“Creole Love Call” Duke Ellington (1927) with Adelaide Hall and Bubber Miley/(1949) with Kay Davis and Ray Nance

“Creole Love Call”

Composed and arranged by Duke Ellington.

Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for Victor on October 26, 1927 in Camden, New Jersey.

Duke Ellington, piano, directing:  James Wesley “Bubber” Miley, Louis Metcalf, trumpets; Joseph “Tricky Sam” Nanton, trombone; Otto “Toby” Hardwick, Rudy Jackson and Harry Carney, clarinets; Fred Guy, banjo; Wellman Braud, string bass; William Alexander “Sonny” Greer, drums; Adelaide Hall, vocal.

The story:

Duke Ellington had the uncommon ability to synthesize what he heard into music, and the music that resulted inevitably sounded Ducal, meaning remarkably personal. Duke’s fascination with steam locomotive trains, for example, resulted in many memorable musical compositions. Musicians referred to this process in various ways. Some said “he had ears like a vacuum cleaner.” Johnny Hodges, the brilliant alto saxophone soloist in Duke’s band for many years, who had been around Ellington long enough to carefully observe the process of transformation that went on in Duke’s mind from the moment he heard something, often something played by Hodges in an improvised solo, into an Ellington hit record, would mime the counting of money on the bandstand when Duke played one of those tunes.

On June 20, 1927, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra began what would eventually become a two and a half month tour of New England ballrooms, playing at Nuttings-on-the Charles in Waltham, Massachusetts. The early Ellington band, in terms of its personnel, was still very much in the process of evolving at that time. On or shortly before that date, bassist Wellman Braud, clarinetist Rudy Jackson and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney joined the Ellington band. Duke’s booking agent at that time/place was Charlie Shribman.

Ellington brought his wife, Edna Thompson Ellington, and their son, eight-year old Mercer Kennedy Ellington, on this tour and they stayed in the New Brunswick Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts. The tour ended on Labor Day, September 5, 1927, after a dance at the Arcadia Ballroom in Gardner, Massachusetts, near Fitchburg.

Shortly after returning to New York, Ellington and his wife quarreled because of an extra-marital affair Ellington was having. She slashed him across the left side of his face with a knife. The injury was serious enough that Ellington did not appear in public for about a month. The scar would remain on Duke’s face for the rest of his life. Ellington and his wife separated after that event, but never divorced. Edna Ellington died on January 15,1967. (Edna Thompson Ellington is pictured above left in 1933.)

After Duke’s period of recuperation from the above-described incident, he and his band resumed operations with a Victor recording session on October 6. This session took place at Victor’s studio at 28 West 44th Street, and produced recordings of “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Washington Wabble.” They then either began or continued rehearsals for a revue to be presented at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. It was called Jazzmania, and was produced by Clarence Robinson. Its star was Edith Wilson. It opened on October 10, 1927. At some point during the run of this show, Edith Wilson became ill, and was replaced by Adelaide Hall.

It is unclear how long Jazzmania ran. However it is clear that a new show opened at the Lafayette Theater, another revue, on November 14, 1927, also produced by Clarence Robinson, called Dance Mania. That show starred Adelaide Hall and featured Duke Ellington’s Washingtonians. That show played at the Lafayette until November 20, and then moved to Gibson’s Standard Theater in Philadelphia, where it ran until December 3. The next night, Duke Ellington opened at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and began his ascent as a nationally known bandleader.(1) (Above right: Ellington in 1930.)

The music:

Per Ellington expert Steven Lasker: “Ellington told Stanley Dance (liner notes to Columbia set C3L-39) that ‘Creole Love Call’ was written in Boston: ‘We were to play a Sunday afternoon engagement in a Boston Theatre (the Loew’s Orpheum), and we worked out an oral arrangement on this in the Brunswick Hotel in Salem.'” The date of that engagement was August 21, 1927. The “we” that Duke referred to are the three composers listed on the label of the Victor record, Ellington trumpeter James ” Bubber” Miley, clarinetist Rudy Jackson, and of course Duke himself. Now comes the detective work of who did what in putting this classic together.

The clarinet solo we hear in Duke’s 1927 recording of “Creole Love Call” was played by Rudy Jackson, who joined Duke’s band in the summer of 1927. Some time prior to that, he had worked with the pioneering New Orleans cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, an early mentor of Louis Armstrong. (That employment lasted from late 1923 until the summer of 1924.) Apparently when Jackson, Miley (and Ellington) were working out the initial oral arrangement on “Creole Love Call,” Jackson neglected to tell Duke “…that he stole the song from his old boss (Oliver). Six months later, after (Jackson) had left (the Ellington band), Oliver sent a stiffly worded letter to the copyright department of Victor Records. ‘I have recently listened to a recording by your company of Creole Love Call, played by Duke Ellington’s band. Permit me to bring to your attention the fact that this number was written by me and copyrighted on Oct. 11, 1923; #570230, under the title Camp Meeting Blues. The writer has also recorded this particular number on the Columbia records and has collected royalties for same. Will you therefore be good enough to forward me a contract covering ‘Creole Love Call,’ and should you desire further information, the same will be given, gladly.”(2) 

To add a more detailed historical perspective, I will cite comments Dan Morgenstern, the doyen of jazz historians, made (in 1978) about Ellington’s first recording of “Creole Love Call”: “Duke may have picked up the idea (of Adelaide Hall’s wordless vocal) from a similar vocal in Louis Armstrong’s (November 16, 1926) recording of ‘Skid-Dat-De-Dat,’ and it seems likely also that he, Miley and Rudy Jackson were familiar with King Oliver’s 1923 recording of ‘Camp Meeting Blues.’  Here, Duke takes a theme played by trombonist Ed Atkins in Oliver’s band and turns it into a clarinet solo for Jackson. The melody stated by (clarinetist) Jimmie Noone in the first of his two clarinet choruses on the Oliver record becomes, in Ellington’s adroit arrangement, the main strain of ‘Creole Love Call,’ scored for clarinet trio.” (3)

I have listened to King Oliver’s recording of “Camp Meeting Blues.” I find Mr. Morgenstern’s observations about it to be spot-on. Nevertheless, I also find Ellington’s first recording of “Creole Love Call” to reflect the input of Duke Ellington far more than any of the other antecedents cited above.

Victor’s copyright lawyers were experts at untangling messes like this. I do not understand, from a legal standpoint, the dubious explanation of how this matter was either resolved (or mooted) that was provided in the Teachout Ellington biography referred to in note (2) above. His explanation was that since the song “Camp Meeting Blues,” which was composed and copyrighted by Oliver, but under the title “Temptation Blues,” … was changed to “Camp Meeting Blues” in the studio when the Oliver recording was made, that Oliver had not copyrighted anything. It is the music that is copyrighted, not titles. I will not speculate about how this dispute was resolved, but I would not be surprised if Victor simply paid Oliver a small sum of money in exchange for a full release of all claims by him.

I doubt that Ellington invested much time in trying to understand this legal dispute. He probably just wanted to know if he was “in the clear” to keep playing, refining and recording “Creole Love Call.” At some point, Duke was assured that he was in the clear, and he continued to play this melody, and tinker with it, for the rest of his career.

Ellington’s tinkering with “Creole Love Call” began even before he recorded it for the first time. While Adelaide Hall was working with the Ellington band, probably in the revue Jazzmania, she would go offstage after her numbers, and sometimes stand in the wings and listen to Duke and his band play. She became enchanted by their presentation of “Creole Love Call,” to the point where she began humming a counterpoint to the melody as they played it. Duke’s “vacuum-cleaner ears” heard her. He “…left the piano and went to her. ‘Addie, that is what I’ve been looking for!'” (4) He coaxed her to come onstage and do for the audience what she had been doing in the wings. The audience loved it. A few days later, it was recorded, with Adelaide Hall’s wordless vocal.

In addition to Ms. Hall’s provocative vocalizations, the clarinet solo by Rudy Jackson, and the clarinet trios in this classic performance, we also hear the marvelous trumpet solo that was played by James “Bubber’ Miley. (Miley is shown with Duke Ellington in the photo above left.) The dissonant ending is vintage early Duke.


“Creole Love Call”

Composed and arranged by Duke Ellington.

Recorded by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for Columbia on September 1, 1949 in New York.

Duke Ellington, piano, directing: Harold “Shorty” Baker, Al Killian, Nelson Williams, Dave Burns and Willis “Ray” Nance, trumpets; Lawrence Brown, Quentin “Butter” Jackson and Tyree Glenn, trombones; Russell Procope(*) and Johnny Hodges, alto saxophones; Charlie Rouse and Jimmy Hamilton,(*) tenor saxophones; Harry Carney,(*) baritone saxophone; Wendell Marshall, bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Vocal by Kay Davis. (*) The clarinet trio consisted of Procope, Hamilton and Carney.

The story and the music:

By the time Ellington made this recording, he had been an international music star for over fifteen years. And although his career had been very successful through the 1940s, disturbing signs had been apparent in the world of swing since at least 1946. Venues were closing; bands were folding. The dancing craze that had provided work for hundreds of bands through the 1930s and 1940s was winding down. Theaters, where bands appeared as a part of a live entertainment package for a week or more at a time, were reducing the number of those presentations. Everything that a bandleader needed to keep a touring big band working cost more. But the venues that still presented bands were paying less. Ellington began to see more and more weeks where his band’s income did not match or exceed its expenses. He was forced to cover the shortfalls himself, out of his substantial income from royalties generated by his songs. Nevertheless, Ellington being Ellington, he continued to soldier on with his band. He simply loved hearing his new music being played back to him by his band too much to stop. He also had an obsessive need to perform.

The Ellington band was in the middle of a week-long engagement at The Click, Market at 16th, in Philadelphia when they made their 1949 recording of “Creole Love Call.” They traveled to Manhattan late in the morning of Thursday September 1, began the recording session at 12:40 p.m. and continued working in the studio until 4:04 p.m. when they returned to Philadelphia to work at The Click that evening. (5)

The evolution of Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” is readily apparent in this recording, which was made twenty-two years after the original. If the 1927 Ellington recording evokes lusty activities in the Storyville red-light district of New Orleans, the 1949 version evokes similar activities in a luxury suite perhaps in Manhattan’s Hotel Carlyle, or the Waldorf. The exquisite vocalizations on this recording were by Kay Davis, one of the most well-trained singers to work with any band during the swing era. They are performed at a virtuoso level.

Kathryn Elizabeth Davis known professionally as Kay Davis (December 5, 1920 – January 27, 2012), was was born in Evanston, Illinois. She studied voice and piano at Northwestern University in Evanston, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1942, and her master’s degree in 1943.

In 1944, she joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra, where she initially sang alongside Joya Sherrill and Al Hibbler. She is best known for her wordless vocals on Ellington pieces such as “Transblucency” and “On a Turquoise Cloud,” in addition to “Creole Love Call.” She also sang compositions having a lyric. She is the only person Ellington allowed to reinterpret Adelaide Hall’s wordless vocal on “Creole Love Call.”

Ms. Davis, with Billy Strayhorn at the piano, gave the first public performance of Strayhorn’s iconic song “Lush Life” on November 13, 1948 at a Carnegie Hall concert given by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. (Kay Davis is shown above left in the mid-1940s.)

Ms. Davis toured England with Ellington and the multi-talented Ellington sideman Ray Nance in 1948, and then performed throughout Europe with the full Ellington band in 1950. She left Ellington’s orchestra later in 1950, married and retired from show business.(6)

The maturity, sophistication, and virtuosity of the 1949 Ellington band meld into a great performance of “Creole Love Call” on this recording. Kay Davis’s singing reflected her deep musical education and training, and is contrasted with the earthy approach Ray Nance takes with his plunger-muted trumpet. (His glissando near the end of his solo is superb.) The clarinet trio, played by Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney, bespeaks the blues, played by jazz musicians impeccably attired in evening clothes. (Ray Nance is shown above right.)

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:
(1) The details of Duke Ellington’s activities from the summer of 1927 to his opening at the Cotton Club on December 4, 1927 come from David Palmquist’s marvelous The Duke – Where and When …A Chronicle of Duke Ellington’s Working Life and Travels. Other scholars contribute to that resource as well. It can be accessed here: http://tdwaw.ellingtonweb.ca/TDWAW.html
(2) Duke …A Life of Duke Ellington, by Terry Teachout (2013), 66-67. Hereafter Teachout.
(3) Giants of Jazz … Duke Ellington, notes on the music by Dan Morgenstern (1978), 34-35.
(4) Teachout, 34.
(5) The Duke — Where and When, September 1, 1949.
(6) The short biography of Kay Davis is derived from the post on her at Wikipedia.
— Here is a link to an Ellington classic inspired by a train: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/08/23/happy-go-lucky-local-1975-mercer-ellington/
—Here is a link to another performance by a singer of extraordinary talent, Sarah Vaughan, singing the song Kay Davis debuted in public performance, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/03/10/lush-life-1956-sarah-vaughan/


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