“Bakiff” (1941) Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol/Ray Nance; and (1971) Billy May/Lew McCreary/Marshall Sosson

“Bakiff”

Composed by Juan Tizol; arranged by Duke Ellington.

Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra on June 5, 1941 for Victor in Hollywood.

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

The story – part 1 – 1941/California:

The year 1941 was an unusual one in the long career of Duke Ellington in that he and his band spent most of that year in California. The Ellington band arrived in Los Angeles on January 2, 1941, to play a long residency at the Casa Manana, 8781 Washington Boulevard, a large night club in the Culver City area of L.A. This engagement would last until February 20. After that, they took to the road to play various one-night engagements up and down the Pacific coast from San Diego in the south to Victoria, British Columbia in the north (with three widely scattered dates in Idaho and Utah, and a benefit in Kansas City(!) thrown in), until returning to L.A. at the beginning of April for a one-week engagement at the Paramount Theater there. After that, they once again went on tour, through the south and Midwest until May 11, when they took four days off in Chicago while Ellington went to New York alone. While he was there, he recorded two piano solos at Victor’s Manhattan studio.(*)

Ellington then met his band in Oberlin, Ohio on May 16 to play the Junior Prom at Oberlin College. They played a one-nighter in Crawfordsville, Indiana on May 17, then headed back to Chicago, where they entrained for Los Angeles. (Duke loved train travel, and undoubtedly did a lot of composing and arranging while on trains.) There they opened at the Trianon Ballroom in Southgate, California on May 25, closing on June 18.

After their run at the Trianon Ballroom, the Ellington band had a spell of relatively light activity, then on July 4 went into rehearsals for the satirical revue called Jump for Joy. That show opened at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles on July 10, 1941. Duke and the Ellington band, his singers and composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn were all involved with that production until September 27, when it closed.

After Jump for Joy, the Ellington band didn’t work much until a short tour of one-nighters in and around the San Francisco area, which started in mid-October and lasted until the end of that month. Work for the band for the final two months of 1941 was intermittent. While they had two lucrative theater engagements during that span (the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco, November 5-11; and the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, November 19-26), there were nevertheless quite a few open dates. The Ellington band found themselves in the Armory in Eugene, Oregon on December 7, 1941. They essentially finished working for the year by playing a week at the Mayfair Theater in Portland, Oregon, December 8-14; followed by a week at the Palomar Theater in Seattle, Washington, December 15-21. They then returned to Los Angeles.(1)

Being in the balmy climes California for so much time in 1941 caused a number of Ellingtonians to take stock of their professional lives. Within a short time, several of them, including vocalists Ivie Anderson and Herb Jeffries, clarinetist Barney Bigard, and valve trombonist Juan Tizol, would center their lives in Los Angeles. Anderson, Jeffries and Bigard left the Ellington band in 1942; Tizol would leave in April of 1944.

Rosebud Tizol, Juan’s wife, was with him in Los Angeles for most of 1941. She investigated the real estate market there, and she and her husband bought some property in Los Angeles. Later, they sold the property and realized a handsome profit. Rosebud was so taken with southern California that she remained there permanently. Juan relocated to Los Angeles in 1944 after he left the Ellington band and joined Harry James, whose band was based there.

The story – part 2 – Tizol:

Juan Tizol Martinez was born on January 22, 1900 in the town of Vega Baja, on the north coast of the island of Puerto Rico. His mother was Manuela Martinez Lopez, and his father was Juan Gualberto Tizol Marquez. It appears that Tizol’s parents never married or lived together. Although Tizol remained close to his mother, his father died as a relatively young man. Juan spent much of his time growing up in the home of his maternal uncle, Manuel Martinez, in a substantial house located at 31 Calle de la Cruz, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.(2) (At left: a picture on a quiet street in Old San Juan as it appears today.)

The name Tizol is unusual, even in Puerto Rico. There are as few Tizols in Puerto Rico today as there were a century ago, when Juan Tizol was growing up there.(3)

Juan Tizol, like all Puerto Ricans at that time, became an American citizen on January 13, 1917, when the U.S. Congress passed the Jones Act. Among other things, the Jones Act made Puerto Rican men subject to U.S. military service, though it did not confer upon any Puerto Rican the right to vote in U.S. elections.(4) A beneficial aspect of American citizenship was that fact that Tizol could travel to the United States without restriction.

Tizol’s first trip to the United States occurred in October of 1917. He may well have been attempting to get into James Reese Europe’s military orchestra. He was rejected, though it is unclear why. These factors may have been relevant: Tizol had pronounced astigmatism causing severe myopia, which required him to wear corrective lenses for his entire life. Also, his 1918 military registration card, which he signed as Juan Tizol Martinez, described him as “five feet six inches (tall), white, with green eyes, brown hair and an average build.”(5) James Reese Europe’s band was all black. Tizol returned to Puerto Rico in 1918.

Tizol’s uncle Manuel was a a well-schooled musician who “played cello, trombone and bassoon,and directed the municipal band and the symphony in San Juan. (as well as other bands) throughout Puerto Rico during his long and distinguished career.”(6) Tizol was undoubtedly tutored in music by his uncle, and at first played the violin. In his teen years, he took up the valve trombone, though he also played trumpet and euphonium at various times. In addition, he learned to read music fluently, and to write music. He soon became proficient as a copyist, who could extract the parts for various instruments from a musical score. This led to his interest in composing and arranging.

Tizol returned to the United States on September 21, 1920. He was passed through the Ellis Island entry facility in New York City, by a clerk who described him as “American colored.” At that time, Tizol spoke almost no English, Spanish being his first language. After a brief time in New York, Tizol moved to Washington D.C. There, he, along with many other Puerto Ricans, obtained steady employment in the orchestra of the Howard Theater. In fact, it appears that there was only one non-Puerto Rican in that orchestra, William Alexander “Sonny” Greer, the orchestra’s percussionist. This theater was for black patrons only: Washington was rigidly segregated. It is unknown how many of the musicians in the orchestra were white or “colored.” Whatever that ratio was, all of the musicians who worked in the orchestra lived in the black ghetto of Washington D.C.

It was at the Howard Theater where Tizol met Rosebud Browne. She and various girlfriends, attended shows there regularly. The relationship between Tizol and Rosebud seems to have been love at first sight, at least for Juan. His almost adolescent infatuation for Rosebud lasted until her death in 1982. They began living together in Washington soon after they met, and almost immediately seemed like husband and wife. (They married in 1933.)  Rosebud was intelligent, enterprising and good with money. Juan entrusted all business matters to her, and together, they were able to enjoy a comfortable standard of living in Washington.(6A) (Above left: Juan and Rosebud Tizol aboard the ocean liner SS Olympic on the way to Europe with Duke Ellington’s band, June 2 – June 9,1933.)

Tizol’s employment at the Howard Theater continued throughout the 1920s, with one change of leadership of the orchestra. At some point during that time, Marie Lucas assumed leadership. It is unclear how much of a time commitment was involved in Tizol’s employment at the Howard Theater. However, that theater’s orchestra not only accompanied traveling vaudeville acts, which moved in and out of the theater rapidly, they also played incidental music for silent films. This part of the work gradually disappeared after the widespread presentation of “talkies” in the late 1920s in theaters, and may have been a reason why Tizol changed employment in the summer of 1929.

Juan and Rosebud Tizol bought and began to operate a delicatessen located at Fifth and Rhode Island Avenues in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1920s. This business seemingly was a hedge against slowdowns in Juan’s musical employment. However, there is no evidence that he ever was not gainfully employed as a musician while he was in Washington. Rosebud was the main operator of the delicatessen.

Juan Tizol joined Duke Ellington’s band in June of 1929. His base salary was $125.00 a week.(7) This development was undoubtedly a major one for his musical career. It seemed to people in the know in the music business then that the Ellington band was headed for major success.This was a golden opportunity for Tizol. But Ellington’s band was based in New York City, which was the epicenter of pop music in America then. Unfortunately, since Juan and Rosebud had a thriving business in Washington, D.C., he in essence moved to New York to work with Ellington, while Rosebud remained in Washington to continue running the delicatessen. This especially saddened Juan, who missed Rosebud. Nevertheless, he applied himself to his duties in Duke’s band, and remained very busy keeping up with Ellington’s overload of work commitments. In addition to playing valve trombone in the Ellington band, Tizol often copied out the parts from scores written by Duke. By the mid-1930s, Tizol was also composing music. Some of it was played and recorded by the Ellington band. (Above right: Joseph Nanton, Juan Tizol and Lawrence Brown – 1936, photographed while the Ellington band was playing at the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago.)

Tizol took an apartment in the Art Deco building at 555 Edgecomb Avenue in Harlem at some point in the early 1930s. Rosebud may well have commuted between that apartment and the home the Tizols had in Washington D.C. at 606 Q Street for a substantial period of time, possibly until 1936. But eventually, probably some time in the late 1930s, the Tizols sold their delicatessen, and Rosebud moved permanently to New York. By then, Juan Tizol was well-established as a valuable member of Duke Ellington’s band.

Duke Ellington was intrigued by Rosebud Tizol’s first name. In fact, she would not allow anyone except Ellington to address her as Rosebud. Her family called her “Bud,” and her friends called her “Rose.” (7B)

The music:

Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges were the two preeminent soloists in Duke Ellington’s band through the 1930s and into the 1940s. In the autumn of 1940, Benny Goodman was organizing a new band after having been away from bandleading for over three months as a result of a severe problem with his back that had necessitated surgery. Goodman contacted Cootie Williams, whose playing he had long enjoyed, and offered him a one-year contract at a $200.00 weekly base salary. After some negotiation, Williams joined Goodman at the beginning of November. Williams’s departure left a gaping hole in Duke Ellington’s trumpet section. Curiously, Williams’s replacement, did not join the band until several days after Cootie’s departure.(8) In typically Ducal fashion, Ellington had done nothing to secure a replacement for Williams until after he was gone.

It appears that Ellington, who was in Chicago when all of this was transpiring, playing a lengthy residency at Hotel Sherman, dispatched Billy Strayhorn to somehow find someone immediately who could cover Williams’s chair, at least temporarily. The man Strayhorn found, Ray Nance, was extremely talented. He not only played fine trumpet, he sang and danced, and played the violin. The Ellington sidemen were initially put off by the exuberant and gregarious Nance. But gradually, they came to appreciate his talents, and his value to the Ellington band. Very soon, Nance was dubbed “floorshow” by his fellow musicians. He would remain a part of Ellington’s band for the next four years, and thereafter, sporadically, until 1971.

What fascinated Ellington most about Nance was his ability to play the violin. Duke immediately understood that Nance’s violin provided him with a new and different instrumental color to work with. He fixed on that for a time by simply allowing Nance to play violin solos in places in his music that had originally been assigned to other instruments. Soon however, he began to discuss creating a special violin feature for Nance with Juan Tizol, who aside from Ellington and Strayhorn, was the band’s next most prolific composer. Sometime in the spring of 1941, before Ellington became immersed in the creation of the music for Jump for Joy, Tizol brought “Bakiff” to Duke. It is unclear how long he had the tune before he created the arrangement on it, but it seems that he sprung his finished arrangement on the Ellington band either at or immediately before the June 5, 1941 Victor session at which it was recorded. Given the content of the Standard Transcription recording Ellington made of “Bakiff” a few months later (see below), it would seem that Duke cut down his arrangement so that he could fit most of it onto a ten-inch 78 rpm Victor record.

Ray Nance, as one would expect, was delighted to have such a lovely showcase for his violin playing. On the other hand, he was exasperated with Ellington because he had almost no time to practice the piece before Duke expected him to record it. “We’d complain to Duke about that, and why he couldn’t give us a little time to try it. But he’d say ‘Oh, anybody could do that. This way we get spontaneity.’ “(9) When I listen to Ellington’s Victor recording of “Bakiff,” I hear more of the result of minimal rehearsal time than I do of musical spontaneity in the solos. (The Ellington band plays very well.) The two soloists, Juan Tizol on valve trombone and Ray Nance on violin, both sound a bit uneasy, indeed careful. These deficiencies are only amplified by a the poor balance and recording quality by Victor’s usually infallible Hollywood studio technicians.

But on the positive side, this is music of great beauty, brilliantly arranged by Ellington, who delved into mysterious dissonances in his saxophone blends. Master colorist Sonny Greer’s deft use of mallets on his floor tom-tom and his small swish cymbal are joys to behold in this recording, as is Harry Carney’s mammoth-toned baritone saxophone, deployed with great cunning by Ellington.

Duke uses a recurring seven-note motive in this piece in the reeds, with Barney Bigard’s bright clarinet sound prominent, as a contrasting counterline to Tizol’s mourning dove valve trombone sound. Ellington also makes good use of the three trombones both as a provocative contrasting timbre and in contrasting rhythms, behind Nance’s solo violin. Like “Caravan,” also composed by Juan Tizol, the melody of “Bakiff” evokes images of the exotic souks in North Africa or the Middle East.

Trumpeter Wallace Jones and cornetist Rex Stewart appear to lay out through this entire performance.

For the sake of comparison, here is Billy May’s excellent 1971 performance of the version of “Bakiff” Ellington recorded for Victor. The clear stereophonic sound of this recording allows the listener to hear and appreciate the many instrumental textures fashioned by Ellington. Duke’s arrangement was reconstructed by Billy May. The soloists are Lew McCreary on valve trombone and Marshall Sosson on violin.

“Bakiff”

Composed by Juan Tizol; arranged by Duke Ellington.

Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra for Capitol on September 27, 1971 in Hollywood.

Billy May, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Pete Candoli and Joe Graves, trumpets; Dick Nash, first trombone; Francis Howard, Lloyd Ulyate, trombone; Lew McCreary, valve trombone; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Marshal Royal, clarinet; Justin Gordon and Nat Brown, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums; Marshall Sosson, violin.

“Bakiff”

Composed by Juan Tizol; arranged by Duke Ellington.

Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for Standard Transcriptions on September 17, 1941 in Hollywood.

Personnel is the same as for the Victor recording.

The music – continued: Fortunately, Duke recorded “Bakiff” again in 1941, for Standard Transcriptions, three and a half months after the Victor recording was made. Clearly all of Duke’s musicians, including Tizol and Nance, the major soloists, are much more comfortable in this performance that is a far better overall, and captured in much better sound. The Standard Transcription recording also contains sequences that were not included in the Victor recording. The most obvious difference between this recording and the Victor is that this one is almost a minute longer. The inclusion in this performance of Ellington’s heavy, dissonant piano vamps adds yet another different and arresting sound. What Duke did was to take the seven note ostinato that appears throughout this piece in the reeds, tweek it a bit, and use it as the basis for the bold chords he plays on his piano, sometimes in unison with Jimmie Blanton’s pizzicato bass, and at the very end also in unison with Nance’s pizzicato violin.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo. In addition, a great amount of digital repair was done to Ellington’s Victor recording of “Bakiff.”

Notes and links:

(*) It is unlikely that Ellington would have left his band in Chicago to travel alone to New York just to record two piano solos there for Victor. Victor had a recording studio in Chicago. Undoubtedly Ellington had other business to attend to in New York during his four days away from his band.

(1) The details of Ellington’s work in 1941 come from Duke Ellington …Day by Day, (1992) by Klaus Stratemann. I have cross-checked and in some cases corrected Stratemann’s information with The Duke – Where and When …A Chronicle of Duke Ellington’s Working Life and Travels, a tremendous trove of authoritative information about Ellington, which is maintained by David Palmquist and other serious Ellington researchers.  Hereafter The Duke – Where and When. http://tdwaw.ellingtonweb.ca/TDWAW.html#Yr1941

(2) Juan Tizol …His Caravan Through American Life and Culture by Basilio Serrano (2012), 19-22; hereafter Serrano. Almost all of the details cited in this post about Juan and Rosebud Tizol are to be found in the Serrano book.

(3) Serrano, 21

(4) Ibid. 23-24.

(5) Ibid. 25.

(6) Ibid.

(6A) Indeed, throughout their lives together, Juan and Rosebud Tizol lived well. Between Juan’s steady and well-paid employment throughout his career lasting well into the 1960s, and Rosebud’s canny business sense, they always lived in a lovely home and had whatever material possessions they wanted.

(7) The Duke – Where and When; see entry there at the beginning of June 1929.

(7B) Serrano, 103.

(8) It appears from several sources that Ray Nance’s first appearance with the Ellington band was at the now famous dance at Fargo, North Dakota that was recorded by Jack Towers. That dance took place on November 7, 1940.

(9) The Swing Era …Encore, (1971), 59

Here is a link to a the portion of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz that pertains to Duke Ellington and Jump for Joy. It is wonderful. Please take note of Duke’s comments regarding “My People.” As usual, Ellington was several decades ahead of everybody else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfW2o26gI5o

Here is a link to a short film clip which contains some great footage of the Ellington musicians in Hollywood in 1941 (NOT 1939 as incorrectly stated in the film), and a snippet of information about Jump for Joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdCsmhgoerU

Here is a link to a filmed recollection by Herb Jeffries about an incident involving him and Duke Ellington and Jump for Joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNlaV5i6i88

Here are links to some other Ellington music from the late 1930s and early 1940s:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/03/18/sepia-panorama-1940-duke-ellington/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/02/02/cotton-tail-1940-duke-ellington-and-ben-webster/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/10/25/concerto-for-cootie-1940-duke-ellington-and-cootie-williams/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/04/11/harlem-air-shaft-1940-duke-ellington-live-version/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/03/22/take-the-a-train-composed-and-arranged-by-billy-strayhorn/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/08/31/rocks-in-my-bed-1941-duke-ellington-and-ivie-anderson/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/01/21/the-sergeant-was-shy-1939-duke-ellington-and-charlie-barnet-billy-may-1940/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/04/10/i-let-a-song-go-out-of-my-heart-1938-duke-ellington-and-1955-conrad-gozzo/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/12/26/morning-glory-1940-duke-ellington-rex-stewart-and-1964-ted-heath-kenny-baker/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/12/31/blue-reverie-1937-38-duke-ellington-and-benny-goodmans-1938-carnegie-hall-concert/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/03/16/gypsy-without-a-song-1938-duke-ellington-1993-smithsonian-jazz-masterworks-orchestra/

And here is a link that celebrates a Manhattan venue that presented many great bands during the swing era, including of course Ellington’s::

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/01/27/swingin-at-the-brill-building/

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3 Comments

  1. I have always loved Ray Nance’s violin playing as his work on trumpet and coronet. I attended the New York World’s Fair in either 1964 or 65. There was a performance by Paul LaValle and the Cities Service Band which was a Sousa type organization. Sitting in the brass section was Ray Nance and it seemed that every set LaValle would introduce Ray who would sing and play a solo on “Take the A Train”. It was the strangest thing thing given Ray’s jazz history. Perhaps w=it was a steady gig and required no traveling other than perhaps taking the IRT number 7 train to the Fair depending on where he lived.

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