From the Wall Street Journal: Nat Hentoff on Duke Ellington

This is copyright protected, so just a hint or two.

By Nat Hentoff

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“I first had the opportunity of being mentored by Duke Ellington in the 1940s when I was part of the Boston jazz scene. In those days I had a radio show that combined music and interviews, and as a part-time reporter for Down Beat, I got to know Duke. Off the air, he once told me: “I don’t want listeners to analyze my music. I want them open to it as a whole.”

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The Duke

And I was there when he played dances, just to get as close to the bandstand as I could. One night, the band played a number entirely new to me. During one of their quick breaks I whispered to a sideman, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, “What’s the name of that?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “He just wrote it.”

Another sideman, Rex Stewart, who played trumpet and cornet and with whom I used to hang out, told me—and later mentioned in his book, “Jazz Masters of the 30s”—”He snatches ideas out of the air. . . . On the Ellington orchestra’s Pullman, he’d suddenly jump as if a bee had stung him . . . and scribble madly for hours—or sometimes only for a minute.”

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