01/2 August - November 2001


Voort 18b, 2328 Meerle, Belgium
Telephone: +32 3 315 75 83

An open letter to Ms. Sylvia Miller,
Publisher, Routledge, (An imprint of the Taylor and Francis Group) 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001

DEMS 01/2-4

Dear Ms. Miller,
A. H. Lawrence's "Duke Ellington and His World," just released on the imprint of your press, purports to be a scholarly biography. With its handsome cover and binding, high-quality paper, deckle-edged pages and excellent reproductions of vintage photographs, it is an exquisitely mounted presentation. The contents, however, are a different matter.
I deeply regret to inform you that the manuscript as published is, in my expert opinion as a respected Ellington researcher and scholar of long standing, so catastrophically compromised by Lawrence's flagrant plagiarisms, lack of knowledge and understanding of his subject, numerous errors, fabrications and questionable judgment as to constitute a harmful and egregious offense to the reputation of Duke Ellington and his family, and to pose a potential public relations debacle for you and your company. I take no pleasure in drafting this letter; there were certainly better things I could have done this week than hurl this book metaphorically against the wall time and again, but my special knowledge of Ellington's history and profound love and respect for his legacy oblige me to advise you of what a shocking and irresponsible work it is.

A. Some examples of plagiarism

1a. From Klaus Stratemann, "Duke Ellington: Day by Day and Film by Film," p146:
The last Master Records release would come on July 16, 1937, and the last Variety release on October 15, 1937... In the November 1937 issue of Down Beat, John Hammond explained the reasons behind the labels' demise: "A new record venture actually requires an enormous amount of capital, as well as recording originality, an agressive sales force, and a couple of really big artists appealing both to the retail and automatic nickel phonograph trade. Mills was forced to depend on the sales organization of the American-Brunswick-Columbia combination for sales, which was having a difficult enough time selling its own competing Brunswick and Vocalion lines in a field where there is unheard of competition already from the two RCA-Victor and the highly potent Decca product. Outside of the Raymond Scott unit, Mills introduced no new bands to the trade with sufficient originality to appeal to record buyers, and of his own artists only Duke Ellington has much of a record following and Duke's is so expensive a band that it is often difficult to clear expenses with him on discs.
It was the failure to find an outlet in Europe for the records that caused the abandonment of the project..." On October 22, 1937, Mills and the American Record Company put into effect a new agreement whereby the Master and Variety labels were withdrawn from the market. (Var: 20.10.37p48)

1b. From A.H. Lawrence, "Duke Ellington and His World," p267:
In late October 1937, Mills's venture with the Master and Variety labels came to an end as a result of bad luck and poor management. A new recording company requires a substantial amount of upfront capital. And it also needs an aggressive sales force, in addition to well-known artists who would appeal to the retail and jukebox trades. Mills was forced to depend on the sales organization of the American-Brunswick-Columbia combination for marketing. But they were having difficulty selling their own competing Brunswick and Vocalion recordings in a field already populated by RCA Victor and Decca. With the excep-tion of the Raymond Scott band, Mills introduced no new bands with sufficient originality to appeal to record buyers. Of Mills's own artists, Ellington's band was the only one that had a following, but the Ellington band was so expensive to record, Mills was lucky to break even recording it.
When he was unable to find an outlet in Europe for the recordings, Mills finally abandoned the project in 1939. The Variety and Master labels were withdrawn fromthe market.

2a. From Klaus Stratemann, op. cit., p6:
This new system was available in combination of sound-on-disc and sound-on-film, or either of the two alone. In conjunction with its new low cost equipment, apparently, RCA Photophone began to market soundtrack discs of its films ... Quality of soundtracks reproduced from sound-on-disc equipment was necessarily lower that that coming from sound-on-film, because the discs were a secondary product: The transfer to disc took place after the picture was recorded and edited on film.

2b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p149:
This new system was capable of recording sound-on-disc and sound-on-film or either of the two alone, allowing the company to market sound-track discs of its films. The quality of the sound-on-disc was necessarily lower than that coming from film because the discs were a secondary product. The transfer to disc took place after the picture was recorded and edited on film.

3a. From Klaus Stratemann, op. cit., pp277, 286:
In switching over to Musicraft, one of the foremost of the war-born independents, Ellington joined ranks with Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Kitty Kallen and others. His contract was for three years, with a guaranteed return of $75,000 for 34 sides, plus a separate arrangement for the production of a minimum of two albums annually. From these albums he was to draw a separate royalty at the rate of 6% of the purchase price, which was estimated to bring his annual income from the contract into the neighborhood of $100,000 (Var: 22.5.46; 5.6.46p58)...
These sessions [on June 9 & 10, 1947] coincided with the announcement that Ellington had severed his recording contract with Musicraft Records. The company had gone into a financial spin not long after Ellington joined its roster in May of the previous year, had at various times been on the verge of bankruptcy. After numerous takeover talks and months of salvaging attempts, Musicraft was now receiving fresh financial backing and a new executive setup. Ellington could have hampered Musicraft's reorganization plans severely by insisting on the full terms of its contract.
He had received $45,000 from the firm so far and in the Fall could have laid claim to approximately $80,000 more by simply declaring himself ready to cut additional masters.
He chose to settle the contract for $25,000 instead, thus avoiding the risk that the original agreement might leave him shortchanged, and freeing himself for deals elsewhere.

3b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p334:
In May 1946, Ellington signed a contract with Musicraft Records. This company was one of the new, postwar independents, striving for recognition. It had already signed Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, and the singers Kitty Kallen and Sarah Vaughan, among others. The label's president, Oliver Sabin, eager to sign Ellington, offered him a contract for three years. Guaranteed was a return of $75,000 for thirty- four sides, plus a separate arrangement for the production of two albums annually. For these albums he was to draw a separate royalty at the rate of 6 percent of the purchase price, which was estimated to bring his income from the contract to the neighborhood of $100,000.
By June of 1947, however, Ellington had severed his contract with Musicraft. The company had begun to have financial problems shortly after he joined them. A new management team was brought on, and the finances improved. Ellington could have thrown a monkey wrench into the reorganization by insisting on the full terms of his contract. He had received $45,000 from the firm already, and could lay claim to $80,000 by simply declaring himself ready to make more recordings. Instead, he chose to take a $25,000 buyout, freeing himself to look elsewhere.
[Note from Lasker: Lawrence devotes some length to Ellington's contract with Musicraft Records – but doesn't mention any of Ellington's Musicraft records.]

4a. From Klaus Stratemann, op. cit., p442:
The morning of February 9, [1961], Ray Nance, Willie Cook, Fats Ford, and Paul Gonsalves were arrested at the apartment they were sharing and taken into police custody "for violation of the Uniform Narcotic Drugs Act of the State of Nevada". All four were put free on $2,500 bond posted by Ellington, but Paul Gonsalves and Ray Nance were eventually brought to trial in the fall. Whereas the former was let off on probation, Nance – who had received a suspended sentence on similar charges in New York in 1956 – was sentenced to a sixty-day prison term, which he would serve at Las Vegas' Paul County Jail in November and December of the year (Downbeat: 7.12.61). The incident caused Ellington and his band to be blacklisted in Las Vegas for a number of years...

4b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p356:
One morning, Ray Nance, Willie Cook, Fats Ford and Paul Gonsalves were arrested at the apartment they were sharing, taken into custody by the police, and charged with narcotics violation. All four were released on $2,500 bail, provided by Ellington. Gonsalves and Nance were eventually brought to trial in the fall. Whereas Gonsalves was let off on probation, Nance – who had received a suspended sentence for a similar violation in New York City a few years earlier – was handed a sixty-day prison term to be served at the Las Vegas county jail. The incident caused Ellington to be blacklisted in Las Vegas for several years.

5a. From John Chilton's "Who's Who of Jazz" (Fourth Edition) (A work not cited in Lawrence's bibliography), p137:
Jenkins, Freddy (trumpet). Born New York City, 10th October 1906. Died: Texas, 1978. Switched to playing left-handed whilst in his early teens. [Note from Lasker: Jenkins' right hand was either deformed or crippled.] Taught by Lt. Eugene Mikell and played regularly in the 369th Regiment Cadet Band. Went to Wilberforce University in the early 1920s, played briefly with Edgar Hayes' Blue Grass Buddies, then regularly with Horace Henderson's Collegians from 1924 until 1928. Joined Duke Ellington in 1928...

5b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p137:
Jenkins was born in New York City and he was already playing the trumpet when he joined the 369th Regiment Cadet Band, led by the legendary Lt. Eugene Mikell, Jr. Surprisingly, Mikell, a first-rate musician and teacher and stickler for visual presentation, allowed Jenkins to continue playing his instrument with his left hand, as he had learned it. When Jenkins finished high school, he was admitted into the music program at Ohio's Wilberforce University, along with another New York musician, Benny Carter.
[Note from Lasker: Benny Carter's supposed attendance at Wilberforce University's School of Divinity (not its music school), though mentioned in a number of books is a myth; it was finally laid to rest in Berger, Berger and Patrick's biography of Carter.]
At Wilberforce, Jenkins joined Edgar Hayes's band, the Blue Grass Buddies. He was with them less than a year when, in 1924, at Carter's urging, Horace Henderson, Fletcher's younger brother, offered Jenkins a chair in his band, the Collegians. He remained with them until joining Ellington.

6a. From John Chilton, op. cit., p358:
Williams, 'Cootie' Charles Melvin (trumpet). Born: Mobile Alabama, 14th July 1910. Raised by an aunt after his mother (a pianiste) had died when Cootie was eight years old. Played in school band on trombone, tuba, and drums. Taught himself to play trumpet, then lessons from Charles Lipskin, began to do local gigs with Holman's Jazz Band and Johnny Pope's Band. At 14 did one summer tour with Young Family Band (with Lester and Lee). Moved to Pensacola, Florida (in company of Edmond Hall) and joined band led by Eagle Eye Shields, subsequently joined Alonzo Ross De Luxe Syncopators in 1926. Except for brief absence, worked with Alonzo Ross all through 1927; with the band to New York in spring of 1928, left after two weeks in New York.

6b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p139:
Williams was born in Mobile, Alabama, and raised by an aunt after his mother, a pianist, died when he was eight. He played in the school band and learned the trombone, tuba, and drums. He subsequently learned the trumpet and began working around town with Holman's Jazz Band and Johnny Pope's Band. When he was fourteen, he did a summer tour with the Young Family Band (with Lester and his brother Lee). Williams then moved to Pensacola, Florida, and joined the band of Eagle Eye Shields. His musicianship caught the ear of Alonzo Ross, and in 1927 he joined the Deluxe Syncopators on a tour that would eventually bring him to New York in the spring of 1928. After two weeks' work, ...

7a. From John Chilton, op. cit., pp102-3:
Edwards, 'Bass' Henry (tuba/string bass). Born: Atlanta, Georgia, 22nd February 1898; died: New York, 22nd August 1965. At 14 began playing in local Odd Fellows' Band, subsequently studied music at Morris Brown and Morehouse Colleges in Atlanta. During World War I played in U.S. Army Bands, including spell with Lt. J. Tim Brymn's 350th F.A. Band. From 1919 played in Philadelphia with various concert orchestras and with Madam I. O. Keene Dance Orchestra (1919-20). With Charlie Taylor Orchestra in Philadelphia and Atlantic City (1921-3), then joined Sam Wooding (1923). With Charlie Johnson (1923-5), then during 1925 joined Duke Ellington...

7b. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p59:
Henry "Bass" Edwards began playing tuba in his native Atlanta at age fourteen in a band sponsored by the local Odd Fellows Hall. He went on to major in music at Atlanta University and played in the 305th Artillery Band during World War I. Moving to Philadelphia after the war, he played in several concert orchestras, as well as in Madame I. O. Keenes's Dance orchestra. He joined the Charlie Taylor band in 1921, and remained with it until 1923, when he was summoned to Atlantic City by Sam Wooding.
While in Atlantic City, Edwards caught the eye of Charlie Johnson, who brought him to Harlem that fall, when his band opened at Small's Paradise. When Edwards joined Ellington, ...
[Note from Lasker: Johnson's orchestra opened at Small's Paradise not in 1923 but on October 22, 1925. Note how corrupted Chilton's entry has become in Lawrence's 'rewrite.']

B. Some examples of mistakes that cumulatively suggest Lawrence lacks deep knowledge and understanding of his subject

1. False claims:
a. Woodrow Wilson segregated Washington in 1912 (he became U.S. President the following year) (pp7, 58);
b. the Broadway musical "Showgirl" was "a victim of the Depression" when it closed on October 5, 1929 (thus several weeks before the stock market crashed) (p410);
c. Armand J. Piron led a New York-based band (he was a famous New Orleans bandleader) (p106);
d. the Spike Hughes orchestra that recorded "Misty Morning" in 1931 was black (it was white – and British) (p255);
e. Mills reorganized his publishing company as Melrose Music (Melrose Brothers Music was a famous Chicago-based firm unconnected to Mills) (p76).

2. Misspelled names:
a. "Norman Grantz" (recté Granz; he was the most successful and famous impressario in jazz in the 1950s and 1960s, the sponsor of "Jazz at the Philharmonic" series of concerts, also the founder of Norgran, Clef, Verve and Pablo Records) (pp339, 340, 351, 484);
b. "Harry Resor" (recté Reser) (p66);
c. "Don Redmond" (recté Redman) (pp294; 316);
d. "Louis Bellson" (he famously prefers Louie) (pp365, 399, 423);
e. "Arthur Whetsol" (recté Whetsel) (many places in book).

3. Misidentification of soloists on records:
a. Miley is noted as soloist on the Victor version of "The Mooche" (actually it's Whetsel) (p137);
b. Baby Cox is identified as the vocalist on "No Papa No" (of which two takes were made, one with vocalist Ozie Ware, the other non-vocal) (p137);
c. and d. Ivie Anderson is identified as the vocalist on "You Can't Run Away from Love Tonight" and the Columbia version of "I Never Felt this Way Before" (these are non-vocal tracks) (pp262, 285);
e. Shorty Baker is identified as the trumpet soloist on "Stepping into Swing Society" (there is no trumpet solo on this side made in 1938) (Baker joined the band in 1942) (p269);
f. Marie Bryant identified as the vocalist on "Bli-Blip" (vocal is by Ray Nance, a man) (p305);
g. Jimmy Harrison is identified as the vocalist on "If You Can't Hold the Man You Love" (it's actually Sonny Greer, who's correctly identified by Lawrence as being the vocalist on the date's other side; while he offers no comment to as Harrison's alleged vocal effort, he notes that Greer's "leaves a lot to be desired") (p64).

4. Misattribution of composer's credits:
a. the text notes the composers of "Mood Indigo" as Ellington and Mills (credited co-composer Bigard isn't mentioned here – though the correct credit is found on the sheet music cover, reproduced in the second picture section) (p165);
b. he contends that "Take the 'A' Train" was composed by Strayhorn - but Ellington then added his name (Ellington never took credit for 'A' Train; the sheet music cover with the correct credit is reproduced in the second picture section) (p302);
c. Strayhorn is shown as composer of "Main Stem" (it was written by Ellington) (p310);
d. We learn that "Ellington was at Yankee Stadium the night his friend [Joe Louis] was defeated. Inspired by the event, he composed 'It Was a Sad Night in Harlem'" (it was composed by Helmy Kresa) (p252);
e. Ellington is shown as composer of "Jungle Jamboree" (actually composed by Razaf, Waller and Brooks) (p117).

5. Sweeping declarations that turn out to be wrong:
a. "Tizol had been contributing arrangements since his arrival in 1929..." (While Tizol did music copying from Duke's scores, and from 1935 occasional composing, he was never an arranger) (p262);
b. "Saddest Tale" is, according to Lawrence, Ellington's only vocal on record (p236), yet he identifies Ellington's voice as being on "It's Gonna Be a Cold, Cold Winter" (p47) (the voice Lawrence thinks is Ellington's on the latter title is actually Jo Trent's; Ellington recorded other vocals/narrations, e.g. "Monologue," "A Drum Is a Woman" and "Moon Maiden");
c. "'Reminiscing in Tempo' was Ellington's only significant work of 1935" (in which year he also wrote and recorded "In a Sentimental Mood," which became a hit and a standard) (p249);
d. "The [1936] recording of 'Echoes of Harlem,' backed by 'Clarinet Lament' provided Ellington with his first instrumental hit recording since 'Mood Indigo' had been released in early 1931" (The OKeh version of "Mood Indigo" was released on December 10, 1930, the Brunswick version the following day; notable instrumental hits between these two: 1933's "Sophisticated Lady"/"Stormy Weather" [a "best seller," Lawrence notes on page 191] and 1934's "Solitude"/"Moon Glow") (p255);
e. "'Jeep's Blues' ... was the first of many best sellers Ellington's small groups released" (it was actually Bigard's small group release of "Caravan"/"Stompy Jones") (p268);
f. "'I Let a Song Go out of My Heart' was the first time the band recorded a fadeout ending..." (it was probably "Showboat Shuffle.") (p270).

6. Revival of apocryphal stories debunked in recent years by actual scholars:
a. the alleged Victor session of October 18, 1923 (which never happened) (pp26, 43);
b. Whetsel left the band in 1923, to return to Howard University (which he never attended) (p38) [this is contradicted on Lawrence's p122, which volunteers yet another explanation, one new to me];
c. Ellington is pianist on the Hotsy Totsy Boys recording session of June 8, 1925 (the pianist is actually Jimmy McHugh, the date May 14, 1925) (pp60, 61, 77);
d. Harry Carney joined the band in 1926 (his first job with Ellington actually came on 6/20/27) (pp70, 89);
e. Ellington recorded with Zaidee Jackson for Gennett in 1926 (it didn't happen);
f. the corporate partnership with Mills, Duke Ellington, Inc., dates to 1926 (the certificate of incorporation was signed on 12/23/29 and recorded with the New York County Clerk's office on 1/15/30) (p79-80);
g. Duke Ellington replaced Rudy Jackson over "Creole Love Call," a song Ellington recorded based on a theme contributed by Jackson that turned out to have been lifted without attribution from a song written by King Oliver, who was suing Ellington and Mills (while the theme did derive from a song by Oliver, Jackson left at the end of 1927, long before any fallout from Ellington's Victor record of "Creole Love Call," which was released on 2/3/28; Oliver's letter of complaint, dated 4/30/28, was directed to Victor Records; I have no knowledge of any law suit in this connection) (p127).

7. Erroneous captions encountered (just in the last five pages of the first photo section):
a. Of those in the photo captioned "The Washingtonians at Orchard Beach," the second man cannot be Rudy Jackson (who joined a year later) – I am unsure of his identity as well as those identified as Glascoe and Sampson;
b. "Performing at the Cotton Club," is from the film "Black and Tan," photographed at RCA Photophone's Gramercy Studios in August 1929;
c. "The band in characteristic jungle setting" is a publicity still for Republic Pictures' "The Hit Parade," filmed in N. Hollywood, California in February 1937;
d. "The full orchestra, September 3, 1931" is a photograph from 1929;
e. "In rehearsal, c. 1944-45" was taken at RCA Victor's New York studio when the band recorded excerpts from "Black, Brown and Beige"; "Ben Webster" and "Harry Carney" are actually Otto Hardwick and Al Sears;
f. "Film still from Cabin in the Sky, January 15, 1943," was actually taken in September 1942;
g. "Film still from Reveille with Beverly, January 23, 1945," was actually taken October 8, 1942.

C. Erroneous Dates

I can't tell you the exact number of erroneous dates contained in the text, because I stopped counting at 80. Some stunners: On the first page of his introduction, we read that Lawrence first met Ellington at the Roxy Theater in August 1944 (Ellington's Roxy engagement was July 12-31); that four years earlier he "first heard [Ellington's] 1926 recording of the 'Black & Tan Fantasy,' complete with the tuba underpinning of 'Bass' Edwards." (The recording in question actually dates from 1927, the correct title is "Black and Tan Fantasy," and the tuba playing was by Mack Shaw.)
If there was a Pulitzer Prize for historical inaccuracy, Lawrence would be a sure-fire candidate for page 209 alone: The majority of the 26 dates cited on this page are in error. Wow!
Record release dates present a particular challenge to Lawrence: I can't recall that he cites a single one correctly. On page 28, he tells us the years of debut of certain series of 'race' recordings: Vocalion 1000s (1925), Perfect 100s (1925), Brunswick 7000s (1926) and Victor V38500s (1927); the actual years of introduction are, respectively, 1926, 1926, 1927 and 1929. On pages 81-82, we read that in 1927 "when Victor announced that it was contemplating the V38500 series of "race" recordings, Mills quickly arranged an audition. On January 10, 1927, Ellington's band was in the studio, not on its own, but to accompany the black actress and singer Evelyn Preer." ... "Preer recorded two songs," ... "but only ... [one] was issued." He evidently doesn't seem to know that when this side was finally released, it didn't appear in 1927, nor in 1929 when the Victor V-38500 series actually debuted, but in 1966 on an LP issued in Sweden without RCA's authorization.

Here are a few of Duke's Brunswick and Vocalion records, together with their release dates as found in the company files and published in the booklet to "Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings, 1926-31" (GRP GRD-3-640):
1/20/27 Vocalion 1064 East St. Louis Toodle-O/Birmingham Breakdown
3/26/27 Brunswick 3480 East St. Louis Toodle-O/Birmingham Breakdown
5/28/27 Brunswick 3526 Soliloquy/Black and Tan Fantasy
6/16/27 Vocalion 1086 Song of the Cotton Field/New Orleans Low-Down
6/30/27 Vocalion 15556 Black and Tan Fantasy/(not Ellington)
But according to pages 98-99 of the text: "Vocalion issued 'Black & Tan Fantasy' and 'Birmingham Breakdown' in April, and 'Song of the Cottonfield' and 'New Orleans Lowdown' followed in October...'Black & Tan Fantasy' and 'Birmingham Breakdown' were released during the first week of April, 1927."

Ellington's landmark recording of "Reminiscing in Tempo" covered four sides; Brunswick 7546 paired parts 1 & 2, while Brunswick 7547 paired parts 3 & 4; company files show that both records were released on 11/2/35, yet on page 246 Lawrence tells us that the records were released a month apart. On page 189 we read that the band's 1932 recording of "Delta Bound" was a minor hit; this isn't believable: it didn't come out until 6/23/47, part of a set of four 78 r.p.m. records that didn't sell particularly well.

D. Examples of fabrications/distortions

1a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., pp146-47: One person who did profit greatly from the show [Flo Ziegfeld's "Show Girl"] was drummer Sonny Greer. "A few days before we left for Boston [where the show went through five days of tryouts]," he told me:
I went downtown to a music store to get a new set of drumsticks. One of the salesmen knew me and came running over with this guy from the Leedy Manufacturing Company. They knew I was going to be in a Broadway show with Duke and the band, and offered me a deal. In the store window was this fabulous drum set. Bass drum, snare drum, several cymbals, two tympani, tom toms, woodblocks, a xylophone, two Chinese gongs, and a set of chimes. It cost over three thousand dollars. If I agreed to pose for some pictures of me with the set of drums, I could use them for the run of the show.
After the show had closed and the band was back at the Cotton Club, Stark asked Greer what happened to the drum set he and Madden had seen him using during the production. According to Greer:
I told him it was just a loan from the drum company, and thought no more about it. A few days later one of the waiters from the club came by my apartment and told me Stark wanted to see me, and to wear my band uniform. When I got there the guy from Leedy was there with the whole set of drums. I figured they wanted some more publicity shots. They did, and when they were all finished the guy pointed to the drums and said to me, "They're all yours, Sonny." I knew he could tell from the look on my face I didn't believe him. He said, "Your boss just bought them for you." I got scared man, real scared. I figured Stark expected me to pay him back for the drums. Just then he came in the room. I explained to him, my wife just got out of the hospital, and I couldn't afford to pay for no drums. He told me to come to his office. When we got there he asked how much money did I have on me. I had ten or fifteen dollars. He said, "Give me five" and wrote out a bill of sale. I had it framed. Later Duke told me it was Madden who insisted Stark get the drums for me.
Guys would see the set, come up to me, and say "Sonny, where'd you get those drums, man? You must be rich!" I'd just smile.

1b. From Stanley Dance, "The World of Duke Ellington"p67: SONNY GREER: When we got into the Cotton Club, presentation became very important. I was a designer for the Leedy Manufacturing Company of Elkhart, Indiana, and the president of the company had a fabulous set of drums made for me, with timpani, chimes, vibraphone, everything. Musicians used to come to the Cotton Club just to see it. The value of it was three thousand dollars, a lot of money at that time, but it became an obsession with the racketeers, and they would pressure bands to have drums like mine, and would often advance money for them. Leroy Maxey, who was with Cab Calloway, and Jimmie Crawford with Lunceford, both had equipment something like mine.

1c. My comments: The Boston tryouts of "Show Girl" began 6/25/29; the show closed in New York on 10/5/29. A large gong is heard on the band's recordings as early as 2/18/29: "Japanese Dream," a Fields and McHugh song from the fall 1928 Cotton Club revue "Hot Chocolate"; tubular chimes are heard on their recordings as early as 4/4/29: "Freeze and Melt," a Fields and McHugh song from the spring 1929 Cotton Club revue "Springbirds." The printed program for "Springbirds" reproduces on its cover a photograph of the chorus line, with a view in the background of the Cotton Club bandstand. In this photo (reproduced on page 42 of the booklet to GRP set GRD-3-640), gong and tubular chimes are both clearly visible. (Greer's second gong and the tympani were acquired later.) The earliest use of vibraphone on an Ellington recording was on "Memories of You" (10/2/30). Greer's close friend and musical colleague Brooks Kerr, who thought he'd heard most of Sonny's really juicy stories, says this is a new one to him, and he never saw the framed bill of sale Lawrence describes on the many occasions he visited Greer's apartment. (It's not found in Sonny's scrapbooks.)
Those who prefer to believe Sonny's account as quoted by Lawrence must marvel at how enlightened – and given the racial climate of 1929, brave! – the Leedy Manufacturing Company was to use Greer's endorsement and photograph to promote its top-of-the-line wares.

2a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p265: Ellington was at his father's bedside when he died on Thursday, October 28, 1937. The band played the Detroit engagement without him, and returned to New York the next day. There was a funeral service on October 30. "Everybody was there," Mercer recalled, "Stark, Mills, the band, Harlem musicians, waiters and dancers from the Cotton Club, as well as most of the entertainers who were in town."

2b. From the Baltimore Afro-American, 11/6/37:

Duke Buries Father in $5000 Coffin

Famous Attend

NEW YORK – The body of James E. Ellington, 58, father of the famed orchestra leader, Duke Ellington, was sent to Washington for burial, following services at the Rodney Dade funeral parlor here Saturday afternoon. Duke flew here last Thursday from an engagement in Boston to be with his father, who had spent the past three months at the Columbia Medical Center, where he died. Many of the famous names of the theater filed past the $5,000 hermetically sealed casket Saturday, to pay their last respects to the father of one of the best liked orchestra leaders in America today. They included: Irving Mills, Sarah Abrams, Ned Williams, Harry Pincus from the Mills office; Samuel Jess Buggele, Charlies Weintraub, Al Brackman, Sam Flaishnick, Jerome Rhea, George Immermam, Joe Higgins, Vy Devore, Sol Alper, Nemo Kudlman, from Broadway, Sam Berk, Walska Thomas. Cab Calloway, Fredi Washington, Carol Boyd, Wilhemina Adams, Dora White, Josephine Hall, Mrs. J. Wesley Tildon, Mrs. Lottie Cooper, Mrs. Edna Ellington, Hyacinth Curtis, Luckey Roberts, Mrs. Margaret Whetsel, Mrs. Tizol, Mrs. Otto Hardwick, Mrs. Catherine Williams, Mrs. Jerome Ray, Mrs. Dorothy Carney, William Smallwood.

3a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p186: "One of his [Bubber Miley's] sisters called Duke," Greer recalled, "and he told us. We all went to the funeral parlor to pay our respects. There were two huge wreaths on either side of his casket. One from Duke and one from the guys in the band. It was the Depression then. I know Duke gave his mother some money to help with the burial."

3b. From Stuart Nicholson, "Reminiscing in Tempo," pp125-126: R
OGER PRYOR DODGE: My wife and I went to his [Bubber Miley's] funeral. It was held in what looked more like a white-washed shack than anything else. Apparently there were no musicians there although there was a large wreath of flowers from Duke Ellington. The mourners were out of his mother's tenement life. Was this the funeral of one of the greatest artists of our time?

4a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p141: [Ellington's band headlined]...a matinee on April 21 [1929] at the Palace Theater on Broadway. [Sonny] Greer and [Cootie] Williams both had hazy recollections of the event, but they both recalled that the band included its version of "Tiger Rag" to coincide with the song's release on Brunswick Records.

4b. My comments: Sonny Greer's remarkable memory was anything but hazy about this event. He told Brooks Kerr that the Marx Brothers, also on the bill, asked him to accompany them for their comedy routine but they weren't willing to pay him and he wasn't willing to work for them for free. The Palace Theater was the most prestigious venue in American vaudeville. According to the Chicago Defender (4/27/29 national edition), "this is the first engagement that a race orchestra has played the Palace as a feature." As for "Tiger Rag," released 3/28/29 on Brunswick 4238 (a date not coincident with the band's appearance at the Palace), legal circumstances would likely have prevented Ellington from promoting his Brunswick output publicly: he had signed a contract with Victor Records at the beginning of the year that allowed them exclusive use of the Ellington name on records. Ellington was allowed to record for other labels provided pseudonyms were used, hence "The Jungle Band" on Brunswick, "The Harlem Footwarmers" on OKeh and so forth.

5a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p122: [Louis] Metcalf was also the only one of the band members to question Mills's complete control over them. He felt that the band should incorporate, as the Casa Loma Orchestra did, but that idea fell on deaf ears.

5b. My comments: The "Orange Blossom Orchestra" played a six-month stand at Toronto's Casa Loma Apartment-Hotel in 1928, and moved to New York in the fall of 1929 where they adopted the name "Casa Loma Orchestra" for their debut engagement at the Roseland Ballroom and incorporated as a cooperative, a highly unusual move in the band business, possibly unique at the time outside the Soviet Union. Bearing in mind that Metcalf left Ellington in the autumn of 1928, the unsourced quote Lawrence attributes to Metcalf cannot be believed.

6a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., p13: In 1919, Ellington went into the music business full-time, unwittingly aided by Louis Thomas, one of Washington's premiere booking agents, who had arranged for Ellington to play a solo engagement at a country club in Virginia. At the end of the evening, the employer, by mistake, gave Ellington the entire fee of one hundred dollars. Ellington's rate was ten dollars, and the remainder was to go to the booking agent. The next day, after turning over the money, Ellington went downtown and arranged for a "Music for All Occasions" ad in the telephone book.

6b. From Duke Ellington, "Music Is My Mistress" (New York, 1973), pp30-1:...Louis Thomas sent me on another job I can never forget. It was out at the Ashland Country Club – nothing but millionaires – and there was nobody to play but me. I sat there and played the whole length of the gig without a drummer or even a banjo player. "You're playing by yourself tonight," Thomas had told me. "It'll be mostly atmosphere, just under-conversation music. Collect a hundred dollars and bring me ninety."... I gave him his ninety dollars, but the very next day I went down to the telephone office and arranged for a Music-for-All-Occasions ad in the telephone book. It was during the war...

6c. From Stuart Nicholson, ibid., p16: D
UKE ELLINGTON: [Thomas] sent me to Ashland Country Club, fabulous place for millionaires, and he told me to collect $100 and give him $90, and I woke up and I said, 'What's happening here?' That's when I woke up and got into business for myself.

7a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., pp343-4: Ellington would often say, "I was born in 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival." Actually, he was reborn on the morning of the concert. Earlier that year, he had been signed by Columbia Records. At the festival, he met the man assigned by Columbia to be his executive producer, Irving Townsend. In return for paying the performance fees for all its recording artists appearing at the festival, Columbia had obtained exclusive rights to live recordings, including use of the Newport Jazz Festival name. When they met up that morning, Ellington made two things plain: He wanted money up front to meet his payroll; and his first album for the label was to be a new extended work, "A Drum Is a Woman." Townsend delivered on both.

7b. My comments: "Ellington at Newport" was actually produced by George Avakian, who was then both Columbia's Director of Popular albums and International Department Director. When I read Lawrence's comments on Newport to George, he commented that Townsend was present at the festival, but only as a spectator; he had nothing to do with any part of the entire Newport production and release, although he had recently been assigned (by Avakian) to produce an album by Ellington with vocalist Rosemary Clooney because it entailed shuttle travel between New York and Hollywood, and Avakian's dual responsibilities kept him in New York. Columbia Records made a modest donation to the festival (at the instigation of Avakian, who was also on the festival's board of directors and knew that it was struggling financially), but didn't pay the performance fees of any of the artists who appeared there. Ellington made no request for up front fees, and his musicians were paid union scale for the recordings. There was no discussion of "A Drum Is a Woman." Avakian concludes that the tale Lawrence tells is an invention. (Since writing the above, I have traced the source of much of the misinformation about Towsend and Newport to John Hasse's biography of Ellington, pp 319 and 326-330.)

8a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., pp78-9: A contract was drawn up calling for three recording dates [for Brunswick-Vocalion Records], on November 29 and December 29, 1926, and February 3, 1927, with an option for one more if the company liked what it heard.
Mills made two stipulations: that only Ellington's compositions would be recorded and that the company had to use the new "electric" system of recording invented by Western Electric the previous year.

8b. My comments: There is no evidence that Brunswick-Vocalion had Ellington under contract in the 1920s. If there were such a contract, a copy would today be on file in the legal department of MCA Records (now part of Universal-Vivendi), for which I have worked free-lance since 1989. Yet no such contract is found there. (This is not surprising – in the 1920s, flat payments were customary in the record industry; artist contracts and royalties wouldn't become the norm until later years.)
On February 3, 1927, Ellington recorded "Song of the Cotton Field," composed by Porter Grainger and released on Vocalion 1086.
Mills's alleged insistence that Brunswick-Vocalion make only electrical recordings of Ellington is ludicrous: the company hadn't recorded acoustically since 10/23/25.

9a. From A.H. Lawrence, op. cit., blurb: A
BOUT THE AUTHOR: A.H. Lawrence was a professional jazz trombonist from 1944-48, playing with the bands of Hot Lips Page, Benny Carter, and Luis Russell.

9b. Claire Gordon reports: A conversation held with Benny Carter on 4/29/01, in which he said he doesn't know an Austin H. Lawrence: "I never heard of the man. What instrument did he play? Trombone? He was never with my band."

9c. My comment: Hot Lips Page and Luis Russell are no longer alive — nor are any of Ellington's musicians Lawrence claims to have interviewed.

10. Some other statements of questionable foundation I'd not heard before:
Doc Holiday's poolroom had a piano (p9); Bechet joined Ellington in the month of June 1924 (p46); a total of four sessions were held for Blu-Disk (recté Blu-Disc) and Up-to-Date (pp47-8); Mills had a financial interest in the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company (p83); Miley missed recording "Soliloquy" on account of drink (p86); Ellington and Victor had a contract in 1927 (p94); Jabbo Smith's trumpet was stolen the night before he recorded "Black and Tan Fantasy" (p97); the Fred Astaire tale (p117); the Marx Brothers tale (p118); Mills pressured Ellington to fire Miley (pp122, 138); the account of the break-up with Edna attributed to Fred Guy (pp134-5); the Cotton Club closed for vacation in the summer of 1928 (p135); Tizol joined the band on 5/15/29 (p144); Ellington recycled "Swanee River Rhapsody" as "Swanee Rhapsody" (p153); Duke's father started drinking heavily in late 1929 (p153); the last three paragraphs on page 156; Bing and the band had appeared together on stage prior to recording "St. Louis Blues" (p176); the last paragraph on page 180; Mills supervised the sessions by Bubber Miley and His Mileage Makers (p184); Carney threatened to quit the band (p239); after his mother died and for the rest of his life, "Duke would remain a depressed man" (p243); Ellington didn't attend Goodman's 1/16/38 Carnegie Hall concert (he was in a box with Edmund Anderson, who's still alive) (p269); the quotes on page 282 attributed to Brown and Guy; Cootie begged Ellington to buy "Concerto for Cootie" for $25 (p293); Greer finally left the band due to increasing alcoholism (p416).
Taken together, statements and inferences unsupported by evidence on pages 11, 153, 401 and 414 may constitute grounds for a libel suit brought by the Ellington family. Lawrence's pattern of false claims would be disadvantageous to the defense of such a suit.
As for Lawrence's questionable judgment, if he thinks he can fool all of the people all of the time, he is mistaken.
This book handsomely packages fraudulent material as historical truth. Lawrence's intended dupes include your company and every purchaser of the book.
In other areas of commerce, products found to be defective and harmful are recalled. I understand that damage control consultants routinely advise that public notification and product recall should take place as rapidly as possible. Now that you have been advised of the myriad flaws that make this book so offensive and objectionable, I urge you to take the ethical and responsible action of recalling it from the marketplace.
Sincerely yours,
Steven Lasker

Talk by A.H. Lawrence at Esowon Books

DEMS 01/2-9

On 7 June 2001, A.H. Lawrence gave a talk and book signing at Esowon Books, a book store in Los Angeles specializing in Afro-Americana. I attended along with seven others, and learned some of the background behind the book.
It was originally contracted to Schirmer, but because of a threat of a lawsuit from the Ellington family ("the grandchildren," he said) the book was dropped along with a few others when Schirmer was bought out by BMG.
Lawrence got to keep his $25,000 advance. When the editor at Schirmer, Richard Carlin, moved to Routledge, he contacted Lawrence and invited him to bring the book to Routledge.
I mentioned that I had found scores of mistakes, and was told that, under great pressure from his editor, he had to take his narrative from 1927 to 1974 in a single year, working three or four days a week. Lawrence said that whenever he told Carlin that he had corrections to make to the earlier material, he was told to supply fresh material instead, so the corrections were never made.
Steven Lasker