Brunswick 6265 – Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra – 1932

Today we celebrate the birthday of Duke Ellington, who was born on this day 117 years ago.  Music as his mistress, he was the man that truly made a lady out of jazz.

Duke Ellington with his orchestra at the Cotton Club sometime in the 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Duke Ellington with his orchestra at the Cotton Club sometime in the 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. to two piano playing parents.  As a youngster, he came to be called Duke for his refined manners and dapper style of dress.  While working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Café in 1914, Duke composed his first song, the “Soda Fountain Rag” (a.k.a. the “Poodle Dog Rag”), which he played in a variety of styles.  Working as a sign painter in the latter part of the 1910s, Ellington put together small bands for various affairs.  He put his first orchestra together in 1917, included as its early members were his childhood friend Otto Hardwick, Arthur Whetsel, Elmer Snowden, and Sonny Greer.  Eventually, the band moved to Harlem, following drummer Sonny Greer, who was invited to play with Wilbur Sweatman’s band.  In 1924, the band made its first records on the Blu Disc label, which were sold only at the cigar counter of a New York theater.  As the Washingtonians, led by Elmer Snowden, the band played at Harlem’s Kentucky Club.  Snowden was later kicked out of the band over a financial dispute and full leadership was assumed by Ellington.

In 1926, Ellington signed Irving Mills as his band’s agent, a move that brought his success to new heights.  Later, in 1927, King Oliver had foolishly decided to hold out for more money on the prestigious Cotton Club gig, and Ellington took the job, his orchestra becoming the house band of the famous club, replacing the recently deceased Andy Preer.  He held the position until Cab Calloway brought Preer’s band (as the Missourians) back to the Cotton Club.  Duke was brought to greater fame when his orchestra appeared in the 1930 Amos ‘n’ Andy picture Check and Double Check.  Ellington toured across the United States in the early 1930s, and, like many American artists, made a European tour in 1933.  Throughout the years, Ellington featured many great musicians and introduced many famous pieces.  He appeared in a number of films and continued to enjoy immense success as one of the world’s foremost musical forces until his death in 1974.

Brunswick 6265 was recorded February 2 and 11, 1932 in New York City.  Ellington’s Famous Orchestra features Arthur Whetsel, Freddie Jenkins, and Cootie Williams on trumpets, Joe Nanton and Juan Tizol on trombones, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax and baritone sax, Duke on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.

First up, it’s Ellington’s famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”, named after the credo of former band-mate Bubber Miley, who was ailing at the time.  Ivie Anderson provides the famous vocal.

It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing), recorded February 2, 1932 by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchesstra.

On the reverse, Ellington’s Famous Orchestra plays the old standard, “Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland)”.

Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland)

Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland), recorded February 11, 1932 by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra.

Hit of the Week 1046 – Harlem Hot Chocolates – 1930

To coincide with the beginning of economic downturn in 1930, a company called Durium began producing a line of one-sided laminated paper records known as “Hit of the Week”, which were sold at newsstands rather than traditional stores.  These new creations sold fairly well initially and featured some top name artists including Rudy Vallée and Morton Downey.  On this particular Hit of the Week, Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra plays under the moniker “Harlem Hot Chocolates”

Hit of the Week 1046 was recorded sometime in March of 1930, the exact date is unknown, in New York City.  It went to the newsstands on May 15, 1930.  The all-star Ellington lineup includes Duke on piano and directing, Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpets, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Juan Tizol on trombones, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on the drums.  Ellington’s manager, the music mogul Irving Mills sings the vocal.  This session also produced a recording of “Sing You Sinners”, and was Ellington’s sole session for Hit of the Week.

Here Ellington and the boys play a fine rendition of “St. James Infirmary”, this record’s only side.

St. James Infirmary, recorded March 1930 by the Harlem Hot Chocolates.

St. James Infirmary, recorded March 1930 by the Harlem Hot Chocolates.

Updated with improved audio on March 31, 2018.