Terry Teachout’s splendid bio ,”Duke A Life of Duke Ellington” (Gotham Books, $30) reminded me of my brief encounters with t hat great man. As a Detroit high school enthusiast I’d skip Edwin Denby High to hit the downtown Paradise Theatre with Glen Kemp, a promising drummer. We’d put up with the petty piffle for the blacks who dominated the crowd. Just to hear his standards thrilled us in a way Art had not yet touched us.
I was depressed to learn in the 60’s rock music killed it. Not until the 80’s did an obsessed oboeist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra collect $23,000,000 to reopen what had been the Orchestra’s first home. So many Southern blacks moved into the neighbor hood as defense workers in World War that the whites fled to the Burbs. No less an ear than Pablo Casals affirmed it had the best acoustics in North America. In the 80’s, visiting my aging mother, I teased that musician that he had killed my youthful enthusiasm. “Not so,” he amiably barked back.”We have a jazz concert every Saturday night.”
Later, when I had been Ph.D-eafied and taught Am Civ at Penn and lived in Philly, I took my daughter Catherine into Trenton so she could take the train to the Rhode Island of Design, I had time to kill before the superb but neglected New Jersey museums, I took a new Hotel elevator into see if the big T was as ugly upstairs as it mostly was on the ground. It was. Really ugly. On the 7th floor who should enter alone but the one and only D. “What, Mr. Ellington, are you doing in Trenton, noon of a Sunday.” “Another Doctorat”, with an ironic smile.6th Floor: “Princeton, this time.”
Meaning I guess you can stuff the old ones from Fiske and Tuskegee.I reminded him I had spent Easter Saturday evening in the American Embassy in Lagos, kanoodling with my fave, Johnny Hodges.5th Floor I was there to report on the very first African World Art Fair.4th Floor. “And the next day we opened the Fair with your theme song, “Take the A Train”! Now he was smiling like a kid remembering a Birthday Party. 3rd Floor. “ And I was so hung over from your booze last night, I could hardly hold my TV camera steady!” 2nd Floor. “I remember now,” he gleamed! Ist floor. The door swung open.”What’s your name.” I walked over to the registration desk and gave my first and only anti-autograph. "Dr. Patrick D. Hazard, Chairman, English Department, Beaver College, Glenside, PA.” As he hailed a cab for Princeton, I hollered “And I have the only footage of that concert!” He smiled and mailed a winning “Oh!” with those priceless fingers. He would never know the tragedy: KQED-TV lost it, creating a jazz series.
Later, jazz scholar Marshall Stearns invited me to the first Newport Jazz Festival after I got a Carnegie Postdoctoral two year grant to create the first “Mass Culture” course for the new Annenberg School of Communication, where I was “gofer” for my first academic mentor, Dean Gilbert Seldes. I drove over from Philly, pooped, ordered the last steak dinner to relax. Ten minutes later the great jazz singer Mahalia Jackson arrived, equally hungry. I gave her my meat if she’s whisper sing “You go to My Head” for dessert! What a deal. How sweet she was! Alas, it was a sleepless night. My room was next to Miles Davis, and as usual he was beating up his date! I didn’t have the Balls to turn him in. And I still feel dirty guilty, 55 years later.
The last day, the semanticist heading the egghead side of the Fair saw Mahalia at the back of the hall and complying with his Semantic Decalogue’s First Amendment, “Everyone Must Talk UP!” “Mahalia, what do you think about the Critics Symposium?” PAUSE. “I don’t knows what youse been talkin’ about.”LONGER PAUSE. “But I sure doos like Jazz.” Symposium simply closes. Mahalia smiles like an Angel. Put up you dukes, all of youse!