Helen Oakley Dance
with Mark Tucker
January 9, 1987
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Side a: P. 1
early musical experiences‑‑meeting Duke at the Fox Theatre in Detroit‑-Toronto meeting with Duke‑‑Duke's sensitivity at time of brother's death‑-writing for Downbeat‑‑other jazz writers‑‑Chicago Rhythm Club‑‑presenting Benny Goodman and Ellington in concert‑‑Chicago jazz scene‑‑adoption by Ellington band‑‑travelling with Ellington band‑‑recording‑‑Duke's writing Solitude‑‑Johnny Hodges‑‑recording sessions without scores‑‑Irving Mills‑-refusal to do public relations for Goodman‑‑first meeting of Ellington and Goodman‑‑Ellington band members playing for Goodman‑‑writing for Melody News‑‑Variety records.
Side b: P. 23
Cootie‑‑Irving Mills‑‑John Hammond‑‑Hodges in charge of personnel‑‑Hodges and the blues‑‑hostess of party to launch record company‑‑Chick Webb‑-Battle of the Bands‑‑rehired by Ellington‑‑series in Swing magazine--stopped by Duke‑‑introducing Duke to her parents‑‑marriage to Stanley Dance‑-Duke's eating habits‑‑Duke's meeting Oueen of England.
Helen Oakley Dance
with Mark Tucker
January 9, 1987
[Beginning of Side A]
[Extraneous talking and trying to turn off the tape.recorder]
T. This is Mark Tucker speaking with Mrs. Helen Dance, January 9th, 1987, in Vista, California. Were you from Toronto, originally?
D. From Toronto, and my family, for quite a long while back. And I, you know, I had a background where I wasn't supposed to know anything, really, about‑‑certainly not about any popular music, or anything. But even when I was eight years old, I could tell the difference between what I was hearing and, I mean, in those days, the ancient days, you had‑‑my mother had the companies, piano companies, and so on, send up records, you know. You had twelve records delivered to you to see what you wished to keep. Was some way of doing, wasn't it?
D. And I would always find on‑e in there that I wanted to keep. And I used to make a point of, that it was. And so, you know, it usually turned out afterwards I'd realize that it was Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, or whatever. I mean, I didn't know one instrument from another, but I did know what I was listeniug to.
T. Were your parents musical? Or did they play anything?
D. No, they weren't, and they‑‑no, not at all. And I didn't come by it legitimately in any way. But, so I just always, you know, made a system of this. And my sister and I‑‑then we were educated in Switzerland for a while, and then‑-
T. What's your sister's name?
D. Cynthia, but she died. She was married to Rodney Adamson, who was Secretary of the Treasury in Canada. And they were going out to the West Coast to‑‑‑he was to speak, and so on, and some little old training plane ran into the thing, and they died, and it was a very sad affair. But anyway‑-
T. You went to Switzerland for school.
D. So we went to Switzerland and finished our schooling, and so on. I went to UT for a short time. And then we came out as you do in Canada, you know. Well I guess you do almost anywhere.
T. Still do.
D. Yes [laughs]. Came out‑‑sometimes you don't go back in again. But, so we were at this point and I was realizing that this was not for me. It was for my sister, but it wasn't for me. And so‑‑and I had a very nice brother, Rupert. I'll tell you something about him afterwards. And, so we'd go and hear Luigi Romanelli and whatever little there was‑‑well, Guy Lombardo, had departed by them, but, you know, whatever little there was. And, so I was‑‑I was interested right from the beginning and knew something about the instruments, and so on. So, really, this brings us to Duke, because, first of all I‑‑when we had a coming out party, what I really wanted to do.was to get either Mc‑Kinney's Cotton Pickers or Fred's band Op , because they played Detroit. But, I didn't succeed in that. But, you know, this was my idea that, if the music wasn't going to come to me, I would have to go to the music. And so, I eventually persuaded the family that Detroit was the nearest point, and this is what I would have to do. And so, before that we were abroad for a time, and I was in England when Duke was on the first Palladium concert. Funny, you know, Stan was there too.
T. He was there, right.
D. But anyway. So I was extremely excited and thrilled with the band. I had all the records that were out by then. And after is about, you know, perhaps six months later, I was in Detroit, and Duke played the Fox Theater. So, I knew enough to know that you have to barge in if you're going to get anywhere. You must know that, too. And, so, I sent a note, you know, backstage. And Duke, you know‑‑you know all about Duke, you know his personality, you know how he was, so. He was always‑‑and, in those days, he was, simply, full of life and full of energy and ambition, and the band was a reflection of him, and the whole thing was alive and marvelous. So, when I sent this note backstage, you know, then he said, "Ah, this little debutante." or what have you, you know, from across the border, "This'll be fun, this'll be interesting." And Mildred Dixon, who was his common law wife, and very nice, extremely nice‑‑she went to Vassar, and she was just a darling gal, and she was marr‑‑you know, lived with him for many years‑‑helped bring up the family. And so, they were there‑‑am I being too long winded [to Mark Tucker]?
D. And so, in my note I‑‑I mean, this is a joke on me, this is really rather stupid, but in my note I said to him that Mike,who writes‑‑wrote for the Melody Maker and was knowledgeable‑‑that Mike had said when I was in London‑‑Mike had said to me, "Be sure and say hello to Duke, greet Duke, and everything, because"‑‑and Mike had said, "This girl is very knowledgeable, and you're sure to hit it off" or something like that. So, he said that they would be pleased if I would take afternoon tea with them backstage at the Fox Theater.
T. Duke was having afternoon tea?
D. I was coming so you could have afternoon tea. And, you know, Duke, make the most of any experience. And so‑‑and that was me at the time, too, because, I thought, "This is strange, isn't it. I never would have believed that Duke Ellington would invite me to afternoon tea backstage at the Fox. But, of course, I would be delighted." So, we said allright, the next afternoon. So when I got there, I saw my letter underneath the mirrors in the dressing room. Mil was very sweet with me, and everything, and I saw my letter. And I was just sensible enough to say to myself, "Why would a little fan letter still be around twenty‑four hours later? That's rather odd, surely, isn't it?" And so, I was a little on my guard, but I remember telling him that I didn't think that Barney Bigard played a proper role in the band, and he said, "Really, tell me more." And so, you know, after a few little faux‑pas and things, then I finally said to him, "By the way, you know, who is Mike?" And he had a nom‑de‑plume, you know. And I'd been talking about who Mike really was of course. And Duke was thouroughly amused and just said, "You want to know who is Mike?" I said, "Well, I guess you know I forged the letter then." And he said, "Well, we did suspect something." So with that we were fast friends. That was perfect. That was a wonderful beginning. So, after that, you know, I saw him.a couple of times.. And he told the band, he said, "Steer clear. Stay away. This lady is coming to admire your performance, and everything. And she's going to be--"
T. This was in Detroit?
T. Because you were living there?
D. Yes. Mother had allowed me to go to Detroit, where I had to report in to a chaperone, or something. But anyway. So not long after that, he was in Toronto, and I went back up. Here's Stanny. So, I've forgotten where he was playing, the Royal Alec, or something like that. Shall we stop and speak to Stanny a second? [pause in tape] About Toronto.
D. He'd already probably been‑‑this was maybe the second time he'd been up, something like that. Because it was right in.the beginning. And, so we‑‑so Rupert and I, who was my brother older than I, we went and caught him, and so on and so on. And he-‑and Mill were so darling‑‑so we said, "Well, after the show and everything, why don't you come to our house," which was in Rosedale, and‑‑I guess we picked them up or something. And they said, "We would be delighted. " And so then they said, "Maybe we could have a game of bridge." Would you believe that? I mean, I really didn't know anything about playing bridge, but they did. So that's what we did. We went home and we‑‑and this was, really very nice.
T. Could I just interrupt you and ask‑-
T. Let's see, you saw him in Detroit, and if it was the same year as the England tour, about thirty three or so.
D. Just about‑‑yes. I think it‑‑no, I think it was‑‑yes, about thirty-three, yes.
T. And so this Toronto trip‑-was that the following year? Or‑-
D. Not really, probably six months. There was probably six months between the Palladium, between Detroit, and between Toronto, I think. And, anyway. So, you know, by that time we all felt as if we were really friends. And Duke really liked Rupert. And the only thing that Rupert and I were upset about was, in those davs, Duke, not only the band, but Duke had to put up at a cheap, unprepossessing hotel, out King Street West, somewhere. And that was gcod enough for Duke, so they thought.
T. Was he playing a theater in town?
D. Yes, he was playing a theater in town, but in those days, you know, you didn't‑‑they weren't welcome at the best hotels. And we were very mad about that. And, then just one other thing, in connection withRupert. When World War II broke out, in the Canadian raid on DF, 1942, Rupert was killed. And Duke was so sweet about that, you know. I told him, and he knew. And then he never‑‑he minded. Duke was very sensitive, and he always covered everything over, you know, and so you just didn't‑-but I appreciated that so much. I mean, he'd only known him a short time and it was very nice that he minded. But anyway. To go from there, from Detroit I went to Chicago, and where, as you may know, you know, I started off with Downbeat. Downbeat was just a rag at that time. Glenn Burrs had just a four page sheet that he used to stand on the corner, Randolph Street, and hand it to musicians. Oh good, that's fine[To Stanny]. And so, of course, you know, it was nothing but about Ben Birney and such things, you know. And so‑-
T. I'm not sure that I do know. Did you start writing for Downbeat then?
D. I, what I did was, I said to Glenn, "You know, this‑‑why are you writing about Ben Birney, and everything? I mean, here we are, there's the Jess Stacys and the Bud Freemans, and all kinds of people." He was a saxophone player of kind. And I said, "I mean, you know, why don't you cover the waterfront at least. I mean, somebody should. In England and in France they write reams about everything. And nothing is written here." And so he said, "Allright." And then Carl Cons, the other editor, came into the picture. And so I started doing a, I guess, a regular column for them, which was nice for me because all I ahd to do was jus write about whatever I wanted to write about. What I was listening to, and what was terrific.
T. Well, at that point,were they eagerly looking for new writers? Or, how was it you were able to just start writing for them?
D. No. To do that? Well, because‑-well, because I was there encouraging them to get an office and get some advertising, and be able to do something‑‑start an operation. And when Carl Cons came in, he was a businessman, too. So they got it off, and, of course, they were‑‑I think probably I got fifteen dollars per article or something, you know. But the main thing was they were pleased to have anybody. And in those days George Frazier had begun to write, you know, in Boston, and George wrote the sa‑‑I just wrote the top of my head. And he did too, you know. So, in those days you could get away with things. They didn't have jazz critics writing in the U.S. at that time. They did abroad. There was John Hammond. He was the guy.
T. And some people had done reord reviews, like R.D. Darrow for example.
D. What record did he review?
T. He reviewed Race Recors for H. Royer, the--H. Royer's Phonograph Shop, or something.
D. For who? Oh really? Out there?
T. Yeah, in Philadelphia.
D. Oh, I see. Right.
T. And in Boston, but he wrote under a psuedonym when he wrote sbout jazz.
D. Oh, I see. Right.
T. Then he put together the American--what is it, the American--the Grammophone Shop, or something.
D. Oh, yes. Yes, that's right.
T. And he put together an encyclopedia of recordings.
D. Yes, that's right. So that was beginnings too.
T. But there were a few, just, only a few doing this kind of writing. You're right.
D. Yes, we were beginning. There was Marshall Stearns, he started. And, really, Dave Dexter on the West Coast started. And there were a few people. And, so what i did then, was, if this is interesting to you or not, I'll tell you briefly, Benny Goodman had started with "Let's Dance", and, you know the radio program.
T. The radio program.
D. It was marvelous. And of course, Buddy was in the band, and it's the first time we had heard on the air music that swung, and that was first class, and it was exciting. and everybody, of course, listened to those broadcasts. and so, I thought--I kn--they were coming out to the West Coast, and I thought, "Well, the thing to do would be to"--I was writing then for the Herald Examiner, the Chicago Herald Examiner, and so, you know, i thought, "well, the thing to do would be to have some sort of gimmick." So, I suggsted to a man called Squirrel Ashcroft, who was very well know in Chicago.
T. Put out those recordings.
D. Well, before that, you know, I said to him, "Allright, let's form a club." They have a hot club--I think by that time they had a hot club in New York, or something, and I said, "Let's form a club, and then we'll have something with it." It was easy for them because they were all well known, they were on the society pages, and people followed suit. And so we did that. So we had the Chicago Rythm Club. and I said, "Well, then, now we'll--let's try to figure out what we're going to--let's do something significant with it." So the first thing they said was, "Allright, we'll d something for Goodman when he comes through, because hemight be flopping even." And as it happened, Goodman went out to the West Coast and there it took off. But that was one thing. so then he was coming to Chicago--to the Congress hotel in the Urban room. So we put on--that was the first concert. That's before anybody else had put on a concert of any kind. I told Benny, I said, "If I"--Benny had made the records with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa at Mildred Bailey's house, and, you know, those first trios. And I said, "If I send for Teddy, if I bring Teddy out here, will you use him?"
T. With a band?
D. No, not with a band, because I knew they wouldn't do that.
T. With a trio?
D. And so, he--and Benny was always tight about money, and so on. And I said, "If I can get the union to agree, and it's a benefit, will you do it?" So finally he said yes. And i talked to Joe Zaverban and he said, "Will you permit this trio. This'll be a black and white trio, actually, you know." And so he said yes, and we tried. so that's what we did. He put it on at intemission. And of course, it went ovr tremendously rght from the beginning. And so then we did the famous concert, you know, the Easter concert, which was a tremendous success. We sold--and any amount of tickets, all those ythm club people did. And it was reported in Time. Life, no Time, i think.
T. How big an organization was the Rhythm Club?
D. It's just that the people had followings‑‑each one had a lot of friends. I should think it was, say, thirty, forty people perhaps.
T. But it was you and Squirrel principally?
D. Yes, well there were‑‑there were nice people that were‑‑we had a committee, you know. They were all nice people. But, one of the things that in the long run, you know‑‑I was very much interested in promoting black talent, because it hadn't been promoted. And Squirrel was really‑‑his slant was almost Dixieland. Jimmy McPartland was a great friend. And, so there was a slight division between,us, but it didn't‑-it never meant anything, it was fine. They were awfully good, because‑‑I guess I did most of the work, and, so you know, when it came to doing things‑-so one of the things‑‑we gave a concert with‑‑we did the Benny Goodman concert. And then I did a Duke Ellington concert. And then I introduced the two to each other. I had a small cocktail party, or something, up at wherever it was I was staying, living in an apartment, and Benny and Duke met each other socially, which was quite something. It was the kind of thing that didn't happen much, then or later. And we did‑‑so I did an Ellington concert and presented Duke with a baton, you know, as though anybody ever used it. But naturally, that pleased Duke, too, you see.
T. Was Benny involved with that concert at all?
D. No. No, but he was interested in Duke's band. We got Duke‑‑we got Duke booked into the Congress. You see, by then the Congress was sold on all these things. And so we booked Duke in, and it was marvelous. And the band sounded absolutely marvelous. That's one of the first times they introduced‑‑what were the first extended wor‑‑Reminiscing in Tempo. And, you know, Duke was stretching his wings all the time. And then we had‑‑we put Fletcher Henderson in for a while, and we give a concert. I don't know that we,had Fletcher in the hotel, but we did give a concert.
T. Excuse me. Could I just ask,you about the presenting these groups at the‑‑it was always at the Congress?
D. Yes. Always in the Joe Zaverban Room.
T. You said you got them booked. Would the Rhythm Club present them in a concert and then the hotel would book them after that?
D. That's right.
T. So that there'd be‑‑the concert would be a special event apart from their run in the hotel. That's it. Exactly. Exactly. And we'd sell tickets. And whatever we made on it we put that aside for a record session, or whatever.
T. And you're still writing for the Herald Examiner? Right during this time?
D. Yes. As a matter of fact, it's funny‑‑you know, when I had to come up with the Herald Examiner on the jacket flap for the book, they put Herald Tribune, and I said‑‑so I said, "No, it wasn't the Herald Tribune." And, finally, we estab‑‑we called John Steiner in Chicago, a couple of weeks ago, we said, "What was it?" And he told me‑‑it's gone out of my head again[asidel‑‑anyway, Examiner was in there. And I must get it in my head, because otherwise I'm misquoting the paper.It wasn't exactly the Herald Examiner, it was something like it.
D. And, the Herald American, I think, came out of it. But anyway. So all this time was a very exciting times, you know, because it was wonderful--Bunny Berigan was in Benny's band. And Benny's band never sounded better than it did then. And we got Jess in the band. I used to write about Jess when he was playing in the cellar, and playing‑-getting off at eight a.m. in the morning, and nobody knew about him. And, also, there was a‑‑the Chicago Rhythm Kings, or‑‑my memory is poor, Mark.
T. I can't help you. I don't know the Chicago scene.
D. No, it doesn't matter, you know. It's the thing when you don't refer back to these same sets of things, the names that you know very well escape you. And so, but anyway‑‑there was a very good‑‑there were various things in Chicago that were good. There was Davey Tough, and Bud, and so on. So, the Chicago picture was good, and I was there about three years, I think. But, during that time, you see, Duke would come back‑‑always was back in Chicago. Maybe, at least, a couple of times a year, or more. And I had been adopted by the band by that time. And so, I was taken out on the road. It was absolutely marvelous, because, you know, you had all the fun of it, and no‑‑they used to say, "Well, we'll fine you if you're late for the first show." [laughs] But, there was a very nice man, Jack somebody‑or‑other, who was the band manager‑‑and Stanley, by this time, he had made contacts through Jack Hilton, in England. He knew them, too. But they were just darn‑‑so that I was more than welcome when I‑would go on anything they did.
T. Travelling by Pullman, or bus, or both?
D. Yeah. No, well, no, not bus. It used to be the train. And that's one of the things I wanted to tell you about Duke, you know, and the band. Everything that Duke did, in those days, was an adventure. And it was the same for the whole band. They were a whole unit, There was excitement in the air. And the band was close. I mean, not only was the band close, but even the wives. The Ellington wives.
T. You mean, travelling along with the band?
D. No they did‑‑no, as a rule, if the band went into the Regal, or somewhere on the South Side, then they'd send for their wives. But, otherwise, everybody‑‑the wives were a separate unit with the band. The wives were dangerous, because this wife would find out what this man was doing up on the stand, and this wife would tell this wife. And everybody was always very leary about all the wives, because everybody was having a tremendous time on the road. As, probably, the wives may have been having a tremendous time in New York, too, I don't know. But anyway. This is, you know‑‑so, the band was like this. And it was‑‑ you know, everybody was‑‑it was laughter all the time.
T. Whom did you, particularly, get to know when you were travelling around on the bus? Were‑there special musicians, whom you found more approachable than others?
D. Well, I knew‑‑yes. I knew them all well, because I was adopted. So they were all friends with me, and that was wonderful, because I was Duke's protege, and I was adopted, and so everybody would come up and talk to me. And, of course‑‑and I loved that. And sometimes‑‑I remember Harry Carney saying, "She was standing in the wings and there were tears rolling down her cheeks." I've forgotten what they were playing, probably Mood Indigo, or something, or--. I love those jungle things, anyway. And I felt that was the essence of‑‑you know, Duke moved on from that, but that was how it was‑‑that was the essence. And they were‑‑they were jungly people [laughs] , and so, in the doing‑‑so I would, you know‑‑the band manager always had me under his wing., you see. And he would say where I had to be and who I sat with and so on. And that was fine.
T. You weren't given any band responsibilities?
D. Oh, no.
T. Except for being to the‑‑being at the shows on time.
D. Exactly. And, of course, you know, it always amused them very much if there were particular things that I liked, you know. That pleased them. And, in those days, you see, you were very pleased if there was someone out front that liked what you were doing. That sent you. And that's how it was in the beginning, I mean. You got‑‑everything got blase afterwards. But, you know, in the beginning, that's how it was.
T. Well, you know, you said that Duke moved on to different things after this period. And, you know, that famous New Yorker profile by Richard Boyer in 1940 where he describes Duke riding the train with all the rest, and he's composing in the midst of card games. and gin, and everything else.
D. Absolutely, And the more it‑‑the more was going on, and everything, the better Duke liked 'em. That was the more inspiration for him.
T. But, he was absenting himself, and just, on these train rides, and composing.
D. Partially. Duke operated on two levels. That's what I mean. What went on in the band, the quarrels, or anything, and things about the gals, or different things‑‑that stimulated him, you see. And that didn't distract from his composing at all. And I meant to tell you, I was with the‑‑and then I'd always attend their record dates, you see. And, in fact, I was recording, myself, at that time. I made some records then.
T. Let's‑‑do you mind. Let's talk about that. How you got involved in the recording part of things.
D. Yes, but we might need Stanny for some dates and some names, because‑-I got involved through Brunswick, I think. And, it's that same old way. You had to promote yourself. You just talked yourself into jobs, you know. I mean, they're still doing it, aren't they. But, I mean, you had to do it from the beginning. And, so, Paul Mares--and it was the Paul Mares Band that I said was at Harry's New York bar‑‑and I recorded them. And so were‑-and then I recorded Jess, in groups, you know. And I was just lucky, but they‑‑actually So they have re‑released some of those records, and they're not too bad, because some of the musicians were very good. But, the studio was near the "L", and it shook the studio. And so, much of it didn't come out well, which was too bad. But anyway, I used to do that. And, so that I'd always be present on all the Ellington dates‑‑and what I wanted to tell you that I thought was interesting‑‑I don't know what year it was, maybe 7‑'37, or something, the studio was taken, and the guys weren't out of it yet. So Duke propped‑up against the wall in the corridor, put his manuscript paper and his pencil. And he did that for about twelve minutes, or so. And when we went inside, he recorded‑-was it Mood Indigo? No, what's the real churchy one, the wonderful one? Solitude. And that's what he'd been composing, right there, in about twelve minutes. And, of course, you've heard about those Ellington record sessions, you see. And they were just‑‑that was the last word, because nothing was written. Nothing was even approached before you entered the studio.
T. You mean, if it was a‑‑well, a Cootie Williams date, or--
D. See, it was a bit earlier than that. They didn't have those then, in that time.
T. This was before the‑-
D. This was "The Band". And, nobody had any idea what they were going to do. Probably not Ellington either. And so, I mean, that's why I say these‑‑those days were really precious days. And they were fruitful, creative. And, so, what Duke would do, you see, he called on, without calling by name, he called on his special guys. Now you could always call on Hodges, 'cause Hodges was an absolute song factory. You know, he just flowed out of in those beautiful phrases and concepts. He just blew them a few phrases, and, say eight bars or something, and, of course, and Duke‑‑and there was always his idea, you couldn't praise people. You couldn't afford to praise people, because they'd up their money, you see. You'd have to pay ten dollars more. Barney was like that, too. They were all like that. And so, Duke wouldn't bat an eye. You know, you got to know Duke, so when that nothing face was on, you knew that he was already inside. So, I mean, as you must know, you know the music so well, you realize, you know, that an awful lot of it was Hodges. And so, he'd grab some Hodges there, eight bars and repeat, and then the middle would be, possibly Tricky. And, of course, Tricky always had his bottle by his side, and he wouldn't have cared if you stole it outright from him, you know. And, so these‑‑so the dates‑‑they were three minute things as you know, and you did four of them. And so, I think, it was supposed to be a three hour session. And they went in with absolutely nothing.
T. They would just evolve the pieces before your eyes.[Together]
D. They went in with nothing. I don't think Duke‑‑well, because he stood in the corridor and wrote that, he had that. But, normally nothing. And, of course, you know, even in those days musicians tried to get in. You know, they knew something extraordinary was happening. And then, of course, you know, you could hear Duke's harmonies in there, and you'd be hearing things you never heard before. And you wondered, the musicians wondered, how'd‑‑and, of course, they couldn't believe it. They'd say, "Man, let me look at your music," they'd say, "Music?" And, I mean, it went on like that, you know. That's‑‑that is not so amazing that it was three minutes, but when you think that it became extended play, and that still was very much that way. For a long time they didn't write it. And they were so used to playing together, and Duke would simply hit something in the bass there, and that cued them in to what he meant them to‑‑what mood he meant them to be in. And they'd be in it. And then they would create, too. It was, really‑‑there's never anything like it, really.
T. When you were on the road with the band, touring with them, did you ever attend rehearsals?
D. Oh, I always attended any rehearsals I could get to.
T. And, were there rehearsals after the shows, or‑-
D. They had rehearsals about two a.m., three a.m. And, incidently, I don't want you to boost me by saying I was on tour with them.. I really wasn't on tour with them. Whenever it was near my home base, if it was out from Chicago somewhere, then, you know, or Milwaukee, or something like that, they'd always grab me if it were possible to, you know, for me to go. But I never actually, you know, did a tour.
T. You didn't do, a string of one‑nighters with them? I see.
D. No, no I didn't. Because I really had responsibilities, anyway, you know, and had to be writing about things. But, whenever I could make a date with them, they always wanted me to, then I did.
T. I find it, I mean, you talk about these musicians going in with no written music to record, as being amazing. Well, I find it amazing that you could just move to producing these records and suddenly find yourself in a studio. How did you‑‑I mean, how did you‑‑what was your function in these dates? Or how did you‑-
D. Well, later on I produced them, you know. I produced his whole band once. But on my own things, I hired the guys and told them what I wanted them to play, and stood in the control room, and decided whether it was happening or not. And if it wasn't happening, I'd have a good idea why it wasn't, and what we should do.
T. What do you mean when you say you'd tell them what to play?
D. Well, we'd say,."Allright, we'll do Who's Sorry Now" or whatever we're going to do.
T. So, you'd actually tell them the particular pieces.
D. That's right, we'd choose of these. And then I knew‑‑I knew who I thought should take the, you know‑‑who should be featured. I mean, I've always been that way. I always‑‑as far as possible I used to throw my weight around, to try to get the people that should be featured featured, because very often they weren't. So, we're still in Chicago. But so, with Ellington‑‑you see, Duke was, you know, he was very sweet like that. I mean, if you‑‑you know, I'd say to Duke, I'd say, "Why can't we hear Cootie?" And then maybe we would, you know, and it would be good. And so on, but‑‑so, what was happening was, throughout the three years there, there was the things that I was doing, the things that I was writing, and Ellington in and out all the time.
T. The three years in Chicago?
D. Yeah. And, so, Irving Mills would come out. And so Duke would do a big thing for me like he used to do for everybody, you know. Anybody that Duke was‑‑[to Stanny]Stanny, incidently, it's cold, hun. Is the front door open?
Stan. No. Oh, the front door.
D. Are you sure? Well then,and my bedroom, and bathroom. I think they're windows and things. Yeah, that's right. [Back again] So, did you take it off when I did that?
T. No, but I
D. You should. Well, anyway. So, Duke said to Irving, "Brilliant, brilliant. She could do a lot for you. Oh, yes, she knows what's happening," and so on. And, of course, Irving was very sharp. Irving was a very‑‑you know, he had a lot of people talk against him. But he was very sharp. And if it hadn't been for Irving, Duke wouldn't have gone where he did. And so, Irving said, "Oh? Is that so?' And so Duke said, "Bring her to New York. Put her in the office. We need her." Which was very wonderful. I think for years and years he threw work my way. You know, I really was associated‑‑working for them for years, too. And that was wonderful. He did that for so many people, you know.
T. Do you remember the year you went from Chicago to New York?
D. Yeah, I think it was '35/'36. I think I was supposed‑‑incidently, at that time Benny Goodman‑‑because I had a bit of success‑‑Benny said to me, "You want to come? Will you come for me? We're going into the Pennsylvania. You want to come? And you take charge of public relations, or whatever. And I loved the band, but I thought to myself, "If I leave it like it is, we'll have a great friendship and so on; and if I go and work for him it's going to mean trouble." But I was so close with the family, with Freddie Goodman, and various members of the family, that when I did go to New York I lived with them. I stayed with the Goodmans out on Long Island. And that was fun, and that was good. And Bunny Berigan lived around the corner, and so on, it was good. So I'm jumping out of New York now and going to--because I think we've put plenty of time on that anyway.
T. Before jumping out of Chicago, I just wanted to ask you, when Benny met Duke, and this was for the first at this Rhythm Club function, do you remember anything from that encounter? Were‑-
D. Well, he didn't meet him there, he met him right in my apartment. They hadn't met, and I wanted them to meet. And I wanted to see how they would spark off one another.
T. How did they?
D. Well, I wouldn't say it would be warm, because first of all, Duke knew that Benny was going to be stealing a lot of stuff. In other words, perhaps not that, but he knew that Benny had every advantage which he didn't have.
D. And so Benny was going to go far with not as much as Duke had. So Duke was much too much‑‑Duke was a gentleman at all times, you know. He believes in it, and he is it. It's not phony. And he just had an innate sense of decency and, and he was the coolest, and most mature person, you know. So, he didn't have to think up attitudes, they were his. He was, really, the‑‑I think Stanny will totally agree with me, and I'm sure you will, too‑‑he was, certainly, the most endowed person we ever knew. And was certainly a great gift of God for us to have known him. But anyway, so he was the gentleman, and so on. And Benny was baffled, you know how Benny is. You know, he was always‑‑I take Benny's part in these altercations to the greatest extent, because Benny was so talented himself that he didn't‑‑he didn't exist in the same world with everybody else. He was on a different plane, and he didn't know it. He didn't know that he‑‑he didn't see why he didn't relate. He didn't see why everybody didn't think and do as he did, because he was so talented. And that's where the ray come from. He'd look at them‑‑couldn't understand, you know. It was nothing to him why couldn't they‑‑why didn't they? And, of course, it got worse. But that's how it was at the time, so he was‑‑he knew that Ellington had a tremendous lot on the ball. So, they were like that. They just, sort of, socialized‑-it was a brief encounter. And they socialized. But, there wasn't anything‑-they wouldn't have‑‑they never hit it off.
T. They didn't click, exactly.
D. They sure didn't click. And in the end, as you know, Ellington‑-I mean Benny took Cootie, you know, and that was a pretty terrible thing. But anyway, Duke never held on to anybody. He never‑‑everybody was a‑‑had the right to be their own person, and to do whatever.
T. A free‑agent?
D. He must have minded enormously, because Johnny left him too. And at one time Duke was cross with me, because it was the concert, the Benny Goodman concert, at Carnegie Hall?[to Mark Tucker]
T. Yes. Yes. '38 maybe.
D. And Benny said to me, "Get 'em, you know. Get 'em for me, if you will. Will you speak to Harry and Cootie and Johnny. Or will you speak to Duke?" And so, very tactfully I said, "Would you object"‑‑and Duke wouldn't be seen dead saying yes, he'd object, so, you know, he said, "Allright.' But afterwards, some people had told him that I was actually‑‑I was actually acting for Benny, that I would like to see the guys leave Duke, which I never would have. And so Duke asked me, and I said, "No." And so that was the end of that. He knew. So, that--really that's‑‑you asked me about that question how they met. And, I mean, that's how it was. It wasn't anything very‑‑but, I mean, it was all‑-after that there was feeling, because, you know, Benny went on to this enormous success without what Duke had, and Duke‑‑but still, Irving Mills saw to it that Duke did well. So, in New York I met a very nice, very talented man. A very nice man, Ned Williams, who was, subsequently the editor of Downbeat. And Ned edited the house paper, I think we called it, Stanley will know, Swingtime, or something. Anyway it was‑‑Stanny, what was the name of Mills' paper?
Stanley: Melody News.
D. Melody News, that's right. And, so there's where I got my training, because back before that I was just batting around, but Ned said to me, you know, "No, you put things together this way. And this is how you do proof copy, and so on, and so on, and so on." Which was very good.
T. How often did that come out, that Melody News?
D. It came out every month, didn't it, because it was, really, a piece of public relations, in a way. No[to Stanley. Then Stanley talking] Yeah. And the thing was, Mark, that, my determination was to do what I wanted to do, which, all I ever wanted to do, was not write, but record. Create music, you know. And so‑‑yes it is, yes it is. Producing records is creating. It depends what you're producing, but it is. [to Stanley] And, so‑‑No, when you, and Mark‑‑and tell them what to do, right.[to Stanley]
T. You're a catalyst for music.
D. And Stanley was the same. The records he did‑‑it is creating.
T. Well, you were in New York before Stanley, before you arrived, Stanley? Stanley. Yes. You'd come the previous year?[to D.]
D. Yes. And I'll tell you that little story, but, Mills had a board meeting every two weeks, or something, and you'd go before all these accountants, and money‑bags people, you know. And I was junior of junior. And so‑‑and, of course, they don't know‑‑they don't want to know anything about jazz programs, or anything. They know it's not going to make money. And I'm sitting there selling them prestige. Show you can do it, and it's Irving's image and so on. And I got away with it a little bit. And so then when Irving‑‑Irving tied up with, what was his‑‑how did he work out his record situation? The Master Records and Variety Records? Who did he buy it from? Who did he buy the studio from?[to Stan] I think so, yeah. Anyway, he did that. So he decided to have a record label. Wonderful. So Ally Brackman, who was a very nice guy‑‑he was a‑‑he's a song‑‑not exactly a song plugger,but, you know, one of those people in the‑-
Stan. He's still alive, isn't he?
D. I think he is.
T. I don't know.
Stan. [Says some, then] I think he's still alive.
D. He's a very nice man. Not trained in music, you know, and no pretentions. But, knew enough to figure out what's going to be commercial. So Ally got Master Records, and I didn't want Master Records, because I would have had to do commercial things, you know. So I got Variety, and that was absolutely wonderful. So, it was up to me who to hire, who to put together, and so on. And it didn't last long, did it. What, about a year and a half, or something?
Stan. No, after you finished, it went to‑‑the two labels went to Columbia, didn't they, or whoever owned them.
D. Yeah, something like that.
Stan. Variety became Italian, and Duke went home to‑‑I mean, the Master numbers, of the Master label are on Vitalia and Columbia Records.
D. Well, Mark, what was‑‑the big break for me was‑‑you see, this is, I think, why Duke had any‑‑felt any value for me, because I'd have some ideas, you see. And he could always use anybody's ideas. He liked ideas. And so, I said to him, "Why don't we‑-
[End of Side A]
[Beginning of Side B]
D. That’s the whole trouble.
T. Run past the leader here.
D. Oh, have we.
T. We’re past the leader now. We’re fine.
D. That’s great.
T. O.K., so we’re talking about starting out--Rex Stewart had the first small group date.
D. That's right. That's right, and then, you know, the ones he would feature and then he had Barney, outfit for Barney. And, he didn't feature Tricky, did he? But, oh, and then Lawrence, of course by that time.
Stan. No. Lawrence never had a‑‑was never a leader.
D. No, but he was always on their things, you know. Gave it a certain sound. Yeah[to Stan]. Well Cootie‑‑I must tell you some things about Cootie, because he's a wonderful person, and was one of the hearts of the band. Cootie was completely immersed in music, in the band, and in Duke. And you couldn't‑‑there were no funny things with‑‑Duke, really, would rely on Cootie to do something that he, himself, didn't want to do. Duke didn't want to act the heavy, ever. And the band was difficult. And that's one thing I was going to say. When you said about writing. When I was in Chicago I wrote about the band, and I called the guys prima donnas. And they were so mad at me, you know. But you could do things like that.
T. But I thought you said everyone was dedicated to the band. There was this communal spirit.
D. Especially in the early days, but you see, the more success, then the more division, and the more prima donnas. And the band prided themselves on never coming on time, not getting on the stand when they should, or this one or that one, and so on. And two guys not talking to one another by that time, you know, say Barney and Johnny. And things like that, so that everything always developed , everything always moved a‑pace. But Cootie couldn't stand nonsense. He wanted the music to be right. And Sonny Greer, you know, was always fooling around. And this would irritate Cootie dreadfully, and there'd be others, you know, that'd do these things.
T. Tizol is usually cited for pranks and--
D. He was serious though.
Stan. Well yes, but he was on time.
D. He was a straight man, in a sense.
Stan. Tizol didn't fool around in that way. He got to the session before anybody else.
D. Yes, but‑‑so, it was on recording sessions that this would happen mostly, you see. So Duke would be in the control room trying to get the guys to even start the number, or anything, or get back in the room, and so on. And then, so they'd start off and the tempo wouldn't be tight. And Duke would be getting so‑‑Duke would look at Cootie, and Cootie would‑-so Cootie would say, with his rough,. tough voice, angered, and"Get on guys, and get on the ball. Quit."' And everybody would figure, "Well, there's no point making Cootie mad," so‑‑so , the date would take place, and it would get on. And Duke relied on that. And even on one‑nighters, if anybody‑‑if they were acting,the fool too much, then Cootie would tell them off. And so he was‑-
T. Sort of, like the straw boss idea. Although he wasn't necessarily rehearsing the sections, but he was‑-
D. No. No, and he didn't want that, you see. Cootie wouldn't‑-
Stan. And he didn't talk a lot. But he was a presence, wasn't he? He was like smoldering there, waiting to go off.
D. That's right. That's exactly it Stan. That's right. You see, he wouldn't be a straw boss, or anything. He didn't want responsibility‑‑any of that. He didn't want to throw his weight around, but by the time that he'd had enough, then he would explode. And that would pull everybody together, you see. And so, I just wanted to mention that to you, because it's something that some people might not have known right now.
T. What about Mills, himself? Was he on the scene for these dates?
D. Irving was, and, I mean, and funny enough, I mean, Irving did contribute things to things. He had ideas, too. And they weren't exactly‑‑it wasn't exactly musical ideas, but they were ideas that he knew Duke could translate into a musical idea. And they would be commercial ideas, because Irving knew how to sell it. So, Irving wasvaluable.
T. You mean, would he suggest a tune, or something, or a title for a piece?
D. Yeah, he might suggest a title, or an idea. He might say to Duke, “Make it jungly.”
Stan. He sure was responsible for those singers, there.
D. Oh, I mean, he had bad ideas too. He, you know--commercialism would run away with him. He’d go for doggy tunes, too, because he was a music publisher. And then he’d see that--and he’d--but, of course, you could translate a doggy tne into something worhtwhile, anyway, you know. But, Irving‑‑people, as you know, John Hammond, and so on, people were slanging Irving Mills. And John, with his thing for stirring up things, "Irving Mills is taking advantage of Ellington.” And, “The shekls are coming in there, and Ellington’s not getting his share.” Well, Ellington didn’t appreciate any of that. He didn’t look upon himself as anybody that was being taken advantage of. If there were people taking advantage, he, too, was taking advantage of Mills. And this is where the falling out between John and Duke came about, don't you think?[To Stan] I.mean, not anybody telling him his business. Duke was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and running his own show. He didn't want anybdy telling him how to run his show. Certainly not me or anybody. I mean, he'd take some ideas from you, but he was running the show always. And so, they fell out completely. John never got his foot in there again, or his finger. That’s just about the only people that he did‑-that did a shutout on him, don't you think Stan?
Stan. Well, anybody that John couldn't push around was out of favorwith John. I mean, Louie was out favor, Earl Hines was out of favor. The three big figures that he had, he never did anything for, because he could never--I mean, Earl was a hard headed guy, and Louie was too big for John.
D. And had Joe Glaser back of him who wasn't going to let John get in there on that, you know.
T. Did he approach all these people in trying to take them under his wing, or try to influence them?
D. Oh, definitely. Yes, John approached anybody that had anything on the ball that he thought he could handle, but then if they didn't bow to him, if they didn't‑‑if he wasn't the great white father, in a way.
Stan. He was unquestionably delighted to have Teddy Wilson, sort of, take Earl's place. You see, that was good.
D. Well, we shouldn't get off on John, because it is very much by the way where Ellington is concerned, it is, because‑‑well, so, but just about those records. Let me tell you about the small bands with Johnny Hodges. You know, he did‑-naturally, when Duke finally consented to come up with Johnny Hodges, you know, people might have thought that he didn’t have the sense to use Johnny Hodges. But, I mean, he knew perfectly well that Johnny Hodges would run away with the whole thing. So wait til the end, he’ll have to live u to somethig. Do everything, and end up wit John is so smart, you know. And, so then when Johnny would choose Cootie and Harry. And Johnny did choose Lawrence at times, didn’t he? Very often he didn’t.
Stan. He picked the personnels of those groups, you see, construct them, because certain people don’t record with--
T. But was the leader in each case in charge of chosing the personnel? Or did Duke really--
Stan. Not all together no. But Johnny would have a bit of say, wouldn’t he?
D. Johnny would have had a bit of say. But Johnny was sweet, too. He didn’t like throwing his weight around. And he didn't want to hurt people’s feelings either. So, but, it was a natural that it would be Johnny, Cootie, and Harry, anyway. And‑they were still only three minute things, you know, so.
Stan. Tricky did them.
D. Well I think Tricky did at first.
Stan. Tricky was with Rex, I think. I'm not sure.
D. Yeah, maybe. Yeah, I think Tricky did something with Johnny, too. I’m not sure. No. There's one thing about Johnny, you know. He was so very lyrical. And I think, in a way, he liked Lawrence, because it was, you know, it was something there that he liked. And, even‑‑Johnny was even a bit like‑‑I mean, Johnny Oven liked a girl singer here and there. Stanley and I, we don't approve of that[laughs]. But, I mean, if the singer was accomplished‑‑had good pitch, and accomplished musician in that she phrased well, Johnny liked it. You'll see on some of his records he had some. But anyway, what he was‑-
Stan. One thing you just should say, though, what, I think they almost started with Johnny wit dg tunes. They didn’t--there was--when we come to Blues and things, the big hits, he didn’t begin with those.
D. Because, you see, they knew that Johnny could make something out of anything, and he did.
Stan. I'm going about‑‑there's just one thing you haven't touched on. The two its that were carrying the company in the early days. The Caravans, and Raymond Scott's Twilight in Turkey, you see. Twilight in Turkey--Raymond Scott’s tape. That was a big hit.
D. That was terrible music, but that was the Master Record's big hit. And that’s an Irving and Orion people‑‑Stanley, don't go, because I just want to talk--put your chair closer to me.
Stan. I was just going to get you some grapefruit juice.
D. Oh, alright.
T. How's your voice?
D. It's alright. [Pause in tape] I just want to tell you that the triumph of all triumphs was the‑‑Johnny's blues. And I‑‑they were mine. All those things--Jeep’s Blues‑‑I mean, they were all mine, and, in the sense that they all knew that this is what I loved, and identified myself with. Duke used to get a kick out of me on those, you know. And he'd say to me, when he’d do those things in the bass, you know, and he'd say, "I suppose she can’t get out her mad money. She had to walk home." And that‑‑things like, you know. He had al his fanciful ideas for things.
T. Would you suggest to them that they do blues, or did they just do it because they knew this would meet your fancy?
D. I mean Johnny is Mister Blues, so you had to do blues, I mean, you know, what a waste otherwise, you know. So, what I was going to tell you was so marvelous was that when he made those things, Jeep's Blues, and all those titles which you must know that Johnny Hodges hits, Harlem rang with them. Corner after corner there were jukeboxes. Arid you could go forty blocks up Harlem and never stop hearing Johnny Hodges. It was gorgeous. It was really marvelous because who wouldn't love it? It was just absolutely marvelous. I think that it was a real peak there. To this day you put on those records and there they are. Nothing's happened to them. But, and so I wanted to tell you that, and then the other thing I wanted to tell you was that happened in New York City was, when‑‑now there's a few versions of this, but I think my version is what has always been accepted--thanks Hon[to Stan]‑‑Irving Mills said to me, “We’re starting a record company, and you have carte blanche. I want a big party to launch it. And you’re the hostess. And you ask anybody and everybody that you want.” Now in the later record--that latest book, where Milt Gabler speaks about the party--well, all I can say is that, Irving may have said to Milt, who had lines of communication, and everything, “Do what you can to smooth the thing.”
Stan Yeah, I know, and Milt Gabler did something, I think.
D. Well, yes, he--you know, he was Mister United Hot Clubs, and so on. He had the Commodore, and everything, you know. And Milt is a great guy, and was very--it wasn’t exactly so much that e was a knowledgeable about the music, but he knew who to get, and he was nice, and so it worked out very well. But anyway, for me this was a bonanza because, told-invite “anybody you want.” So I invited everybody that I wanted who was anybody that I though was any good. So, and since by then I was close with most people because, you know, we used to go u to the Savoy all the time when Chick was there. I was close with Fletcher, and I was close with all the people that I liked. Mildred and--
Stan. I think Fletcher must have been in Chicago.
D. He was in Chicago at the time.
Stan. No, but I mean, there were on the road, I think, yes. Yeah, come in close, Stan.
T Pull your chair closer, so.
D. Because Mark has to keep the--like at a tennis match.
T. Over to you now.
D. And, so anyway. We had--you probably have seen those photographs, and so on. And we had such--you know, we’d have Chuck on the drums, Duke at the piano, Artie Shaw or whoever--
Stan. Benny Goodman.
D. Benny Goodman
T. I don't know that I have seen those photographs.
D. Haven't you? Well, before you go Stanley’ll show you some of those, I think, won’t you? All we have in those books.
T. Have they been--they’ve been published?
D. They were published in Life goes to a Party. That was the party that Life went to. And they took all these.
Stan. Nice pressrooms there.
D. And, what was a big pleasure to me was, I had been falling in love with the Basie Band, because I heard two of the broadcasts and things. And to my mind that was something very special, right up my alley. Anything that really swung was up my alley, you know, and so--and I loved how they were. So, they were just coming to town, or John brought them in, or whatever--anyway, I remember Basie said to me, “This is our introduction to New York,” and he was very thrilled. And he and Lester had--they used to read me in Downbeat. And in those days, you know, there weren’t gals writing these things that they used to say. They used to get a kick out of it. So they were pleased to meet me, and I was thrilled to have them. And they were at the party. And they played. Lester was there, and it was great. Son after that they did open at the Roseland you know, and it was a, sort of, an “iffy” thing. But it was wonderful. And so, really, what I wanted to tell you was, who was there, but Mister Stanley Dance.
Stan. That's what I was saying.
T. What were you doing there?
Stan, Just off the boat. [Everyone laughs]
D. And it was funny because, in the picture, the main picture, I'm standing around somewhere‑-near the piano, or something, and in the back row is Stanley Dance, and that's so‑‑I was one of the‑-
Stan. Timme Rosenkrantz was there.
D. Yeah. Everybody was there.
T. Had you just arrived, really?
Stan. Yeah, about that time. Yeah. The funny thing was, I'd been up to hear Basie with Billie Holiday in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with John Hammond the night before.
D. That was funny, wasn't it? Well, the one‑‑I don't know if you--this gets away from Ellington a little bit, but you might‑‑would you be interested to hear anything about Basie and Chick?
T. Yes, yes, absolutely.
D. Well, we'll‑‑see, in the end, when they‑‑when it was‑‑when it got to be the time when the record company went over to Columbia, or whatever was, then it really wasn't for me, you see. As long as it was strictly Mills, I had a place in there., and I could get away with it. But, after that, it became more commercial all the time, and it really wasn't for me so much. And so, what I was always looking to do was to‑‑my idea about things was, that if anything was any good, and you could do anything to promote it, even if you look at it from a selfish point of view, you'll get to hear it. You get to be a part of it, I mean. You know. But, that was the thing. So, I‑‑so after‑‑after it was, sort of, cobling, Mills‑‑I looked, naturally, at Chick Webb. There was this marvelous talent, and it had been a wonderful band from ten years back, wasn’t it? And he'd never got anywhere. He'd had Cootie, he'd brought Cootie, he'd let Cootie live with him, because Cootie‑‑you know, and then Fletcher Henderson said, "Give me Cootie! Lend me Cootie!" And Chick said, "Alright, you can use him." And Cootie said, "No, man." He didn't have any money, or anything. He was living with Chick. And Chick hadn't much money, either. And, "No. man, I'm not gonna leave you." And Chick would say, "Yeah, you are. And it's gonna be good for you. Yes you are. Sent him down there. Same with Johnny. They used to say that Johnny and Chick were cousins. They weren't cousins, but the same thing. But Johnny worked for Chick, and it was wonderful. And they were like that. So, there was this marvelous guy, Chick, who wasn't getting anywhere.
T. Even with Ella? By this time‑-
D. No, no Ella. Ella's only just coming on the picture.
Stan. That's where Ella's time was passed.
D. Oh, my timing was terrible. Because, Chick‑‑I used‑‑we'd go up to the Savoy, and Chick was a lovable, lovely, sort of a guy. Funny little guy. Boastful, guy, and he loved Stanley, too. And so he'd love you. And he had these strong hands, and he'd[noise] grab you by your wrist, and tell you whatever he was going to tell you. And you'd see a group of guys outside the Rhythm Club uptown in Harlem, and they were standing around there laughing, and everything. When you'd get closer, that's Webb in the middle, telling people, and saying, "Man", and, "Don't mess with me." And so‑--
Stan. Well, you know the night‑‑were you with us when we went to the Prittwood?
D. Yeah, of course.
Stan. Yes, I'm sure you were. And Art Bellow‑‑there was Art Bellow, Sandy Williams‑‑there were three trombone players, I think.
Stan. And Sandy Williams used to like to say "Hello blacker than me." S'like matches.
D. Which you never do!
Stan. "Hello blacker than me."
D. I mean, you'd get killed. [Cross talk]
Stan. He used to say things like this, and so he said something to Art Bellow, and Art Bellow had drawn out his knife.
D. He was Puerto‑Rican, you see.
Stan. Yeah, and Chick is‑‑Chick, four foot tall, is out on the floor separating these two trombone players.
D. [Cross noise]Now, of course, Chick also is another one of those guys that like‑‑like Duke in a sense, loves to have things happening, you know. Loves to make things happen, too. So anyway--
Stan. Then we went to Small's one night with him--you remember we were having wine or something, and he kept explaining things to Oakley, as he called her, but he'd sweep the beer off the table and [laughs] He wasn't drinking, you know, but he was so‑-
T. His gestures were grand.
D. You know, so he said to me, "Why can't you do something for me?"[phone rings] We'll wait a minute and see what happens. And so, I thought, you know. I thought, "I should do something for .Chick." That's just‑‑who to do‑-so, you know, I'd been doing what I could for Fletcher, and I'd worked for the Bob Crosby Band, and I'd made them put a small band together. I'd got them to form the Bob Cats. And then I'd done right you see, and Duke. So none of them needed help anyway. When I worked for Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo, too, because Mildred and I were good friends. And so I‑‑you are cold, aren't you?
T. No, I'm not.
D. Are you sure?
T. Yeah, I'm fine
D. 'Cause I can't imagine why this place feels so cold, but it must be because the sun's gone down.
T. I've been in a much cooler place, so this feels warm.
D. Yeah, right. Well anyway, so I wasn't happy unless I was really trying to push someone up the ladder. And poor old Chick, he was handled by Moe Gale , which was nothing, but just more guys that were very commercial and didn't know what they were doing, but they were going to just go by the dollars. And so Chick was‑‑ he was the house band at the Savoy. The Savoy was run by Charlie Buchanon, who was a black guy, very smart guy, and a ruthless sort of a person that ran everything, and wasn't going to let anybody get a dollar if he could get the dollars first. So they had Chick like this. And Chick was making no money or anything. And he said to me, "How will I pay you?" I said, "I don't know". And so I said, "Well, I have a few accounts you know, and so, what can you pay me?" He said, "Fifteen dollars a week?" I said, "Alright, fifteen dollars a week, o.k." Just so that‑-you know, that it was professional, and so on. And so then I tried to do all kinds of things to promote, but there were two things. He had just started Ella, and I could see right away that that was going to be death for the band, really. She was too good, too big. And, but he‑he was a wonderful milsician, and he was crazy about music. And he said to me, "Well, Oakley, can you sing?" And I said, "No."'. He said, “Well alright then. Can she sing?" "Yeah. Yeah, she sings too good, Chick." And, so anyway, he said, "Well, she's wonderful." Which, she was wonderful. And she was also a very good dancer. But, she was a poor little old gal, you know. She was an orphan.
T. Apparently, didn't Chick, kind of, take care of her?
D. Yes, he adopted her. He adopted her. And, so, that, for me, this was bad because all the‑‑like Sandy Williams, Bobby Stark, and Will Truehart had gone, but he had a few guys in that band that were good, but not many.
T. Was Garvin in the band then? Garvin?
D. Yes, Garvin was. And also‑‑and Sampson was.
Stan. Sampson I think had gone.
D. Not when I first was in. Well, maybe he had, I don't know.
Stan. Yeah, cause I remember when I came there and was talking to Moe Gale and those people, and I was saying how important Sampson's arrangements were, or how I liked them or whatever . They said, "Well, whatever did he do?" And they’d got, by this time, this‑‑what was the guy's name before he became Fanny Alexander?
T. It wasn't Feldman, was it?
D. Yes, it was.
Stan. Yes. Well, he was‑‑he'd moved in, you see, and he did A‑Tisket-A‑Tasket. And that's what-‑but all those things I'd done that way‑‑Stompin' at the Savoy didn't mean‑-
D. And, you see, I had these terrible battles with Chick, because I just caught Chick where he could see that they were going to move into the money and they were going to have a name. And ten years they'd scuffled. He kept saying to me, "You don't understand." And I said, "Well, all I see is, for ten years you scuffled and now you could really get there doing what you were doing." And he said, "You don't understand." And he could see where he was going to get there doing what‑‑this‑‑Ella. And so on and of course, the office‑‑oh, Ella, and so on. And I didn't really care for most of the guys in the band because they weren't quite good enough. They weren't up to his standard. And, of course, they didn't care for me too much, either. Louie Jordan was in the band. And I did my utmost to get him fired‑‑but I sound like John Hammond. But, anyway, so we'd have all these terrible battles. And I kept‑‑I never lost hope that I would end up persuading Chick to do the right thing. And so‑-
T. But you weren’t exactly the manager at the time. You were‑-
D. No, he--Moe Gale had his brother‑-
T. You were kind of a consultant?
D. Well, I was in charge of promotion, you see. And since I was the most close person to Chick‑‑stop[aside]‑‑I was the one that had all the influence with Chick. He listened to me, didn't‑‑wouldn't listen to anybody else. But he would only‑‑but he was also‑‑had his own feeling for what he had to do. And he understood why I felt like I did, but‑‑so, my idea was that I would force him. And so I did a‑‑oh, first of all I put on a Battle Blues with Benny Goodman's band and Chick's.
I. At the Savoy?
D. Yeah. And they had the mounted police out in front.
Stan. Battle of the Bands, not Battle of the Blues.
D. Battle of the Bands, yeah. That's the stormy Monday coming up.[laughs] So, that was a huge success, and even Moe Gale was impressed with the fact that this had happened, and so on. And it was, you know, in the New York Times and so on. It was very, very good. So I was building up to what I was building up to. And so I said to Moe Gale, I knew he wouldn't know, I said, "Well, now, Basie is very hot now, and he's the next one we should have the battle with. We'll bring Basie up to the Savoy, it'll be very terrific." And the man was so dumb that he didn't know what would happen. And Chick was such a fiesty little guy that when I said to him, and I looked him in the eye, he said, "Now, that old Basie. Basie's not gonna do nothin' to me. I'm king up at the Savoy." And so, inside himself‑-I don't know, though, he was so confident, and everything, he may have thought he could get away with it. But I knew he wouldn't, because Basie had a wonderful band, and was the hottest thing. And Chick's hand was not a wonderful band, and although they were at the Savoy, and they‑‑and the Savoy was loyal. And Chick's drums‑‑could get anybody. But, all the critics would come and everybody would come up for that one. And everybody did. So, there was a‑‑the expected result, I mean. We toned it down as much as possible. I wrote about it, I think, for Downbeat; you know.
Stan. Well, I mean, as far as the crowd there was concerned, they were so loyal to Chick.
T. Because he had the home court advantage.
Stan. They figured he won, you know.
D. It wasn't obvious to the mass of people what had happened, but to everybody that knew anything.
T. And the critics who wrote about it proclaimed Basie the victor?
D. Oh, well, there was‑-
Stan. It was really not so much the critics as the musicians.
D. The musicians, yes.
Stan. The critics, you know, I mean.
D. But, it was the critics, too.
T. Would even Chick's men admit that they'd been bested?
D. They wouldn't admit it, but they were thoroughly uncomfortable. And what they did do, they called a meeting, and they said, "Fire her!" And I didn't blame them. I didn't blame them, I mean, it, you know‑-so Moe Gale didn't‑‑wasn't ready to do that right away. And, of course, Chick didn't want to. But, I mean, I couldn't get on with the band and they couldn't get on with me. So, really, it had to end. I went on for a while doing‑‑going up to Boston, and, when they played LeVagee's, and doing the regular PR things. But, it had to end.
T. What were your other accounts at the time? You said you had a couple of other accounts.
D. Well, it was Mildred Bailey and Red Norville. And it was the Bob Cats. It‑‑not the Bob Cats, but Bob Crosby's band.
Stan. It's a stupid position that has publicity, because she's trying to get rid of Bob Crosby.[everyone laughs]
D. Oh, I knew that was terrible. And, you know, when I--
D. Absolutely. The thing was, what I wanted to do, and it would have been wonderful for them if they'd ever done it-‑they made a success of themselves, as it was, but, I mean, they could have been a huge success if they'd only put Jack Teagarden in front of them. The two combinations would have been sure‑fire, and Jack had such a marvelous personality he'd have gone over well. And, you know, but, the Bob Crosby band. They came up from New Orleans. They were all friends. They were all sweet guys. And Gil Rodin, who was the boss‑‑you know, straw boss, or whatever‑‑he was a very nice guy. And they just weren't going to do it. They weren't going to light a match under Bob Crosby. So I dropped that, too. And, actually, I think I must be getting up to near World‑War II, aren't I not? When I‑‑then, you see, Rupert died. And I thought I should join up. And I did, and they‑‑and I was co‑opted, or whatever, for OSS.
T. Were you two married by this time?
D. No, we had hardly seen much of each other, you see, because‑-just Stanley came over, and then he went back.
Stan. I was coming‑‑I was coming back. Let's see‑‑in thirty eight I was going back. Then there was the Munich crisis, I was in the Royal Corps and we weren't allowed to leave, which was stupid. So the following year, of course, Duke came to‑‑yes, I saw Duke in Paris in '39, and then war broke out, you know‑‑well, it looked like war all the way.
D. Yeah. Well, there's two things‑-
Stan. And then Helen's brother, you see, was in London. And then her sister came over with the Canadians, so I saw them all through the was.
D. His mother was convinced was my sister that he was going to marry, right Stan?
Stan. Her sister was very nice.
D. Yes, she was very nice.
Stan. Very hard to decide.
D. But, Mark, there's two things to tell you about Ellington, I think, there. Oh, and Ellington had me back. The Ellington band had a meeting and they said, "Hire her!"
T. Is this after he, had broken off with Mills?
D. Yes, yes it is.
T. And then he'd gone to William Morris?
Stan. Yes, probably.
D. That's right. And, I was flattered, I was so pleased because the band called a meeting, which the band never did. Duke always called the meetings. The band called a meeting, and they said, "Hire her! Get her back." And that was fun. And that's when I did those pieces with--it's funny. Duke always said that I would write the book. I'd introduced Barry Ulanov to him, and Duke was very cross about that. I probably shouldn't have done it. And, so, Duke always said, you know, "I'm not dead yet, I don't want a book written about me." And so he always said to me, "We'll do it. When the time comes, we'll do it." Because I was so used to him and the way he talked, and everything, that when I'd write up his little pieces, they sounded like Duke, didn't they? And, that's how it should be.
Stan. Not that one you did in Swing, though.
D. No? Well, I think that was autobiographical. I think he‑-
Stan. That was a, sort of, mem--where he was telling you about‑-
T. The History of Music, A History of Jazz, and all that.
D. Oh, yes. Oh, well I--
T. Did he do that, or did you help with that?
D. No, I think he must have done it. It's not the kind of thing I would want to do.
Stan. The one in Swing I know she did, because I'd sent her a book, called Winged Pharoah, which she'd read and liked, and there's phrases in that article which come directly from--
D. What‑‑sure I was guilty in part of it, but‑-
Stan. No, you did that. That's the one where he was talking about trumpet players, you know, having the horn hanging from‑-
D. Well, I know one thing that he did do, he sent me‑‑how are we doing?
T. We're fine.
D. He sent me a wire, and said, "Stop it. It's too good." He stopped it, you know.
Stan. Who did Swing magazine belong to? Do you know?
D. You know, we ought to have a flashlight for‑
T. No, it's‑‑I'm alright.
D. Can you see it?
T. Oh, sure, I can see it.
D You know, you can't see when that thing's‑-
T. Yeah, you can see.
D. Well anyway‑-
T. Anyway, Duke said, "Stop the piece."
D. Yeah, stop the series. We were doing a series.
Stan. Well we did‑‑I think it only ran three pieces. You've seen that, haven't you?
D. He stopped it.
D. He said, "It's too good. I'm not going to have that."
T. And then later, Hentoff and Shapiro used it in Hear Me Talkin' to You. They just‑‑they excerpted that Swing series, in '50.
D. Did they? Did they excerpt it, yeah. Well anyway, that was, you know‑-go outside [dog's name]. Now we're safe! So that was, you know‑-it was getting‑‑well, it did, because I told you Rupert had died. So, the only other thing that I thought was amusing about Duke‑‑there were two things. When he'd come to Toronto, then we'd moved in to the country. And then I said to my family, "Now, you are meeting Duke Ellington".
T. O.K. This is going back to‑
D. This is still around '40, '41, or something, you see.
T. I see. And your family had moved from Rosedale?
D. Well, yes, in Toronto, and they were out in another part, you know. As people did move out of places. And so, so my mother, by then, she, you know, she said, "Well, yes", she would like to meet him. I had to step on my father who was very, rather stuffy. And he said, "Yes,". he thought he would like to meet him. And I had to‑‑I had to get Duke out of bed in the hotel‑‑in the Royal York Hotel, with‑‑that, I think it was Evie by then‑‑his lady friend. Duke slept like a fool, you know. He didn’t care what he was supposed to be doing, if he didn't want to wake up, he wouldn't wake up. And, so anyway, I did get him out of bed, and I got him out to Menniville. And he was his gracious self, and my mother, you know, was astonished, you know. She had no idea that he had all this presence and everything, you know. She thought he was marvelous, and she took him out in the garden‑‑and took him out in the garden and said, "You know, Mr. Ellington, the trouble with Helen is she doesn't‑‑she doesn't seem to know anything about the garden at all." And Duke‑‑Duke said, "Just tell her it's in E‑flat, she'll catch on."[laughs] He always had these little things‑‑he was wonderful. But anyway, I think the next thing to tell you is about Duke and ourselves, perhaps. We'll shoot over World War II, to, more or less, what I‑‑because I came back in '45, I think. And, you know, all things had been happening and poor Lester, and all these different things were happening. And so the subject came up about Stanley collecting me, and [laughs] somebody else had wanted to collect me over there, and‑‑in England‑‑and so I wrote Stanley and I said, "You wouldn't like to come over here and collect me, would you? And Stanley said he thought it mightn’t be a bad idea. And so, this is what we did. He came over and we decided, "Alright, we'll get married".
Stan. Yeah, that's a good point, because I came at the right time. Just when they did the concert at Carnegie Hall, they'd [ind]. That was a good time to return.
D. Yes, that's right. Yes, I'm not going into it, because I know you're‑-you will be researching all that, and there'll be people that were close with him in those three years when I was away. With all the tremendous developments that went on with Duke. I mean, nothing ever stood still, you know.
T. So you’re saying you went over to England‑
D. Well, I went‑‑yes,‑‑I was in O--
T. For three years?
D. No, I was with OSS for three years. And I was [ind.]--Algiers, Italy, and so on. Yeah[ Stanley in background] .
Stan. I was in England the whole time.
D. And so, then when I came back‑‑when I was‑‑I would‑‑they asked me if I would‑‑they got me out of it. Sent me back because they wanted me to be a courier. Dulles, you know, in Switzerland. And I, in a nasty, tricky little way said I thought it would be a great opportunity, and so on, and I got myself out and discharged. And at that point I couldn't be pried out of New York again. And so I said to Stanley, "Would you like to come over?" And he did. And, so then Stanny said, "Well, alright, we'll make a thing of it," and I went to England. And, so I'll just tell you something about Duke and that, afterwards. But, one thing I wanted to tell you about the early days about Duke, and I meant to tell you, he was so full of life and energy and bursting with, you know‑‑on the brink of life and a career, and everything. He drank in those days, you know. After that he never‑‑he didn't drink. And he loved to eat. We'd go out for meals‑‑you know, the band manager‑‑what was Jack's last name, the band manager? Can you remember it?
Stan. Oh, gosh.
D. No, well never mind, it doesn't matter. But anyways‑-
Stan. Well, it's in Ulanov, or in the New Yorker.
T. Yeah, alright.
D. But anyways. So we'd go out, you know, with the gal‑‑his companions, and whatever.
D. Boyd, that's right. Jack Boyd. And, so we'd all sit around a meal, and you wouldn't get much chance to order, because Duke would know who‑-what everybody had to order. And then he had a long arm, and he would scoff from everybody's place‑‑scarf.
Stan. S‑c‑a‑r. I argued about that because, you know, in South Africa it's scoff.
Stan. Yeah. I thought it was related, but no. In America it's scarf.
D. Yeah, but‑‑and then they guys say it, you know, it sounds like scoff quite often. But I wanted to tell you that because‑‑I mean, that Duke people didn't know afterwards. He changed. He was so smart, he realized‑-
Stan. No, I would disagree entirely there, because, I mean, I can remember the last time I saw George Frazier, when we were in Boston, Duke sent Bobby out to get six‑‑six or eight pints of different flavors of ice cream.
D. Oh, ice cream he never swore off. No, he never swore off ice cream. But, Stanley‑-
Stan. So, we're all sitting there with three spoons, and he's going to eat about five of these, probably, in one‑‑[laughs]
D. And, of course, in those later years, you used to go to the Hickory House and all those places. But then‑‑by then, you see, Duke had established a routine‑‑Steak, grapefruits, and things. And this is what he did. He never‑-
Stan. Except in the last years when he was losing weight. Then he was eating fried chicken and all sorts of things.
D. Yes, right, right. But, you know, he used to go from town to town and know exactly which people had private houses where they really cooked. [Doorbell rings] Oh, that’s Carol[pause in tape] What I wanted to say to you was, our relati6nship with Duke, in England-‑he came over‑‑I won't go into details about it right now, because you'll be getting‑‑you're not really at that stage, are you? With your--
T. I’m not yet, no.
D. Yeah, that’s what I hought, so I won’t get in--
T. This is for the archives in general.
D. Oh, I see. I see, right. Well--
T. But useful to me or anybody else who will eventually come up to this period.
D. That's right, yes. Well, he came over once or twice and Stanley would be more factual about it. And it was good and not good. He came over with Ray‑‑gosh my memory is getting bad. What's the darling trumpet player?
T. Not Ray‑-
D. No, you know, that did all those little dancing and--Nance.
T. Ray Nance. Yeah.
D. Ray Nance, yeah. And he came over with one or two people first, and his big thing in Europe and England had not really become established then, you know. Because, first of all, in the very beginning, and then he didn't, and then there was the war. And now it was going to build into that. So one of the things we did‑‑we knew Gerald Lascelles, who was the queen's first cousin.
T. I've read that name in Music is my Mistress.
D. That's right, and so, Lascelles older brother was Lord Harwood. And, Harwood was the head of the Covent Garden, and he's a big opera buff, you know. And so Harwood‑‑somebody had got an idea about the Edinburgh Festival. I think it was the Edinburgh Festival. And so there was some talk about him coming, and he was very leary. So, he did something about getting to me. And so, he telephoned from California, and said, "Shall I come, Baby? And I said, "You've got to come, because you'll meet the queen, too." And, you know, I knew that would be a big thing for him. And so we did that. And he did, and it was a great success, and he stayed with us in the country for a night or so. And we had a very nice relationship, but it was spotty because he didn't come very often. But it was nice, and then‑‑so when we went back, he was, you know‑‑he liked Stan enormously because he liked the English thing, he like the Canadian thing, he like the English thing. And, compared to the sort of people he dealt with, Stan is, you know, the‑‑he's the soul of‑‑of honesty, of‑-
D. Integrity, exactly. And you could never change him. I mean, that's why he is liked by the musicians. Those who like him really value him because you know where you're at with him, and he's in your corner, and he'll do, and so on. And, of course, Duke valued that very much so we never spoiled it by making it commercial. Stan never worked for him, but he was always with him. And then Duke would say‑-
[End of tape B]