Composed and arranged by Duke Ellington.
Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for Victor on March 6, 1940 in Chicago.
Duke Ellington, piano, directing: Wallace Jones, first trumpet, Cootie Williams, trumpet, Rex Stewart, cornet; Lawrence Brown, first trombone, Joseph Nanton, trombone; Juan Tizol, valve trombone; Otto Hardwick, first alto saxophone; Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Ben Webster and Barney Bigard, tenor saxophones; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Fred Guy, guitar; Jimmie Blanton, bass; Sonny Greer, drums.
The story: This recording comes from Duke Ellington’s first session for Victor Records in 1940. The story of Duke’s sojourn through the 1930s world of swing is an interesting one having many important chapters. The ones that were significant to this particular composition and recording were: Duke terminating his relationship with his long-time manager/record producer/music publisher, Irving Mills; his move back to Victor Records in early 1940; and his 1939 trip/tour of Europe and Scandinavia.
Duke’s relationship with Irving Mills, which started in the mid-1920s, was complicated for many reasons. The simple fact that Mills played so many roles concurrently in Ellington’s career for so long set the stage for numerous conflicts of interest for Mills, and he was a businessman who always resolved any such conflicts in his own favor. Duke gradually became aware of these conflicts of interest. But his personality was such that he constantly did cost/benefit analyses in dealing with Mills, and was inclined to give Mills the benefit of the doubt, as long as he perceived an overall and continuing advancement of his career. Duke’s patience and tolerance in this process were enormous, but at the point when he decided that his career was not advancing and that Mills was taking too much of what Duke was working very hard to build, he unceremoniously ended his various relationships with Mills. The result was new management (by the William Morris Agency), a new music publishing company owned by Ellington (Tempo Music, Inc.), and a new recording contract, with Victor Records. (Photo above left from 1937 shows Irving Mills posing with his top earner, Cab Calloway, while a smiling Ellington looks on. Duke did not like being second banana to Calloway in Mills’s eyes.)
There has been much critical comment over the decades about the nature of Duke’s relationship with Victor Records as a result of the contract he signed with that label in early 1940. (Duke had been recording for several years for Columbia Records, and its antecedents under the general aegis of American Recording Corporation (ARC). Through the generosity of several musicians and historians who wish to remain nameless, I have obtained copies of the various legal documents that made up that 1940 Ellington/Victor contract. There were no terms in that contract that specified what Duke would be required to do for Victor, except produce a certain number of recordings within a certain period of time. The fact that Duke Ellington’s recordings for Victor in the early 1940s contain such a large proportion of his own original compositions (and slightly later, of Billy Strayhorn’s, including the great “Take the ‘A’ Train”) (1), was the result of Duke’s own strong advocacy on behalf of his own (and Strayhorn’s) music with Victor producers (then called A&R men), and the fact that the recordings of these compositions were generally good sellers. Money, then as now, spoke loudly.
Finally, a particular incident that occurred in 1939 while the Ellington band returned to the USA on an ocean liner from a tour of Europe and Scandinavia, had a direct impact on the tune “Morning Glory,” which was among the music recorded by Duke on his first 1940 Victor session. It is obvious from listening to the Ellington recording of “Morning Glory” that it was a vehicle for Duke’s cornet soloist, Rex Stewart. But what is far less obvious, despite the composer attribution of it to Duke, is who actually composed “Morning Glory.”
Rex Stewart (1907-1967), whose playing is featured throughout this recording, was a man of many talents. In addition to being a fine jazz soloist, he was a writer of considerable talent. (Stewart, show at left in 1947, was also at various times a gourmet chef and Ellington’s barber.) Toward the end of his life, he wrote a number of pieces that were published in the jazz magazine Down Beat. They were recollections of his life as a musician during the golden age of classic jazz that included multiple portraits of Duke Ellington. Because of Stewart’s position as a member of the Ellington band from late 1934 until late 1945 (with some time off in 1943), he had personal recollections and impressions of Ellington that were unique. Here is the one he related about Ellington’s fabled luck, his poker strategy, and the tune “Morning Glory.”
“Then there was the episode of the four deuces vs. the three aces. That happened in mid-Atlantic (when the Ellington band was returning home from Europe in 1939) during one of the inevitable poker sessions in the Ellington organization. My luck was running as good as the seas were running high. One by one, the game had dwindled until only two players were left: Duke and me.
The first up card that he dealt me was an ace, and I didn’t dare look at it because I had already peeped at my hole card, another ace. His up card was a deuce, so in order not to frighten him out before there was something in the pot, I bet in a very mild fashion. My next card was insignificant, but I bet a little stronger, despite his hitting himself with another deuce. The battle was really on when a second ace leaped off the deck and I had two aces showing against his two deuces. I thought it best at this point to indicate my overwhelming supremacy by betting a sizable sum, and I fully expected Duke to take it, but he didn’t concede–he raised me!
I might add at this point that Ellington’s idea of strategy was to hang on until the last card, and then attempt to overpower his opponent with a huge bet, unless his opponent’s overlay was in plain sight. So, as I figured out his hand, he had to have either two pairs or three deuces, and if he had deuces back-to-back, it would have been unlikely for him to have demonstrated his strength by betting stronger. I deduced therefore that he had two pairs, so the chances of his catching up with my three aces was remote.
Bet and raise, bet and raise until all the money on the table was in the pot. Then, he bet me fifty dollars more. Being out of cash, I put the rights to one of my tunes in the pot. Duke then dealt himself the last card …another deuce!! The boat seemed to stand still as I realized that I had just lost the pot, …and my tune “Morning Glory.” (2)
(1) Indeed, Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” became Duke’s biggest seller for Victor Records.
(2) Many of Stewart’s pieces were published in a book called Jazz Masters of the Thirties. This book was published posthumously in 1972. The quote above is from pages 32-33 of that book.
The music: The four-bar introduction to Ellington’s arrangement of “Morning Glory” contains a bit of Ducal piano and two march-like syncopated and memorable figures containing five repeated notes, which establishes something of a leitmotif, which reappears later in the piece. This leads to the first of two 32-bar choruses, which showcases Rex Stewart playing the melody on his cornet into a felt derby. Stewart’s cornet sound, muted or open, was very personal and easily identifiable, especially when contrasted with the trumpet sound of Cootie Williams, Duke’s primary soloist on that instrument. After a brief transition, the Ellington saxophones come forward to begin chorus two with a lovely 16 bar soli. Stewart then reappears with an open horn, improvising a bit. He has some particularly inspired moments as he plays on the tune’s bridge. The six bar tag ending has Stewart playing softly and smoothly over the rhythmic five note figure that started the performance.
Composed by Duke Ellington; original Ellington arrangement revised by Kenny Baker.
Recorded by Ted Heath and His Music for BBC Transcriptions, at BBC Studios St. Hilda’s, Maida Vale, London, England on May 13, 1964.
Ted Heath, directing: Bobby Pratt, first trumpet; Bert Ezard, Duncan Campbell, and Eddie Blair, trumpets; Johnny Edwards, Keith Christie, Ted Barker, and Ken Goldie, trombones; Ronnie Chamberlain, Dennis Walton, alto saxophones; Bob Efford, Henry Mackenzie, tenor saxophones; Ken Kiddier, baritone saxophone; Alfie Reece, tuba; Derek Warne, piano; Ike Isaacs, guitar; John Hawksworth, bass, Ronnie Verrell, drums. Kenny Baker, solo trumpet.
The story: This recording is taken from a series of Ted Heath (shown at left) radio transcriptions made by the BBC for overseas distribution, that began in 1958 and continued into 1964. The recordings were distributed on ten-inch LPs, with 30 minutes of music on each side. Like radio transcriptions made in the United States from the 1930s into the 1960s, these BBC transcriptions were made on a one-take for each tune basis. The result of this is a freshness in the performances often not so discernible in commercial studio recordings where multiple takes were often required before a final master recording was arrived at. Nevertheless, in terms of the ensemble togetherness and overall excellence of this performance, I cannot imagine anything better coming out of a commercial recording session.
The music: English trumpeter Kenny Baker (1921-1999) shown at right, is the featured soloist in this performance. Baker had played in the early Ted Heath band in 1945-1948, and returned to the fold occasionally as a guest soloist. He was also a capable arranger, as we can readily hear in his revision of Ellington’s original arrangement on “Morning Glory.” Among the more obvious changes in Baker’s arrangement are that it included several more instruments than were used on the original Ellington recording, including a tuba, and that he slows the tempo. Baker’s trumpet style was modeled on certain elements of Bunny Berigan’s playing, especially his use of the lower register and rasps. Other than that, he was largely his own man.
Baker’s arrangement features his melodic, rich-toned open trumpet in the first chorus, as opposed to Stewart’s derby-muted cornet in the Ellington original. And in the second chorus, Baker eliminated the half-chorus saxophone soli, and replaced it with a jazz trombone solo, played with inspiration by Keith Christie. Baker himself returns on trumpet to take the performance to its high-note climax in the second half of chorus two.
The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.