Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ellington, Baker, Alemán - 1933

Duke Ellington at the piano, c. 1933
Duke Ellington, who toured Europe to escape the Great Depression as it harassed the US, visited France in 1933. Oscar Alemán makes a profound impression on Duke, who offers him a place as a guitar player in his orchestra for a tour through the US. But Ellington had to ask Md. Joesphine Baker before it could be arranged.

Josephine Baker, 1933
The comment of Josephine Baker was clear: Where in the world will I find another man who is able to sing in Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, who can dance, play the guitar, who is black and a great companion?

Oscar and Josephine on stage
Case closed: Md. Baker declined to let Oscar go, as a consolation he had a signed photo of the Ellington band with autographs by all members on the reverse, which he kept for all his life.

Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra,  1933
The autographs on the reverse of a similar promotion photo is shown below by courtesy of Luis 'Tito' Liber, who kindly forwarded a copy of this essential keepsake from Alemán's own collection

Autographs of Ellington Orch. members, Paris 1933 (click to enlarge)

What would have happened, if Oscar had joined the Ellington orchestra in 1933? This is a question that has preoccupied many jazz lovers, however, fact is that we'll never know, we just have to dream about the missed possibilities. 

- To end this, I'll insert a short film made by the Ellington orchestra 1933, 'A Bundle of Blues'- enjoy!