Monday, August 8, 2011

Willis Conover hosts Duke Ellington - 1

Today: "Sidewalks of New York and Sophisticated Lady"

Recently it was my good fortune to be given a cassette of the last (and posthumous) regularly scheduled edition of Willis Conover's "Music USA" jazz program, aired (so far as I can determine) on 15 August 1996, after Conover's death on 17 May 1996, and hosted by David Bodington, who had been Conover's last Studio Engineer. In his introduction, Bodington notes that Conover began "Music USA" on 1 January 1955.

This final program reprises an interview that was first aired on VOA on 4 June 1965, and features Conover discussing with the American jazz grandmaster, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974), a previously unreleased recording of a Duke Ellington Orchestra concert in Fargo, North Dakota, on 7 November 1940. (See a postscript after the final piece of this historic program on the multiple versions of this concert that continued to be re-released into the Twenty-First Century!)

Bodington, who was kind enough to lend me the cassette, introduces his edited version of the final program, which begins with the famed Ellington rendition of Take the A Train, which was the theme song for "Music USA".

Willis introduces the program in his distinctively deep voice and his own slow, measured version of "Special English"--see my earlier posting of a Special English feature on Conover.

Following a request from Willis for a comment on the performance, Ellington responds:

"Oh, I'll be very glad to . . . . This is a strange sort of a thing, because I'm hearing for the first time what the band sounded like 25 years ago, which was coincidentally the opening night of Ray Nance with the band. It's . . . very impressive to me, and instructive as well, because I hear we're doing quite a few things in here that I had forgotten we had done. The opening side is "The Sidewalks of New York":

At the conclusion, Conover notes that Jimmy Blanton (1918-1942) was playing [double] bass, and "Tricky Sam" Nanton (1904-1946) played the trombone.

Ellington next introduces "one of the many arrangements we've had" of one of his own compositions, "Sophisticated Lady", for which, as the Wikipedia article notes through Ellington's own words, the "original conception was inspired by three of Ellington's grade school teachers. 'They taught all winter and toured Europe in the summer. To me that spelled sophistication'":

The piece concludes with a high note exquisitely sustained throughout all the bluster of the brass, probably, as Willis notes in his outro, by Otto Hardwick (1904-1970) on the alto saxophone, with Lawrence Brown (1907-1988) on trombone, and of course, Duke Ellington on the piano.

Tomorrow: An astonishingly witty version of "Boy Meets Horn".

No comments: