“Rocks in My Bed” (1941) Duke Ellington and Ivie Anderson

“Rocks in My Bed”

Composed by Duke Ellington; arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for Victor on September 29, 1941 in Hollywood, California.

Duke Ellington, piano, directing: Wallace Jones, first trumpet; Ray Nance, trumpet; Rex Stewart, cornet; Lawrence Brown, first trombone; Joseph “Tricky Sam” Nanton, trombone; Juan Tizol, valve trombone; Otto Hardwick, first alto saxophone; Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Barney Bigard and Ben Webster, tenor saxophones; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Fred Guy, guitar; Jimmie Blanton, bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Ivie Anderson, vocal.

The Story:  By late May 1941, the Ellington band had returned to Los Angeles after a springtime tour of Pacific coast dance halls, a swing through the South and Midwest, and a short rest stop in Manhattan earlier in May. It appears that in early February, Ellington and Strayhorn attended a Hollywood party at the home of MGM gag writer Sid Kuller, and were invited to another similar party the next week with anyone from the Ellington band who chose to come. Several Ellington sidemen, including Harry Carney and Sonny Greer, accompanied Ellington and Strayhorn to that party. As was usually the case when Duke attended a party, eventually he was coaxed to the piano, after which the party went into high-gear. Among those present were actors John Garfield, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney (pictured below right -1941- playing drums; Ellington behind him), lyricist Paul Francis Webster, and screenwriter W.R. Burnett (whose resume’ included the 1932 Paul Muni film classic Scarface). As the music played and the liquor flowed, everyone’s spirits soared higher and higher until it was decided that Ellington, Kuller and Webster would collaborate on a satirical revue to be called Jump for Joy, with Garfield and Burnett as financial backers. (Hajdu 90-91; VDL 61-63)[1]

Ellington, in typical fashion, had utterly failed to consider how or when the music for this show would be composed before making this rather large commitment.  It is clear that he could not take time off to create the music for this show: his band had engagements from coast to coast booked from late February until late May. It seems that the only time Ellington dedicated to this project was while his band was playing at the Trianon Ballroom in Southgate, California (May 29-June 18), and then for the remaining weeks of June and into early July. Jump for Joy was scheduled to open at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles on July 10, 1941. It also appears that while Ellington toured with his band during this interval, Billy Strayhorn remained in Los Angeles to act as Duke’s liaison with the show’s writers (eventually there were many more than Kuller and Webster), and performers.[2]

“As dozens of surviving manuscripts illustrate, Strayhorn (shown at left with Ellington), was deeply involved in Jump for Joy, though it is virtually impossible to ascertain to what extent his contributions were originals, arrangements, or collaborative works with Ellington since the latter’s hand is on a number of scores as well. In addition to his and Ellington’s compositions, Strayhorn arranged the majority of contributions by other composers and lyricists involved with the production—Hal Borne, Paul Webster, Otis Rene´, Mickey Rooney, and Sidney Miller.” (VDL 61) My conclusion from this and from the well documented history of subsequent similar large-scale Ellington projects is that the eventual collaborative technique used by Ellington involving Strayhorn on special projects was first developed as Jump for Joy lurched uncertainly toward its opening. Undoubtedly, Ellington composed a large number of songs for Jump for Joy—eleven are listed in The Playgoer, the official publication of the Mayan Theater for the show. (There were more than fifty sketches and musical numbers written for the review; eventually thirty were used during the show’s run. Some were deleted along the way, replaced by others.)[ii] But Strayhorn’s musical fingerprints are nevertheless all over the music.The one composition from Jump for Joy that is wholly a creation of Strayhorn, the harmonically adventurous “Flame Indigo,” was so far advanced from what was going on in jazz arranging then that Ellington set it aside, and never recorded it.[3]

The standard “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” which was composed by Ellington, perhaps with some assistance from Strayhorn, was arranged by Billy for Jump for Joy, and that arrangement was edited by Strayhorn for Ellington’s Victor recording (6-25-41) of this song, which featured an Ivie Anderson vocal. For the evocative recording of “Rocks in My Bed” (9-29-41), Ellington arranged the band part of the recording, Strayhorn the vocal part. But as usual, Strayhorn did not simply set a background for the Ivie Anderson vocal chorus. “…Strayhorn breaks away from the I-IV-V blues changes, replacing them with a liquid string of dominants that are connected with chromatic passing chords. As a result of the substitute chords, he has to adapt the melody significantly, consequently nothing of the original passage remains, apart from the lyrics.  Strayhorn’s role has changed from arranger to co-composer.”[4] (VDL 62-63)

The show ran for less than three months, closing on September 27, 1941 after just 101 performances, but its significance as a social statement, a groundbreaking theatrical production, and as a statement of Ellington’s artistry, conscience, and future direction was inestimable. Although generally not regarded as one of Ellington’s major works, Jump for Joy nonetheless was the direct antecedent in both spirit and technique, to his Black, Brown, and Beige – widely considered to be among his most important.

The Music: As I have noted on this blog previously, Duke Ellington was a master of the blues, and Billy Strayhorn was a master of vocal arrangement. From his earliest days as Ellington’s collaborator, Strayhorn was given assignments by Duke to fashion provocative, colorful backgrounds for Ellington’s singers. In this piece (a blues), where Ellington arranged the first (instrumental) half, and Strayhorn the second (vocal) half, their collaboration resulted in a perfect whole.

Alto saxophone wizard Johnny Hodges (shown at right) sets forth the melody at the very top of the performance (there is no introduction). His playing here is quintessential: a huge, rich ringing sound coupled with flawless technique, and lots of soul. Ellington supports Hodges with a thick sonic cushion provided by his three trombones, plus Harry Carney’s baritone saxophone. Barney Bigard, one of New Orleans’s most famous clarinetists, follows with some full-toned, cascading notes. Listen for how Ellington, the master arranger, contrasts Bigard’s woody clarinet sonority with the rumbling low sound of Harry Carney’s baritone saxophone, both on its own and leading various instrumental groups. Ellington very often deployed Carney’s massive sound in many creative ways is the ensemble writing he did for his band. Indeed, the sound of Carney’s baritone saxophone was one of the most identifiable in the Ellington ensemble.

Ivie Anderson (1905-1949, pictured at left) was one of the best and most versatile vocalists of the swing era. The renowned jazz critic Nat Hentoff said this about her: “…easily the most sensitive and musical female vocalist Ellington ever had…She sang with a simplicity … so artless that she is … remarkably neglected in … writings about jazz…She sang with a supple warmth and caressing beat that made her one of the unforgettable voices in Jazz…direct, completely unpretentious and ungimmicked.” Like everyone else in the Ellington band in 1941, she had her own sound, and a very personal style that has remained fresh. Her voice was strong and robust, yet she could and did use it with great delicacy, as she does here. The lyric for “Rocks in My Bed,” which was written by Ellington, is highly ironic, as was the entirety of the material in the revue Jump for Joy, in which it was sung by blues singer Joe Turner. Among the most memorable lines in the lyric sung on this recording by Ivie Anderson: “…underloved, overfed, my man’s gone, so instead I got rocks in my bed.”

The shifting and colorful instrumental backgrounds fashioned by Strayhorn against which Ms. Anderson sings are indeed provocative. In the first repetition of the words I got rocks in my bed, sung by Ms. Anderson after a brief Ellington piano solo, her singing is highlighted by a drumming masterstroke (two sly thuds by Sonny Greer on his tom-tom) to subtly suggest what is missing in her love life.

Ivie Anderson left the Ellington band in August of 1942 to get off the road and live in her Los Angeles home. She opened a restaurant, which she operated for a while, and continued singing, though she did not tour. Ms. Anderson suffered from chronic asthma, which led to her death in 1949 at age 44. (Above left, Harry Carney, Sonny Greer, Ivie Anderson and Duke Ellington.)

[1] Hadju is Lush Life …A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (1996) by David Hajdu; VDL is Something to Live For  …The Music of Billy Strayhorn (2002) by Walter Van de Leur.

[2] A number of compositions from Jump for Joy were recorded by the Ellington band before the opening of the revue, which occurred on July 10, 1941.  Among them: “Chocolate Shake,” “I Got It Bad,” (6-25-41); “The Brown Skin Gal with the Calico Gown,” “Jump for Joy,” (7-2-41). “Subtle Slough,” was recorded by Rex Stewart and His Orchestra on 7-3-41, and later, with a lyric added by Lee Gaines became the song “Just Squeeze Me.” Ellington recorded “Bli-Blip” on September 29, 1941, two days after Jump for Joy closed. Much of the information regarding Jump for Joy comes from Duke Ellington-Day by Day and Film by Film by Klaus Stratemann, (1992) Jazz Media, pages 169-171.

[3] Indeed “Flame Indigo” was not recorded at all until October of 1998, when it was recorded by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra as a part of its heroic work in recording many previously unrecorded and often unknown Strayhorn composition/arrangements. (Challenge Records CRH 700091) Based on this recording, Strayhorn envisioned “Flame Indigo” as a showcase for the alto saxophone of Johnny Hodges, and the tenor saxophone of Ben Webster.

[4] “Rocks in My Bed” was sung in Jump for Joy by blues singer Joe Turner, who made the first recording of it on September 8, 1941 with the Freddie Slack Trio. Among the most memorable lines in the lyric sung on the Ellington recording by Ivie Anderson: “…underloved, overfed, my man’s gone, so I instead got rocks in my bed.” Even more suggestive are these lines from another song from Jump for Joy, the delightful “Chocolate Shake” recorded (6-25-41) by Ellington: “It was under an African sun, that Stanley met old Livingstone, While the gals shook their fruit, He blew on his flute, Ziggin’ the zag while en route.”

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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2 Comments

  1. I look forward to every article from Mike Z and I’m never disappointed. I hope these articles will someday be published as a book with teaching aides for music teachers. The insight into various chord changes and the strengths and weaknesses of the players lifts this above the usual books and articles on the history of this musical era that merely reflect various authors own prejudices without explanation. With Mike I can actually hear it in my head as he describes it. Later when I dial up the music I enjoy it far more with this road map.

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