THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

 Duke 1942My friend and fellow jazz researcher David Weiner sent me this clipping from BILLBOARD (issues of that music business magazine from 1942 to the present are now accessible online).  David is a tireless reader, and he found this review of an Ellington stage show which would make anyone wish for a time machine to ttravel to the RKO-Boston in February 1942, an acetate recorder, a sound movie camera — and a crew to operate them all.  For your reading and listening pleasure.  (Oh, and you can ignore the racist language and you don’t have to stay for the movie itself.)

From Billboard, Feb. 21, 1942:

Duke Ellington has one of the fastest and finest shows seen on a local stage in a long time. The Duke still has the band and he is also a fine showman.  There is no letdown from the moment the Ellington medley intros the stageshow until the final curtain. Ethel Waters is present along with the Ellington band, and it all adds up to the biggest flesh value the Hub has seen in many moons.

Offering opens with a medley of Ellingtonia – Sophisticated Lady, Solitude, etc. The Duke then introduces Marie Bryant, who has one brief number to offer, which clicks very nicely. Ivie Anderson follows and receives a great ovation, singing Rocks In My Bed and I Want A Man Like That. In the latter number she gets some assistance from the boys in the band, notably drummer Sonny Greer, who has some choice repartee.

With the next offering, Concerto for Clinkers, a symphony of offtones, the Duke gets a chance to introduce some of the boys in his band, all of whom were joyously received. Johnny Hodges, who does some very fine sax work, received a great hand.

When the Concerto is finished, the Duke brings out Herb Jeffries, who sings Flamingo, the band’s recent release. Encouraged by the great response, Jeffries comes back with Blues In The Night, highlighted by a good Ellington arrangement. Jeffries has a nice, easy manner and a fine voice and makes an immediate and definite impression.

Ethel Waters follows and starts with Ain’t Gonna Sin No More, Frankie and Johnny and Bread and Gravy. In the last-named piece she is assisted by three dusky maidens proficient in singing Negro spirituals. They demonstrate their ability with Miss Waters aiding them, and get a great hand. Miss Waters then goes into St. Louis Blues, bows off, and returns in response to a great ovation to offer Stormy Weather. Finally had to beg off.

Ellington then introduces Pot, Pan and Skillet, from the cast of Jump For Joy, who do a terrific job with a comedy dance routine. Called back for some more antics, they delight the crowd, finally bowing off to make way for the Ellington finale, which features Ivie and his newest number I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.

Screen fare is a trifle weak, “North to the Klondike.”

(Mike Kaplan, Billboard Mag.)

8 responses to “THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

  1. Stompy Jones

    “Flesh value” – a priceless bit of Billboardspeak. I love it.

    Interesting that Ethel Waters was still singing “Bread and Gravy” three years after she recorded it. It’s an unjustly neglected Hoagy Carmichael song, and one of my favorite Ethel Waters sides. Has anyone sung it since? I always thought it would be perfect for Eddie Erickson (who, by the way, adds considerable flesh value to any jazz party).

  2. Right again, Mr. Jones. I think Barbara Lea may have essayed that song on one of her Audiophile records — the whole Bluebird session that Waters did is quite fine (think of I JUST GOT A LETTER, which always makes me laugh). As for Eddie, that would be a song for him. And the value of his flesh is surely incalculable: he’s a prize! Cheers, MS

  3. Jeanie Wilson

    Yes, Michael, Barbara Lea did record “Bread & Gravy” but not on Audiophile. It can be found on a wonderful 2002 CD called “Stardust Melodies: The Rare and Beloved Songs of Hoagy Carmichael” — Richard Sudhalter, Barbara Lea, Bob Dorough, and Jim Ferguson (Challenge Records).

  4. sam parkins

    “Billboardspeak!!” – how wonderful. In that same era Variety had a headline, “Label inks pact with ofay thrush” which had to go to Downbeat for translation. And – ’42 in Boston, the first time I heard Duke – Symphony Hall – across the tracks – literally – from Boston’s Harlem, took up all the seats for a dance, 50c to sit in the balcony, which is a wrap-around so I could sit right over the sax section and bask in Johnny Hodges. Holy Moses!!!

    Wall to wall jitterbugging – in 4 hours they played just one ballad – Herb Jeffries singing as described above. I didn’t know he sang anything else…sam p

  5. Ok, get ready to hiss me. But, racial language?Oh come now, can’t we get over that stuff?

    I realize that this comment may sound petty (oops, I almost said ‘niggling’), and thus seem an ungrateful distraction to the marvelous main point…which is, what a grand and glorious, fabulous show that must have been…and thank you, thank you for posting it, so that we may conjure up the magic of it all in our heads.

    But when it’s preceded by the warning “racial language”, you unintentionally distract us too — with the apprehensive burden of now having to expect something perhaps hateful in what we’re about to read. (Admit it folks, I wasn’t the only one) .

    Whew! What a relief that it was simply “dusky” (adj: somewhat dark in color ; specifically : having dark skin). (Ok, so the guy actually wrote “dusky maidens”.)

    Let the hissing begin. Can’t hear it. Still caught up in the sound and sight of Waters, Anderson, Jeffries, those three unnamed ladies, Pot Pan & Skillet, and Duke’s orchestra…thanks to that greatly appreciated posting.

  6. Stompy Jones

    Jeanie, thanks for the tip. I just ordered the CD. (Aside to MS: your blog is costing me a fortune.)

  7. ironcloudz

    With the forewarning of racist language and seeing the use of the phrase “flesh value”, I make connections:

    Flesh value->Slave Mart->Music business

    Yes, the equation does balance.

  8. Stompy Jones

    “Down in the jungles lived a maid,
    Of royal blood though dusky shade…”

    From “Under the Bamboo Tree” (1902) by African-American songwriters Bob Cole and J. Rosamund Johnson

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