on the music itself," says Hasse. "{But also in the venues he played in. He started his career playing in pretty lowly dance halls here in Washington and ended his career playing in concert halls, cathedrals and before presidents and royalty. Wh wrote works of such imagination, originality,expressiveness and artistry that they deserve to be called "art music."

Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo"

Duke Ellington's "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue" 1956 Newport Jazz Festival

What's also true is this: Before Ellington, jazz was regarded by its listeners as pop entertainment or virtuoso dance music. After Ellington, jazz was regarded as an art form. John Edward Hasse, believed that the maestro performed his musical alchemy on many levels. "I Think he did it above all on the music itself," says Hasse. "{But also in the venues he played in. He started his career playing in pretty lowly dance halls here in Washington and ended his career playing in concert halls, cathedrals and before presidents and royalty. Wh wrote works of such imagination, originality,expressiveness and artistry that they deserve to be called "art music."

By the late 1920s, Ellington had become the house bandleader for the legendary Cotton Club where he composed and conducted what was popularly - and derogatorily - known then as "jungle music." Yet, it was the audacity of Ellington's compositions, as well as the sophistication of his arrangements and, most important, his perfection of the delicate balance between soloist and ensemble,that elevated his music.

Autor Ralph Ellison,in his 1969 essay, Homage to Duke Ellington on His Birthday, described the impact of hearing the 'strangely familiar" music of Ellington's band while he was still an Oklahoma schoolboy in the 1920s: "Familiar because beneath the stylized Jungle sounds...there sounded the blues, and strange because the mutes, toilet plungers, and derby hats with which I was acquainted as a musician had been given a stylized elegance and extension of effect unheard of even in the music of Louis Armstrong." Ellison, who studied music before turning to literature, wrote that it wasn't until he and his fellow Black music students had discovered Ellington "that we had any hint that jazz possessed possibilities of a range of expressiveness comparable to that of classical European music.

By the time Ellington's band toured England in 1933, the music was being savored for its vitality and ingenuity.He was acclaimed throughout Europe as a serious artist with a vision as grand as that of Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright and William shakespeare. Ellington had his own way of articulating these matters. His highest accolade, for a musician or anyone else, was "beyond category." He was impatient with categories imposed by salesmen, critics, politicians and other nuisances intent on diminishing possibility. The word "jazz" was especially bothersome. He had no use for it. He would tell anyone who asked that music came in only two categories: good or bad.

To the pianist-composer who once dreamed of becoming a painter, his 16-piece band was a palette carrying as many tones and colors sit took to convey a corner of the human heart. Over the years, musicians would come and go and come back again to Ellingotn. He always would be able to "play" them the way they each played their instruments. The band's varied idiosyncratic voices included growing trumpeter James "Bubber" Miley, who gave aggression and cupidity to Ellington's 1920s bands. Another trumpeter, Rex Stewart, brought a leaner, more pungent approach to the band in the 1930s. Tenor saxophonists Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves, who in the 1940s and 1950s respectively, were called upon for heavy lifting with their muscular, yet lyrical styles. Almost always, there were romantic and versatile Ellington standys: Baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, trumpeter Charles "Cootie" Williams and, most especially, the nonpareil alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges.

The Soloist always was permitted to be himself. In Ellington's universe, improvisation and composition, those seemingly mismatched entities, co-existed and even thrived. He was both painter and dramatist, solitary dreamer and leader of men, an impresario and a poet. Gathered with some musicians at the Lincoln Center, Bassist Jimmy Woode reminisced and recalled that there were times when he couldn't find any notes for his part in an arrangement or chart. "You go to the maestro with the form, and [say] 'What do I play here"' And ...he would say, "Well, you have form and function: you know what not to do."

Duke Ellington's "Rain Check"

Trombonist Art Baron remembered ""those wild harmonies" in a score that any other band would have been hard-pressed to follow. "It like a whole other language," Baron said. "You really have to believe it. And the cats he had in his band believed in it. Joya Sherrill, who sang with Ellington's orchestra in the mid-1940s, and again in the '50s to '60s, re-called Ellington's deft handling of his band members. "He had a way of making you think that no one could do it like you. Like, he'd get the guys off the side and say, 'Only you can do that the way you can do it .... He had us all puffed up."

By the early '40s, Ellington's art had peaked. Having elevated popular dance music to new levels of expression, he raised the stakes for himself, notably "Black, Brown and Beige," a suite celebrating African American hope and history received luke-warm reception when it premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943. Undaunted, he continued to write thematically ambitious works Big Band music declined after WWII. Through this relatively fallow period, Ellington continued to write record and tour. It wasn't until the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, when the band caused a near-riot with its thrilling performance of "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue," that Ellington reclaimed his star status.

Buster Cooper who played with Ellington's band from 1962-1969 recalled: "I used to try to figure him out and that kind of hard to do. He'll drive you crazy trying to figure him out." Rex Stuart likely spoke even for Ellington's most devoted friends and colleagues when he called the maestro "paradoxical...a composite of each character quality and its exact opposite. He is both generous and stingy; thoughtful and inconsiderate; dependable and irresponsible; etc. ... The more you know him, the more you realize that you don't really know him at all."

Ellington's mystique was one of his best artistic creations. His one marriage, to Washington sweetheart Edna Thompson in 1918, produced a son, Mercer, and, eventually, much tumult. About a decade later, things had gotten so bad that Edna slashed Ellington's cheek with a razor or knife. They separated, never divorced. And there was little or nothing mentioned about the marriage in later decades. There's also not much known about the maestro's subsequent love life, though his biographers agree that he sought women almost as often as they sought him.

"Ellington wanted to be a mystery," says Hasse. "He didn't want people to probe too deeply. If they did, he would cleverly rebuff them. He was a very public man and yet a very private man... There will be people trying to explain Ellington, I expect, for centuries to come."

Mercedes Ellington, the composer's granddaughter and head of the Duke Ellington Foundation, was a young adult when he died. Ellington's ties to people were an important part of his creativity. He had to be around people because he wrote songs about people," she says. "There are several people proclaiming that they were the only ones that understood him, which he wanted to be that way with everybody," she says. He wanted to be the most important one in their time of communication, whether it was a stranger, a member of the band or whomever."

The subtle sorcery weaved by Ellington, Strayhorn and his band, may not connect with many young people, for whom magic is accessible through the click of a computer mouse. But who's fault is that? The reason Duke Ellington's music may be remote is that too few people with their hands on th controls of public opinion bother to pump this music into the nation's cultural bloodstream. some radio stations regularly devote blocks of airtime to Sinatra. Why not Ellington?

"Ellington's music is still not taught at most American colleges and universities," Hasse says. "And if it is, it's ghettoized in a jazz survey course. I think his music should be taught in...music history, music theory, orchestration. You cannot confine Ellington's music just to the label 'jazz'". So why is he being shortchanged? Chiefly, racism.... If something doesn't come out of the hallowed halls of European culture, it is not significant," say Hasse, who is White.

There is no time like the present to challenge convention. there's a new generation attracted to the syncopation of hip-hop. Many are even being drawn to the thrills of swing dancing. This is fertile ground for Ellington. If he were alive, the maestro might even be amused by the prospect of having some of his band's licks and riffs appropriated in a sampling mix. Classicist and traditionalists may find this prospect horrendous. But what good is Ellington's music if it stays in a museum?

If his being revamped goes well all the way and over the years, he should become more of a living presence among schoolchildren and their parents and teachers. It would be nice to believe that, before we get too deep into the next century, when Americans bring up the subject of their countries composers, they don't have to hesitate too long before bringing up his name. Or even humming a few bars of something besides "Satin Doll."

Duke Ellington Played this Song on the day Billy Strayhorn passed on

FBI Kept An Eye on Duke for Decades

In this section, I have chosen to explore some unusual story about Duke as written by George E. Curry.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintained a file on Duke Ellington even though he was never the subject of a bureau investigation or posed a threat to U.S. security. In the documents released by the FBI show that former White House aide Alexander P. Butterfield, who helped the Secret Service set up the secret White House tape-recording system for Richard M. Nixon, requested a copy of Ellington's file in 1970. The files give no clue to why Butterfield, who is described in one news account as the person who "handled every piece of paper that landed on Nixon's desk," sought the information.

Ellington's previously classified file, number 100-434443, mostly contained clipFBI jargon, "a confidential source who has furnished reliable information in the past." Memos dated April 29, 1953, and July 22, 1955, noted: "No investigation has been conducted by the FBI pertinent to your inquiry concerning the above-mentioned individual. However, the files of this Bureau contain the following information concerning Ellington developed during the course of other security-type investigations.

A memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, dated June 5, 1957, also noted that "Ellington has never been investigated by this Bureau." The name of the person to whom the memo was addressed was 'blacked' out. The file shows that Hoover had responded to another request for information on Ellington a week earlier. The FBI routinely tracked Civili Rights activists during that time, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached non0violence, to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists and the militant Black Panther. Apparently,while tracing the activities of James Forman, former executive secretary of SNCC, the FBI reported on Ellington.

In reply to an inquiry "per request of Mrs. Mildred Stegall, White House Staff," the FBI reported on Feb. 19, 1968: "Information has been received that bandleader Duke Ellington would appear with James Forman or SNCC, on a program by the United Ministers on the Texas Southern University campus in October 1966. Forman was to speak on the theme, Black Power: A New Religion?"It continued, "The fingerprint files of the identification Division of the FBI contain no arrest data identifiable with Duke Ellington based upon background information submitted in connection with this name check request."

A letter delivered "by liaison" to Butterfield at the White HOuse, dated July 8, 1970, notes, "reference is made to your name check request concerning Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington and some other individuals. Enclosed are separate memoranda concerning the following individuals:" All names other than Ellington's were obscured.Documents referring to Ellington make frequent references to newspapers that the FBI, the U.S. House of Representatives' infamous Special Committee on Un-American Activities, or state agencies considered fronts for the Communist Party. For example, one file cites an Oct. 7, 1943, issue of the Daily Worker. "According to this article," the file notes, "Duke Ellington, among others, was to appear a the Golden Gate Ballroom on October 24, 1943, in a "Davis Victory Show' to pay tribute to Benjamin J. Davis Jr., Communist Party candidate for the City of New York."

Although the files make loose reference to Ellington's purported support of communist-backed causes, such as the American Committee to Save Refugees and the Exiled Writer's Committee, FBI informants never assert that Ellington was ever aware of those so-called connections. In fact, an April 20, 1953, memo from the FBI stamped "Security Information-Confidential," said: "A New York City publication 'The New Leader' issue of September 30, 1950, contained a feature article by Duke Ellington captioned "No Red Songs For Me." In a forward to this article, the editors of the afore-mentioned publication stated that the "Daily Worker" in its May 37, 1950, issue, and again in issues dated Aug. 25, and Aug. 27, 1950, published stories to the effect that Ellington had signed the Stockholm Peace Petition. The forward continued that when Ellington returned from a European tour, he authored an article repudiating the stories.

In Ellington's article he stated that during a stay in Stockholm, Sweden, in the course of a European tour, he had been approached by an individual who requested that he, Ellington, sign a paper indicting opposition to the Atom Bomb. Ellington denied signing the paper and stated that the individual had departed." In this article, Ellington further stated, "I've never been interested in politics in my whole life, and I don't pretend to know anything about International Affairs..."

Clearly, the U.S. government was interested in Ellington's trips abroad. A Dec. 29, 1960, memo from J. Edgar Hoover described Ellington as a "well-known Negro musician who is presently traveling abroad,according to the information received by the Bureau from State Department in memorandum received 12/21/60." The State Department memo showed that Ellington was spending two months in France on Business. Also, in the FBI file was a brief UPI dispatch, carrying a Washington D.C. dateline. "Duke Ellington and his orchestra will leave New York Sept. 10 for a five week concert tour of the soviet Union, the State Department announced today. "the tour, during which the musician will conduct 20 concerts, is the first one ever made by Ellington to the soviet Union. The concert tour will begin in Leningrad on Sept. 13 with a performance in the Octyabr Theater. Ellington will perform in Minsk, Kiev and Rostov, and conclude the tour with concerts in Moscow Oct. 9-12."

Closer to home, the FBI was concerned about Ellington's participation in a "Tribute to Negro Servicemen" and the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax. Mercedes Ellington, the composer's granddaughter, is puzzled by the surveillance. "It's amazing to realize the waste of that kind of activity," she says. "I don't know what they expected to find. I don't know what my grandfather thought about that. I think maybe my father knew the FBI was keeping tabs. There is a fear, in any case, of being stopped from doing what you love."

Duke Ellington's 'The Strayhorn Touch' and the track is called "Strange Feeling"

The Blanton-Webster Band(Bluebird, three discs). This is one to have. The Ellington band of 1940-41 was for many the Maestro's best. Bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster were only two of the stars of a remarkable unit that yeilded classic tracks such as "Koko," "Jack the Bear," "Harlem Airshaft," Concerto for Cootie" (later known as "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me"). "Never No Lament" (Later known as "Don't Get Around Anymore") and "In a Mellotone." This was also when Billy Strayhorn came abroad to pen "Take The 'A' Train." "Chelsea Bridge" and "rain Check." This is a valuable collectors item.

"Black, Brown, and Beige" (RCA/Bluebird, three discs) This collection from 1944-46 will also get all jazz aficionados really excited. There's the stirring "Come Sunday," from the ambitious suite that gives tis set its name, and three selections from "Perfume Suite," including the aptly named "Strange Feeling."

Elligton' at Newport (Columbia) The July 8, 1956 "comeback" concert that includes the epic 14 minute version of "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue." It's important not only for historic reasons, but for showing the intoxicating effect Duke an's men could have on an audience when all cylinders were clicking. ...And His Mother Called Him Bill (Bluebird) After Billy Strayhorn died in 1967, Ellington staged a recording-studio wake for his alter-ego, and the mood is as rueful, passionate and poignant as one would expect.

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse!) From 1962. Not the most significant item in the canon, but Those who do not really like Jazz, would be bowled over if the listened to "Sentimental Mood." Other choices: "Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings, 1926-31 (Uni/Decca); "The Duke's Men: Small Groups, vols. I and II(Columbia); "Anatomy of a Murder (Columbia); "The Far East Suite(RCA/Bluebird). For the serious collector, RCA Victor bills its "The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings 1927-1973 as the most complete retrospective on CD. The reason: ts 24 discs, unissued music, photos and essays on the man and his music.

Below are a selection of Videos of the Music of Duke Ellington, and I would have liked to fill the hub with his music, but I chose the ones that are are rare and offer a diversity that was his music, and also, I included the music he wrote for the passing away of his Friend, Billy Strayhorn, and I hope the will will whet the palates of most Jazz overs to continue to push the legacy, music and history of duke Ellington, and the least we are in the age of the Web, is to make it as viral as much as possible- and recruit the oldies, youth and children to listen and understand the role that Ellington played in advancing the Music of jazz into an Art Form.

In a Sentimental Mood - Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

Duke's Aphorisms

Jazz Palliatives From The Duke

“I’m sure critics have their purpose, and they’re supposed to do what they do, but sometimes they get a little carried away with what they think someone should have done, rather than concerning themselves with what he did.”

“Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.” I never had much interest in the piano until I realized that every time I played, a girl would appear on the piano bench to my left and another to my right.”

“A goal is a dream with a finish line.”

“If it sounds good and feels good, then it IS good!”

“Music is my mistress and she plays second fiddle to no one.”

“There is no art without intention.”

“By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”

“There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

"Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice but limited."

"By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with."

"I’m sure critics have their purpose, and they’re supposed to do what they do, but sometimes they get a little carried away with what they think someone should have done, rather than concerning themselves with what he did."

"Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country."

"There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind."

"I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues."

"Love is indescribable and unconditional. I could tell you a thousand things that it is not, but not one that it is. Either you have it or you haven’t; there’s no proof of it."

"Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing."

"Music is my mistress and she plays second fiddle to no one."

"The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen."

"What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music (cicadas in the tropical night). The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infinite. It is the ‘esperanto’ of the world."

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line."

"I don’t believe in categories of any kind, and when you speak of problems between blacks and whites in the U.S.A. you are referring to categories again."

"A goal is a dream with a finish line."

"I never had much interest in the piano until I realized that every time I played, a girl would appear on the piano bench to my left and another to my right."

There is nothing to keeping a band together. You simply have to have a gimmick, and the gimmick I use is to pay them money!"

"There is no art without intention."

"It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing."

Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges - Beale Street Blues

DUKE ELLINGTON: "C Jam Blues

Duke Ellington - It don't mean a thing (1943

Duke Ellington - Caravan

Duke Ellington and his orchestra playing this awesome tune in 1943.

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" is a 1931 composition by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Irving Mills, now accepted as a jazz standard. The music was written and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during intermissions at Chicago's Lincoln Tavern and was first recorded by Ellington and his orchestra for Brunswick Records (Br 6265) on February 2, 1932. Ivie Anderson sang the vocal and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the instrumental solos. The title was based on the oft stated credo of Ellington's former trumpeter Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, "as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time." Probably the first song to use the phrase "swing" in the title, it introduced the term into everyday language and presaged the Swing Era by three years. The Ellington band played the song continuously over the years and recorded it numerous times, most often with trumpeter Ray Nance as vocalist.

Wabash Blues Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins(1962)

Johnny Hodges with Duke

Possessor of one of the most beautiful tones ever heard in jazz, altoist Johnny Hodges formed his style early on and had little reason to change it through the decades. Although he could stomp with the best swing players and was masterful on the blues, Hodges' luscious playing on ballads has never been topped.

He played drums and piano early on before switching to soprano sax when he was 14. Hodges was taught and inspired by Sidney Bechet, although he soon used alto as his main ax; he would regretfully drop soprano altogether after 1940. His early experiences included playing with Lloyd Scott, Chick Webb, Luckey Roberts, and Willie "The Lion" Smith (1924), and he also had the opportunity to work with Bechet.

However, Johnny Hodges' real career began in 1928 when he joined Duke Ellington's orchestra. He quickly became one of the most important solo stars in the band and a real pacesetter on alto; Benny Carter was his only close competition in the 1930s. Hodges was featured on a countless number of performances with Ellington and also had many chances to lead recording dates with Ellington's sidemen. Whether it was "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," "Come Sunday," or "Passion Flower," Hodges was an indispensable member of Ellington's orchestra in the 1930s and '40s.

It was therefore a shock, in 1951, when he decided to leave Duke Ellington and lead a band of his own. Hodges had a quick hit in "Castle Rock" (which ironically showcased Al Sears' tenor and had no real contribution by the altoist), but his combo ended up struggling and breaking up in 1955.

Hodges' return to Duke Ellington was a joyous occasion and he never really left again. In the 1960s, Hodges teamed up with organist Wild Bill Davis on some sessions, leading to Davis joining Ellington for a time in 1969. Johnny Hodges, whose unchanging style always managed to sound fresh, was still with Duke Ellington when he suddenly died in 1970.

Duke Ellington & Coleman Hawkins- Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins - 1962 FULL ALBUM

Duke Ellington - Perdido

An Evening With Edward Kennedy Ellington

At this juncture, I would like to use the article of the interlocutor, Playthell Benjamin, because I believe his yarn give another spin of dukes life few ever had a chance to meet and be with the Legendary musician. Below I will use the article written by Playthell"

"

On April 29, 1999, the centennial of the birth of Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, I sat outside the elegant brick and stone building on ST. Nicholas avenue, in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, and listened to some sonic gems from the late jazz master’s copious musical ouvre, a repertoire that includes over 2000 compositions. Now a national historical landmark, the unassuming and well kept little building was the site of many of the Duke’s numerous compositions about his beloved Harlem.

Sitting outside Duke’s crib, listening to “Take The A Train,” “Harlem Airshaft,” and “Black, Brown and Beige Suite,” I could feel his presence; and it resurrected memories of an enchanted evening I once spent with him in his downtown digs back in the early seventies, when the master was in the twilight of his wonderful life.

It was a soft, sparkling, lovely summer afternoon, and I couldn’t suppress the thought that I was about to experience a rare opportunity to witness history in the making. For just a few blocks from my crib on the upper west side, the best of the Afro-American and European orchestral traditions were being fused into a marvelous musical tapestry. The great Ellington orchestra was participating in a collaboration with the “Symphony of the New World,” for the express purpose of exploring the incandescent musical imagination of the peerless Edward Kennedy Ellington.

It was altogether fitting that the concert was held at The Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, which was then the most conspicuous center of American cultural schizophrenia. (The Jazz department, which was added a few years ago, is a prominent sign of recovery toward cultural wellness.) To my mind at the time, this concert was the musical event of the season. I was convinced of this in spite of the rather astonishing fact that New York city was host to over fifty thousand musical performances that year! For this was a musical offering beyond category. The most consistently inventive musical craftsman in America would preside over a posse of virtuoso instrumental pioneers, and their vast musical wisdom would be shared with some of the rising stars of the younger generation through the joyful experience of making music.

Duke Ellington: A Paragon of Excellence. Dukes Sartorial Style Was as Elegant as his Music
Duke Ellington: A Paragon of Excellence. Dukes Sartorial Style Was as Elegant as his Music

Seated side by side on the bandstand were vintage staples of the Ellington orchestra like Baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, Clarinetist Russell Procope, and trumpeter Cootie Williams, and brilliant young masters like Bassist Richard Davis, cellist Kermit Moore, flautist Hubert Laws and violinist John Blair. And their cooking solos were fired up by the lush sounds of the New world symphony. Although these two musical aggregations were born of very different esthetic impulses, they came together in perfect harmony on this divine day.

Virtuoso Cellist and Conductor of the New World Symphony
Virtuoso Cellist and Conductor of the New World Symphony

The Ellington orchestra was organized to give expression to the Duke’s unique musical vision and prolific compositional gifts, which produced a fifty year flow of musical portraits and tone poems that captured the beauty and complexities of the cultural ambiance and lifestyles of black America, a virtual sonic kaleidoscope of Afro-Americana that captured the ethos of American civilization. And, I might add, contributed mightily to the creation of Jazz, a neo-African art form which provides a truer portrait of America than any of the paintings by the equally American school of “Abstract Expressionist” painters.

On the other hand, the now defunct Symphony of the New World – which was named after the famous composition by Anton Dvorsak – which utilized Afro-American melodies as it’s central theme – was the Afro-American musician’s response to the racism and cultural chauvinism that continues to besmirch the reputations of the nation’s leading symphony orchestras. Hence that orchestra served primarily as a vehicle for those Afro-American composers, conductors and instrumentalists who chose to express themselves in the genre of wholly composed music. When these two orchestras merged in concert, it was clearly an artistic event of the first order.

The chain of events which led to my receiving a highly coveted invitation to the after party at Duke’s place began when the Duke was greeting friends, fans and well-wishers backstage after the gig. As Duke graciously chatted with guests, Master John Blair – a colorful bald head character who looks like a bronze Mr. Clean, but is a master of the martial arts and the violin – eased up behind Duke and started playing a medley of his tunes. Plesantly surprised, Duke turned around broadly smiling and said “so you’re a jazz violinist too huh?” Then he invited John to come party at his place.

For my part, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Since Master John Blair was my main man, he invited me to tag along. It was a short trip to Fifty Ninth street and Columbus Circle, where Duke kept and apartment overlooking the southern most entrance to Central Park .

Approaching the entrance to the building I reflected on the fact that at the turn of the century, a community called “Black Bohemia” was located just a few blocks away. It was the home of such gifted Afro-American artists as Hubie Blake, Nobel Sissel, Will Marion Cooke, James Reece Europe, J. Rosamond Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, Bob Cole, Bert William’s and George Walker.

These men played a vital role in the both the creation of the American popular song and the development of the musical theater. And several of them influenced the musical development of Duke Ellington, especially conservatory trained composer and virtuoso violinist Will Marion Cooke, with whom Duke studied music theory and called “Pops.”

Duke's domicile overlook Central Park on 5th Ave
Duke's domicile overlook Central Park on 5th Ave

As we entered Duke’s apartment, we were greeted at the door by his sister Ruth, who proved to be a gracious and charming host throughout the evening. The first thing to seize my attention was a large white grand piano in the middle of the living room floor. Surrounded by a sea of white walls, drapes and carpet, the piano seemed to stand out as the central fact of this living space. The overall aesthetic effect was one of purity and singularity of purpose. It was sort of like entering a temple devoted to the making of music.

I scanned the room observing the anxious nervous energy displayed by various members of the group, as they anticipated the Duke’s presence. The scene had much in common with a group of religious devotees awaiting the presence of their guru. As we were introduced around, it became immediately clear that this assemblage comprised a unique collection of personalities. There was several aging members of the European nobility, sporting titles that suggested the grandeur of a now-forgotten world. There was a black expatriate symphonic conductor, forced to live in Sweden in order to practice his art. And a young black man exotically attired in flowing black monk’s robes and a large straw hat, engaged in lively conversation with some erudite members of the Duke Ellington Society.

The gathering also included a smattering of the obligatory record executive types and a few solidly middle-class professionals. As I strolled about the room, drink in hand, savoring the excellent cuisine and listening to bits and pieces of conversations, I became aware of a sudden and dramatic change in the room. I looked around and there he was: the musical genius who had left an indelible imprint on the music of America and greatly influenced the orchestral music of the world. Yes! There he was, Duke Ellington in the flesh, standing in his own living room. It was almost too much.

After greeting us with his infectious charm and fabled smile, the Duke walked straight to the piano and sat down. Strikingly and colorfully attired in a flowing red silk robe, complemented by a floor length white silk scarf, he seemed almost a different species of animal from the rest of us. It was easy to see how he got the name “Duke”, a name that suggests nobility. For he possessed the attributes that we have been conditioned to associate with a hereditary nobility. But Duke was a natural aristocrat, belonging to the aristocracy of talent and genius, which after all is the only one that really matters. And it soon because obvious that this critical distinction was also recognized by those ascribed aristocrats, who lounged around the room like relics from a European wax museum.

The "Duke" In His Element
The "Duke" In His Element

Everyone watched in amazement as the Duke secured his cigarette in an elegant holder and began to lightly play through some of his tunes. As the evening progressed, I could clearly delineate various aspects of his character in the events that transpired. From the outset his total devotion to music was self-evident. And the requests arising from the guests testified to the universal appeal of his art. Some of these people had crossed an ocean to attend the concert earlier in the day. After a while, it was clear that several of the guests had seriously followed Duke’s work for thirty to forty years.

One could hear girlish laughter arising from the group as an elderly Countess recalled first hearing a particular tune in Paris during the thirties, or was it Stockholm in the forties? In a business as fickle as music, it is difficult for an artist to retain a national audience for five or ten years. Yet here was a man who had retained an enthusiastic worldwide audience for fifty years! As Duke responded to requests and moved from one tune to another, I was impressed by the fact that most of these songs were now part of the standard repertoire of American music.

Though we had all heard some of these compositions many times before, like all true classics, they retained a certain freshness and vitality. Sitting there watching the master at work in the intimacy of his living room, I desperately wanted to explore this fascinating creative personality. I silently longed for an opportunity to talk to him privately. I wondered at the artistic sensibility that could conceive these elegant tone poems, based in sophisticated urban blues and surrounded by consistently inventive orchestrations. Alas, I never got the private audience I craved…. but I did get a chance to talk to him in relaxed moments at the party.

Among the most fascinating lesson’s I learned from my conversation with Duke is that when he composed his suites to various regions of the world he never wrote the music when he was in those places. “I don’t want to be overly influenced by the local musical traditions, so I always wait until I’m back home to write my impressions.” And he also confessed to me after a few rounds of champaign: “I’m a sophisticated savage.” Before I could persuade him to elaborate on his colorful claim our conversation was disrupted by others demanding the attention of the great man. I understood and bowed out.

Although the American cultural establishment has only recently recognized Duke Ellington’s contribution to American art, awarding him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for music only this year, the racial, ethnic and class composition of his long time admirers who came togather on that enchanted evening in July, 1974 demonstrates that rest the world has long recognized the extraordinary creative contribution of the Duke. It is long past time this prophet became a hero in his own land.

Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges - Jeep's Blues

Duke Ellington

The Sound Sorcerer wielding his Mighty Axe; his sound was heard around the world
The Sound Sorcerer wielding his Mighty Axe; his sound was heard around the world

Jazz and Modern Black Culture in South Africa

It is interesting to read Playthell’s article, “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington;” it got me thinking of life in the Ghetto of Soweto, in South Africa. The Townships might not have had the architectural wonders of New York and its chic urbane life-style, but, Duke still affected and influenced the life, music and self-esteem of Africans under Apartheid. There has long been a struggle against Apartheid by the indigene refuting the claim that we were uncouth and backward.

As the Township of Soweto expanded and grew, so did the music scene: the South African Jazz Scene. Some of the jazz groups had “American” as their names. There were Jazz big bands; the fashion of the day were Dobbs brim hats, Florsheim shoes – some two tone – double breasted jackets with broad lapels and the whole dress code as was worn by the Americans of the ’30s, 40s and 50s. I guess what I am saying is that, because of the inhumanity of Apartheid we witnessed an oppressed people immerse themselves in the American Jazz music and African American culture, language and mannerism as a way of keeping our souls intact.

Louis Armstrong Master Musician and Fashion Plate

 Notice the sharp two toned shoes
Notice the sharp two toned shoes
Duke Ellington:  Notice the elegant broad lapels
Duke Ellington: Notice the elegant broad lapels

Appreciation of Jazz Giants In South Africa

The sleeve jackets of the LPs were the point of discussions from the Shebeens – Taverns/Speak Easies – of the day. Discussion about music, styles, musical signatures of The “Duke”, the “Count”, Hodges, Archie Shepp, Philly Jo Jones(some People even renamed themselves after their favorite artist here in Mzantsi), Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Bessie Smith, Sonny Rollins, Stitt, Sidney Betchet, Stachmo, Jelly roll Morton, Fats Waller, Charlie Parker, Ida Cox, Lucille Hegamin, Rosa Henderson, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, Sara Martin, Trixie Smith, Lizzie Miles, Sarah Vaughn, Mahalia Jackson, Mamie Smith, Josie Miles, Edna Benbow HIcks, Eartha Kitt, Mae Harris, Lulla Miller, jimmy Lunceford, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Charlie Christian, Ron Carter, Yusef Lateef, Ella Fritzgerald, Scot Joplin, and a host of other many American musicians-too numerous to list here.

Virtuoso Trumpeter Miles Davis

Fashion Trend Setter
Fashion Trend Setter

He Was Miles Ahead in his Ideas and Style

In Music and Fashion!
In Music and Fashion!

South African Jazz Trumpeter Hugh Masekela

Miles’ Musical Progeny
Miles’ Musical Progeny

Merriam Makeba with the Great Gillespie

Many South African Music Escaped into exile and went overseas and had very lucrative and famous careers with American Musicians
Many South African Music Escaped into exile and went overseas and had very lucrative and famous careers with American Musicians

Jazz Musicians were Africa Conscious

And Glorified the “Motherland” in their Music
And Glorified the “Motherland” in their Music

The African American Jazz Idiom Is Global

The American Jazz idiom was dominating thoroughly and completely here in Mzatnsi. How do I know all these name of all these musicians. Well, as kids in the early sixties, we would sit with our Uncles and fathers and hear them argue and debate that was the best on drums, saxophones, composition and arrangements, and passions would rise to pitch level.

There were people who never thought of other artist as deserving mention or to be listened to because they did not meet their standard of what was Jazz or the like. So as we grew up in the late sixties, we were exposed to a variety of different artists of this American genre. Well, in most cases, my generation was scoffed-at by our old timers for not listening to real and classic Jazz when we listened to Jimmy Smith, John Patton, Harold Mabern, Blue Mitchell, Lou Donaldson, Billy Cobham, Booker T., Soul Music and funk.

We were ridiculed by these stalwarts and keepers of the Old Jazz, as me and my peers referred to Classical jazz as “not listening to Jazz,” and knowing nothing about it. But today, with most of them gone, and many of those who survived apartheid – the old timers I referred to above – have formed Jazz Clubs here in South Africa. They meet on weekends and bring out their best collection and spend the whole day listening to jazz, eating and imbibing large amounts of alcohol.

And whilst engaging in this celebration of jazz here in Mzantsi, you would hear talk like Playthell’s, whom I will cite below, as being what was said about these musicians by our elders. Most of the other stuff was learned and read from the LP liner notes by some Jazz critic or aficionado, andFrom Downbeat Magazine and so forth. It would go something like this passage from Playthell’s essay:

“Some of these people had crossed an ocean to attend the concert earlier in the day. After a while, it was clear that several of the guests had seriously followed Duke’s work for thirty to forty years. … As Duke responded to requests and moved from one tune to another, I was impressed by the fact that most of these songs were now part of the standard repertoire of American music. … I wondered at the artistic sensibility that could conceive these elegant tone poems, based in sophisticated urban blues and surrounded by consistently inventive orchestrations…. ….When he composed his suites to various regions of the world he never wrote the music when he was in those places.

‘I don’t want to be overly influenced by the local musical traditions, so I always wait until I’m back home to write my impressions.’ And he also confessed to me after a few rounds of Champaign: ‘I’m a sophisticated savage.’ Before I could persuade him to elaborate on his colorful claim our conversation was disrupted by others demanding the attention of the great man. I understood and bowed out. That enchanted evening in July, 1974 demonstrates that rest the world has long recognized the extraordinary creative contribution of the Duke. It is long past time this prophet became s hero in his own land.”

To be honest, what Playthell wrote above would be taken by these Jazz aficionados, turned on its head, made theirs. And included in their folklore about Jazz, as if it was they who spun the yarn above, and had experienced it, so that they have a one-up on their fellow Jazz buffs.. But, with time, those with the means, have been visiting The Newport Jazz Festival, Montreux Festival, and many of those in Europe.. And the comeback with fantastic tales of their visits and so forth, today (Most of it exaggerated, somewhat, but with some kernel of Truth.

Duke, Armstrong and Singer Jimmy Rushing

Hanging out with High Fashion Models Backstage at Newport 1962
Hanging out with High Fashion Models Backstage at Newport 1962

The Effects And Affects Of Jazz In Mzantsi

Today in south Africa, we have come a long from the days I described above.. People are not more able to listen to jazz without the pressures of apartheid dehumanizing us. But African American Jazz in South Africa made our lives more bearable and full of hope. We never gave the Boers a chance to tell us nor believed we were barbarians or savages. Duke and the rest of the African America Jazz Masers, confirmed to us, since most of us looked like many of them and vice-versa- we knew that we were better than what the Apartheid monsters said we were.

There were many Jazz bands that were spawned as a result of our exposure to the American music scene and its Jazz Masters. These I might talk about in another palaver we might have on this subject. But Playthell’s article, with its cultural opulence and high art life-style, is still what makes our world go round. Duke was our demi-god when it came to Jazz, Style, dress/fashion, comportment and Class. He personified all this and then some to my uncles and their friends.

A Paragon of Male Elegance

Esquire Magazines “Best Dressed Man”
Esquire Magazines “Best Dressed Man”

Duke, Jazz And the Jazz Lover/Followers Of Soweto

Our Elders copied many of Duke’s mannerism that Playthell describes above, which he observed on his visit to the Maestro’s apartment. As you can imagine, many have tried, albeit not on par with Playthell’s analysis, to be what the Duke represented and even added they own spin to the act. Apartheid, in its evil intent to dehumanize us, failed dismally because many Africans in South Africa knew that their Nazi-like oppressor’s claims of racial superiority were lies.

We lived our lives full of Jazz and our spirits danced above the concentration camps they built for us Called Townships… Like the humongous one called Soweto (Southern Western Townships) Digging jazz is still the way to go.. although the present-day youth in south Africa – as in the United States – are out of sync and do not know any better.. Some of us still know what time it is when it comes to Jazz music…

Young South African Jazzmen

All Races come together playing Jazz
All Races come together playing Jazz

Duke Ellington piano solo [Rarest of the rare recordings!]

We know that the competitive American system produced the most powerful nation in the history of the world, that’s an incontestable fact, as it the fact that the productivity and efficiency that made the US economy the richest in the world is a direct result of competition between business firms to make a better product at a cheaper price! Your position on the other hand is baseless conjecture; wishful thinking. It is your task to convincingly demonstrate that we could have been a greater nation without the American emphasis on competition, not simply pronounce from on high. That may be enough for you but I am unimpressed. Your argument denouncing the evils of competition is especially curious coming from a Jazz musician.

One of the most intriguing questions regarding the art of Jazz is “How did Afro-American musicians create and develop an art form that requires virtuosity and originality on the part of every instrumentalist in the orchestra, without the benefit of a formal conservatory?” The answer is to be found in the ruthless competition between musicians striving to be ”the best” on their instruments. Without job security, written contracts, vast financial endowments for orchestras, or retirement pensions for performers, the Jazz world is a Darwinian milieu, red of tooth and claw, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. It’s a jungle out there!

The trials and tribulations of the professional Jazz musician are well documented in interviews by the musicians and the writers who covered them. A poignant description of what life as a Jazz musician was like during the most popular period of modern Afro-America complex instrumental music can be found in “Good Morning Blues,” The Autobiography of Count Basie.”

I am going to used a part of the article written by Playthell Benjamin to underscore the mportance and relevance of jazz In the lives of African people. Playthell informs us:

Written in collaboration with the great Afro-American writer and cultural critic Albert Murray – author of the classic “Stomping the Blues,” for my money the best book ever written on Afro-American music – Bill Basie’s autobiography provides an in-depth look into the world of the working Jazz musician that covers most of the 20th century, when Jazz developed. It takes us back to a time when Jazz was a new and evolving art, and moves to a time when many big bands worked regularly and some – like Andy Kirk, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, et al – worked three hundred days a year and could have worked 365 days if they had a mind to.

There was more work for black Jazz musicians during this period than anytime in American history, but you could only work if you were considered “the best man available” by whatever standard the bandleader wished to judge you – just like today. So the more versatile and original your sound the better your chances for getting steady work. And the major venue of instruction in their art was The Jam Session! The central feature of these events was the “cutting session” in which musicians on every instrument tried to outplay their counterparts. Basie describes how the competition was so thick for seats in a working orchestra that you could lose your gig from “getting yo head cut” by a musician invited to sit in on your instrument during a gig!

He recalls an incident early on in his career when the bandleader gave everybody but him a different time to return from a break, because he wanted to check out a local cat on piano. Basie says he was outside having a smoke when he heard the band strike up, but by the time he got in the room the cat on piano was wailing. After listening for a few choruses Basie says he went straight to the owner of the club and asked him for a job parking cars!

That’s how competitive the jazz environment that produced such great musicians was. And nobody was more competitive that the “Be-boppers” led by Bird and Diz, who took jazz to another level of harmonic and rhythmic complexity. To get a feel for what this environment was like you should read Ralph Ellison’s seminal essay on the origins of Bop “Things Remembered, Times Past: On Bird, Birdwatching and Jazz.” Here is a firsthand view live from Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where this new genre was molded in the heat of fierce competition and only the strong survived the savage cutting sessions.

Ellison, a trumpet player from Oklahoma who was studying composition with the famous black classical composer William Dawson at Tuskegee Institute, thought he was a bad man on the trumpet. But the fierce playing of the musicians at Minton’s scared him. “They were playing bebops,” he wrote of the horn players “I mean rebopped bebops.” And he described the drummers as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos.” It was a heroic act to take the stage in Minton’s Playhouse, where the rhythm section often included Theolonius Monk on Piano, Oscar Pettiford on Bass, and Kenny “Klook” Clark on drums!

There are endless stories about the day Bird strolled into that lion’s den dressed like a country boy from Kansas City, whipped out his axe from a raggedy cardboard case, and slayed them all! Dizzy Gillespie said they had been hearing bits and pieces of what Bop might sound like, but when he heard Bird play “Cherokee” it all came together. Everything about Minton’s was highly competitive – including the gangsters who regularly hung out in there and competed with each other for everything from the flyest cars, to clothes, to girls!

The great Max Roach, arguably the most influential improvisational percussionist of the twentieth century, told me that they had heard about bird from musicians who had passed through Kansas City on tour and came back talking about what a “monster” he was on the saxophone. “But our attitude was Sheeet, we in the Big Apple baby, ain’t nothing this country boy can play that we ain’t heard before.” So all the horn players were laying to “cut his head” and ended up dead…slain by a yard bird from the sticks.

That was the highly competitive environment in which the fine art of Bebop was born Eric. Louis Armstrong – a seminal figure in the evolution of Jazz – hated both bebop and the beboppers; the music and the musicians. He once remarked that they were mean and evil people who just wanted “to carve everybody up.” He said The music was just a bunch of chords and notes “that don’t mean nothing!” I have never known a great Jazz musician who was not egotistical about their playing and highly competitive, and I’ve known legions of them over more than half a century. In fact, I don’t know anybody that is great at anything of whom that is not true.

The competitive nature of Jazz as a method of creating a better product is one of the things that makes Jazz the quintessential American Art. Like athletes, who generally embrace each other after the contest – including boxers after vicious fights – musicians form a unique band of brothers and are generally friendly after the competition on the bandstand. In fact they embody the highest ideal of sport, unless one’s lively hood is at stake: “It’s not whether you win or lose… but how you play the game.” And I have never known a great Jazz musician who wasn’t an avid sports fan.

The great Earl “Fatha” Hines says that after his gig at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chi Town he and the band members would go play baseball as soon as it was light outside; Louis Armstrong had his own baseball team. Every chance he gets, the great Wynton Marsalis plays pickup basketball games with the youths in the projects across from Lincoln Center, and is quite proud of his jump shot! The master percussionist Rachid Ali and innovative trumpeter Miles Davis – a seminal figure in 20th century music – were both boxers and fanatical fans who never stopped going to the Gym until hobbled by age. Miles was best friends with Sugar Ray Robinson, who also idolized Miles. The peerless Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, trained to Jimmy Lunceford’s “I’m a Rug Cutter,” and the powerful Sonny Liston trained to Bill Doggett’s “Night Train.” There has always been a close relationship between black musicians and Black athletes, now it is mostly hip hop, but in an earlier period it was Jazz. So it looks like you are just an odd ball Eric; I’d bet all of these great Jazz musicians would find you as strange as I do.

In its philosophy and practice Jazz successfully embodies the highest ideals that American civilization aspires to but seldom achieves. It is democratic; prizes individual Freedom; promotes innovation; grooves to the tempo of a machine age milieu, and sharpens performance through fair and open competition. These are the characteristics that make Jazz the most representative American art. Frankly Eric, as a Jazz musician I am surprised that you don’t recognize this….but then playing music and contemplating its social significance as art are two different things.

Finally, your above passage confuses and conflates issues that have little to do with each other. People commit crimes and go to jail in every society in the world, including communal ones where competition is not encouraged. Contrary to your faith based belief, there is no evidence that the prisons are overflowing with geniuses. Conversely, there are numerous studies which show that the majority of prison inmates have below average IQ’s, that’s partially why they are in jail in the first place. If you do a Google search of the scholarly literature addressing the correlation between crime and IQ levels you will discover that there is abundant statistical evidence showing that incarceration rates are higher among those with the lowest IQ’s. This proves true even when the studies are controlled for age, race, gender, and economic status. There is no debate about this among scholars in the field.

The following passage strikes me as self-indulgent nonsense, a mindless diatribe on the evils of sport uttered during a public temper tantrum that dramatically fails to rise to the level of what I consider serious argument. Mostly what it does is expose an embarrassing ignorance of the ideals and virtues promoted through sports.

“You see, sports appeal to, stimulate, and feed upon the very worst characteristics in human nature, or what’s referred to as the “Seven Deadly Sins” – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. ” Each is a form of Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective.” The very point of sports is to prove that “I’m better than you.” Sports also promotes the “Us against them” mentality that’s at the very root of every form of bigotry – racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.”

If you really believe that this is the Message young people get from sports competition, why do you celebrate their grandchildren participating in such a nefarious activity? It would take a deranged person to proudly post their pictures on Face book openly engaging in an activity that by your description promotes ideas that have inspired mass murder!!! Racism and Xenophobia inspired the murder, enslavement and dispossession of black peoples all over the world before any of these sports were invented…they also inspired the Armenian genocide and the German holocaust in the 20th century. Will you please present some evidence of the role sport played in these atrocities Eric. It is POLITICS NOT SPORTS that led to these atrocities!!! This is patent nonsense …foolishness!!

Let me share some real information that you obviously know nothing about, or you would be more careful in your argument. In his 1986 book “Jessie Owens: An American life,” the first scholarly biography by a professional historian on the life of the great Afro-American Olympic athlete Jesse Owens, Dr. William J. Baker tells us how the Germans were so impressed by the athletic grace and prowess of Jesse Owens and the other black American Olympians, that when they went out to nightclubs in Nazi controlled Berlin the German men and women flocked around them and several German men asked them to dance with their wives so they could take pictures….this was in NAZI GERMANY ERIC!!!!

Here is another piece I culled from Playthell's musings and I think ought to be inserted herein.

The legendary hip hop impresario Fab Five Freddy, who hosted the first rap show on MTV, Yo! MTV Raps was shocked by the rap scene he discovered in Cuba. “I met a brother there named Pablo Herrera who was the pivotal figure in the hip hop scene. Pablo was an incredibly knowledgeable cat who spoke English like he grew up in Brooklyn with me. And he knew the whole history of hip hop, all the old school stuff and everything. They even had tapes of my TV shows!”

Ariel Fernandez, founder and editor of Movimiento, a state-funded hip hop magazine, told me when I interiewed him on WBAI:

“Rap music is the voice of the Afro-Cuban in popular culture. It aggressively asserts our cultural identity as black people, which is not recognized in official government policy which asserts that ‘we are all Cubans.’ But we insist that we are culturally different from white Cubans in significant ways, and this is based on our African heritage and centuries of historical experience with racism on the part of Hispanic Cubans. Although instititional racism has been outlawed, the ideology of white racism remains embedded in the culture. If you listen to Cuban hip hop you will see that the artists use rhythms from our Afro-Cuban musical culture.”

However this is not the first instance of cross-fertilization of Afro-Cuban and Afro-American musical forms. During the first half of the 20thcentury, the virtuoso Afro-American trumpeter, bandleader and Jazz innovator John Berks “Dizzy” Gillespie collaborated with Mario Bauza, an Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist who was fluent in the language of European classical music, Jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical tradition. Together they produced a hybrid musical genre known as CuBop.

It was a blending of elements from the modern complex improvisational style invented by Gillespie and Saxophone genius Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, called BeBop, with the Son Montuno Afro-Cuban orchestral form. CuBop is the basis for all “Latin Jazz.” The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra featuring the Afro-Cuban congero Chano Pozo became the signature American exponent of CuBop, while Machito and his Afro-Cubans became the Cuban vehicle for the new sound. All Latin Jazz has its roots in CuBop, whether they know it or not. It is a sound that continues to flourish.

I first heard Afro-Cuban music in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the fascist Batista military dictatorship. I was a student at the all-Black Florida A&M University and there were several Afro-Cuban students studying in the world-famous music school, which had produced the renowned saxophonists and trumpeter Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat. The Afro-Cuban students would play Jazz with the Afro-American musicians, and on occasion they would get together and play the Son Montuno.

I fell in love with the music upon first hearing. At the time I played the trap drums, but I would later ditch them and study the Conga drums, which led to my longtime friendship with the great Mongo Santamaria and my marriage to an Afro-Cuban woman. I even became a good enough congero to substitute for Mongo himself with his great band – which featured the brilliant flautist Hubert Laws – in concert. Mongo’s band created a new fusion of styles that combined Afro-Cuban Music, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues. My love of playing the Conga drums remains undiminished after half a century; hence I am a living example of the power of Afro-Cuban culture and its influence on US culture.

Side By Side - Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges [Full Album HD]

More by this Author


Comments 2 comments

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

Ellington is #1 on my list as a jazz composer and bandleader. In fact, his music was my introduction to jazz. I want to particularly thank you for including the video of Lotus Blossom from "And His Mother Called Him Bill." My favorite from that album has always been Blood Count, and somehow I missed the beauty of Lotus Blossom. Again, thanks!


ixwa profile image

ixwa 3 years ago Author

Thank you RonElFran for the encouraging and kind comment above... I still feel I need to cover more ground on this Legendary Iconic Jazzman-I know he he did not called what he played Jazz, but I still think it is, for me, and know that his work is so huge and vast, I have really hardly ouched on it. I am also glad you liked some picks above, and hope to work some more on it in due time...

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working