“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”
Composed and arranged by Duke Ellington.
Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra on March 3, 1938 for Brunswick in New York.
Duke Ellington, piano, directing: Wallace Jones, first trumpet; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Rex Stewart, cornet; Lawrence Brown, first trombone; Joseph Nanton and Herb Flemming, trombones; Otto Hardwick, first alto saxophone; Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Barney Bigard, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Fred Guy, guitar; Billy Taylor and Hayes Alvis, basses; Sonny Greer, drums.
At 2:00 p.m. on March 3, 1938, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra assembled in the American Record Corporation studio located at 1776 Broadway, fourteenth floor, in Manhattan to make some recordings.(1) Missing from the Ellington band on this occasion was valve trombonist Juan Tizol. His substitute was the well traveled trombonist Herb Flemming. My informed speculation is that Tizol was ill on this date. (At right, 1776 Broadway, on the northeast corner of Broadway and 57th Street in Manhattan. Just east of this venerable building on 57th is a new 90 story luxury apartment building.)
Duke Ellington’s last engagement at the Cotton Club was from to March 9 to June 9, 1938 in a revue that was called the 4th Edition of the Cotton Club Parade. Previously, Ellington had often appeared at the “Uptown” Cotton Club, as opposed to the “Downtown” Cotton Club, which is shown below in the late 1930s.
The uptown Cotton Club, which was located on 142nd Street at Lenox Avenue in Harlem, operated at that location from 1923 to 1935. It closed after a race riot in that area. Various intellectuals, led by Carl Van Vechten and the pioneering New York black activist, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., generated a lot of bad publicity for the uptown Cotton Club by publicly criticizing it for refusing entry to African Americans, and by creating an atmosphere in the club that was reminiscent of the racist antebellum South. In fact, Ellington himself was the object of stinging and perhaps unfair criticism from Powell in the late 1930s for his apparently subservient relationship with his manager, Irving Mills (see below), and his association with the Cotton Club (1A) The Cotton Club, which had played such an important role in establishing Ellington’s initial fame in the 1920s, was by the late 1930s as much a liability for Ellington as it was an asset. But the money being offered for this engagement was good, many radio broadcasts of the Ellington band would emanate from the club, and the three-month stand there allowed Duke to be at home in Manhattan for an extended period of time. So he took the engagement.
The Cotton Club, with less overt racist overtones, reopened in 1936 at a midtown location, Broadway and 48th. The site chosen for the new Cotton Club was a big room on the second floor of a building where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue. This wedge-shaped building at 1580 Broadway, was easily identified by its large and distinctive neon signs and its large round-topped windows. The operators of the Cotton Club were hopeful that it would succeed in this new location, but they realized that success depended on a blowout opening show. The most extravagant revue in the club’s history debuted on September 24, 1936 with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Cab Calloway leading a cast of approximately 130 performers. Robinson was paid $3,500 a week, the highest salary ever for a black entertainer in a Broadway production (to that date), and a higher salary than had ever been paid to any nightclub entertainer. (Multiply by 15 to get the value in today’s dollars.)
In June of 1936, the new Cotton Club opened its doors to black patrons. In preparation for a boxing match featuring heavyweight champion, and idol of black America in the 1930s, Joe Louis, the club staged a gala event and, “extended an open invitation to the Sepians.” (2)
Here is the review of the new show that debuted on March 9, 1938 as the 4th Edition of the Cotton Club Parade that appeared in Billboard. This review not only includes a summary of Ellington’s role in the show, it identifies all of the other acts, and provides a great insight into what night club entertainment was like in the late 1930s, including the then prevalent racial and other stereotypes implicit in the names of some of the acts: “The 4th Cotton Club Parade on Broadway was the first one to have a score written entirely by Duke Ellington, with the collaboration of several lyricists, outstanding amongst whom was Henry Nemo.(3) Some of their writing suggests that Ellington was striving for hit songs, as he would enjoy extensive broadcast exposure from the club. The one song written for the show that did become a commercial success, ‘I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” was dropped from the program, but played regularly on the nightly broadcasts from the nightspot. In its stead the revue had ‘Swingtime in Honolulu,’ a feature number for the three Peters Sisters, in their New York debut. Their second number was ‘Posin,’ while one-legged dancer Peg Leg Bates was featured in ‘I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue with the Sole of My Shoe.’ Mae Johnson, the singer and dancer, did ‘A Lesson in C,’ and the (Ellington) band had its feature spot with ‘Braggin in Brass.’ Further songs were ‘Carnival in Caroline,’ featuring the chorus line and Will Vodery’s Jubileers, and ‘If You Were in My Place,’ another potential hit song. The cast was rounded off with Anisy and Aland (‘adagio dancers’), the Four Step Brothers, the Chocolateers, Aida Ward and Bill Maples. The entire troupe was united for the show’s finale to introduce a new dance, ‘Doin’ the Scrontch.'” (4) (Above left: The Four Step Brothers.)
An advertisement from Mills Music announcing new Ellington songs in the spring 1938 Cotton Club Parade.
The advertisement above is remarkably revealing. Even though the 4th Cotton Club Parade had apparently opened and was running (note Walter Winchell’s quote), four of the six Ellington songs that were a part of the show were still “in preparation.” Ellington was notorious for working up to the last minute to prepare music that was needed by a deadline. In this case, he apparently worked past the deadline. (I wonder how the new songs that were still “in preparation” sounded in the first few days (or weeks) of the run of this much ballyhooed Broadway revue, and why “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” was listed as “in preparation,” when Ellington had already recorded it.)
On the other hand, few people have ever looked into what other things may have been occupying Duke’s time in the weeks prior to the opening of the spring 1938 Cotton Club Parade. Here is an incomplete summary of his activities then: January 13, Brunswick recording session, New York City; January 14, Nixon’s Grand Theater, Philadelphia; January 16, attends Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, then goes to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, to witness the “Battle of Bands” between Chick Webb and Count Basie. He is induced to sit in on piano with the Basie band, which causes a sensation; January 21-26, play several shows a day at the Apollo Theater in Harlem; January 22, appears on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club broadcast; January 28, plays a dance date in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; January 30, appears at the Cotton Club at a tribute to Bojangles Robinson, and tells audiences about the upcoming spring 1938 Cotton Club Parade; February 2, Brunswick recording session; February 4-7, Palace Theater, Ft. Wayne, Indiana; February 9, Elmwood Music Hall, Buffalo, New York; February 11-17, Stanley Theater, Pittsburgh – several show each day; February 13, two shows at the Capitol Theater, Steubenville, Ohio; February 19, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey – dance; February 23, appears at a “high-low” concert at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan with opera soprano Helen Marshall; February 24, Brunswick recording session, etc. etc. (5) To say that Duke was a busy man then would be a great understatement.
Nevertheless, Irving Mills, his manager, booking agent and music publisher, extracted from Ellington all that was possible to extract in terms of commissions for performances. When, one asks, would Duke have had time to compose six new songs for the upcoming Cotton Club Revue (which Mills Music would publish, generating royalties for Irving Mills)? The answer is that he appears to have completed two (or more) of the six songs in time for the opening on March 9, and had the remaining songs in various stages of development during the early days or weeks the show was actually running.
From Irving Mills’s perspective, Duke Ellington was a money machine, not that Duke minded being exploited. He well understood that Mills’s exploitation of him also allowed him to have a fabulously successful career in Jim Crow America. But the work involved, in addition to the travel, were often back-breaking. Even that didn’t bother Ellington greatly. But Mills’s favoritism of Cab Calloway, the most profitable artist in the Mills stable, over Duke, definitely irritated Ellington. Consequently, the seeds of Duke’s discontent with Mills began to be sowed at this time. (Above left: Another revealing picture: At a 1937 publicity event staged by Irving Mills (with the assistance of Helen Oakley), Mills has his arm around his top earner, Cab Calloway, while Duke Ellington smiles enigmatically. Nevertheless, Mills was careful not to publicly embarrass Ellington. Moments later, the photo below was taken.)
The writing on the back of this photo identifies the following: L-R: Chick Webb (looking down); Helen Oakley (with her hand on Duke’s shoulder); Ellington, Mills, Cab Calloway. The “ARC” insignia on the wall indicates that this event took place in the ARC recording studio at 1776 Broadway. The photo was taken by Al Bracken.
The melody of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” is one of Ellington’s most beguiling, and memorable. The fact that Ellington had composed this song, made an arrangement of it for his band, and actually recorded it before the opening of the spring 1938 Cotton Club Parade, indicates to me that he was happy with what he had created.(6)
Duke plays the band on with a sparse four bar piano introduction. Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone sets forth the melody in the first eight bars of the first chorus. Notice how he attacks certain notes a bit flat and the gently glisses up to the correct pitch. This is a quintessential feature of Hodges’s style, and it imparts a relaxed, gliding, gently swinging feel to his playing. Harry Carney then plays the melody in the second eight on his big-toned baritone saxophone, providing a sonic contrast to Hodges’s singing alto, which provides a fluttering obbligato. Trombonist Lawrence Brown then plays his open trombone on the tune’s bridge. Notice how Ellington uses the muted brass for the background for this solo for the first four bars, and then the reeds for the last four of this sequence. Carney returns for the last eight bars of the chorus, with Hodges becoming more active when adding his counterlines. (Above right: Johnny Hodges (left) and Harry Carney.)
The next passage presents the entire Ellington ensemble playing softly, with Duke himself filling in the openings with a few choice piano notes. It seems that Ellington has lead trumpeter Wallace Jones playing the melody on top, with Harry Carney, doubling the melody, but using a higher register of his baritone saxophone. The harmonies between these two melodic poles are cunningly Dukish. Or is this sequence played in unison?
The next solo is played by clarinetist Barney Bigard, renowned for his rich, woody New Orleans sound, and often quixotic melodic swoops. Here, his playing is smooth and flowing, against a kaleidoscopic background or brass and reeds. Lawrence Brown, now with a mute, changes the sound of the music briefly before the final sequence which has Hodges and Carney quietly playing the main melody in unison against oo-ah brass.
This is a gently swinging performance that nevertheless contains a lot of musical creativity in Ellington’s arrangement, and superbly relaxed, tuneful playing from Duke’s entire band and soloists.
“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”
Composed by Duke Ellington; arranged by Billy May.
Recorded by Conrad Gozzo and His Orchestra for RCA Victor in Hollywood in 1955.
Conrad Gozzo, trumpet, directing (possibly assisted by Billy May): John Best, first trumpet; Jimmy Salko and Vito Mangano, trumpets; Si Zentner, first trombone; Herbie Harper and Jerry Rosa, trombones; Harry Klee, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone; Ted Nash and Jules Jacob, tenor saxophones; Dale Issenhuth, baritone saxophone; Paul Smith, piano; Tony Rizzi, guitar; Sam Cheifetz, bass; Irv Cottler, drums.
Conrad Joseph Gozzo (1922-1964), was one of the truly great lead trumpeters to emerge from the swing era. His power, range, and brilliant, ringing trumpet sound defined hundreds of recordings on which he appeared from the late 1940s into the early 1960s. Gozzo came to his professional career early, in 1938, beginning with a stint with the Isham Jones band. That was followed by work with bands led by Tommy Reynolds, Red Norvo, Johnny “Scat” Davis, Bob Chester, and then starting in 1940, Claude Thornhill, with whom he gained a reputation as one of the most outstanding young trumpeters in the nation. He worked briefly with Benny Goodman before entering the U.S. Navy, first in the band led by Artie Shaw, and then by Sam Donahue. He returned to Goodman in 1945, then worked with Woody Herman and Tex Beneke before settling in Los Angeles. Very soon he was the first call lead trumpet for recordings and film work. Many artists, Frank Sinatra among them, insisted that Gozzo be the first trumpet on all of their recording dates. Gozzo was also a part of a musical association with virtuoso trumpeter Mannie Klein, one of the major Hollywood music contractors from the 1940s into the 1960s. Whenever Klein had the discretion to choose the lead trumpeter for any recording date, it was Gozzo.
Gozzo was so busy doing studio work through the 1950s that he had almost no opportunity to make any recordings under his own name. However, one LP was made with Gozzo as the leader of several different musical groups, one of which was a standard sized big band. That LP was entitled Goz the Great, RCA Victor NL-45659 (1955). That is the LP from which this performance of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” was taken.
The music: One of the conductors in Hollywood who very often used Conrad Gozzo as a lead trumpeter on recording sessions was master swing arranger Billy May. Being a trumpeter himself, May knew what he was listening to in terms of trumpet technique when he heard what Gozzo was capable of doing. In addition to admiring Gozzo as a trumpet virtuoso, May developed a personal relationship with Conrad, simply because they worked together so often. When Gozzo began to plan what music he was going to include on the Goz the Great LP, he naturally contacted May, and asked for advice, and a couple of arrangements. (He also did this with arrangers Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer, men who like May, used Gozzo often on their recording dates.) (7) May responded with this tasty Ellington-influenced chart on “I Let a Song Go out of My Heart.”.
Gozzo states the melody after the brief introduction using a Harmon mute, then he then plays an obbligato to the band on the secondary theme. After this, he returns with the main melody. The band perks up in the next sequence, with one of Gozzo’s close friends, John Best, leading the trumpets. Pianist Paul Smith, whose accompaniment throughout this performance is stellar, adds some sparkling piano notes and pungent chords (Duke would have smiled) as a contrast to the ensemble. After this, the performance reaches its climax, with Gozzo scaling the heights on his open, big-toned trumpet. The dynamic level drops after this, with the reeds playing the melody and the muted brass the syncopated counterlines, Gozzo reappears with his Harmon mute, and this performance ends with drummer Irv Cottler adding a few inspired thuds. (Above right: 1950s Hollywood studio session. In front, trombonist Si Zentner; in back John Best and Conrad Gozzo.)
The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) To fill out the history of this recording space, to some extent, I offer the following: “After A.R.C. acquired the Brunswick label at the end of 1931, new recordings made for release on Brunswick were recorded at A.R.C’s existing studios at 1776 Broadway, in New York City. The old studios at 799 Seventh Avenue continued to be used by Brunswick Laboratories for the production of 16” transcription discs. Apparently this part of the operation was retained by the Brunswick Radio Corporation after the Brunswick label had been sold off to A.R.C. It is not known exactly how long the post-Brunswick use of 799 Seventh Avenue continued as no ledgers from this period seem to have survived. However, it appears that Raymond Soat, founder of the National Radio Advertising, Inc., which had for some years being using Brunswick to record and press its radio transcriptions, had sold the business to Brunswick (then owned by Warner Brothers) but was to stay on as president. A Brunswick Radio Corporation inventory of furniture and sundry equipment still located at 799 Seventh Ave., dated 1934 in relation to the sale of the premises to Decca Records, lists several items under the heading ‘Mr. Soat’s Office.’ So these few clues do seem to suggest that Soat was active at 799 Seventh Avenue in the period 1931-1934. Other documents give the date of sale of the studios to Decca as August 14, 1934.” American Decca began operations in mid-1934 under the control of Jack Kapp, who had worked previously for Brunswick.
Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931, compiled by Ross Laird.
(1A) The Cotton Club, by Jim Haskins (1984), 130.
(2) The Cotton Club closed permanently in 1940. The Latin Quarter nightclub opened in the same location, and operated there for many years. The Latin Quarter opened in 1942 and was operated by Lou Walters, father of newscaster Barbara Walters.Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Latin Quarter presented festive floor shows that featured chorus girls and can-can dancers, and headliners that included Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine and the Andrews Sisters. It rivaled the Copacabana, which had opened two years earlier, in attracting the rich and the famous of post-World War II New York. The Latin Quarter at the 48th and Broadway location ceased operation in 1969. Various ever more marginal enterprises occupied the space until the building was torn down in 1989. I recall seeing the Latin Quarter when I first visited Manhattan in 1968, and well recall seeing the building formerly occupied by the Latin Quarter many times after that until it was demolished.
It is not a coincidence that as the Cotton Club was closing in 1940, its antithesis, Cafe’ Society, was gaining popularity. For more history regarding pioneering efforts centered at Cafe’ Society to integrate audiences in New York nightspots in the late 1930s, check out this link:
(3) Henry Nemo was working as a staff lyricist for Mills Music in 1938. Ellington also received criticism in the pages of the legendary black newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier because the lyrics to his songs were being written by white employees of Mills Music, rather than by black lyricists. See Duke Ellington, by Barry Ulanov (1946), 206.
(4) Billboard, March 26, 1938, 20.
(5) Duke Ellington, Day-by-Day… by Klaus Stratemann (1992), 151-152.
(6) Henry Nemo, who worked at Mills Music as a lyricist, created a good lyric for Duke’s music. In the spring of 1938, Benny Goodman, then leading the nation’s most popular swing band, recorded a fine arrangement of the song with Martha Tilton singing, which had a lot to do with making the song a hit.
(7) One of the selections Gozzo recorded for the Goz the Great LP was a tune Hagen and Spencer had composed, arranged and recorded in 1954 in an easy-listening format, called “Black Sapphire.” The melody of “Black Sapphire” is beautiful, and the Spencer-Hagen recording has various instruments, including an oboe playing solos. Hagen and/or Spencer lightly revised that arrangement for use by Gozzo on his LP, where he plays all of those solos on open trumpet. The result is stunning music, which I hope to present here at swingandbeyond.com in the near future.
Links: Here are some links to other Ellington music from the late 1930s:
And here is a link to one of Duke’s earlier classics: