Jazz & Cocktails

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some double layer cake
for the birthdays of 2 musical greats.
** Linger to hear
some favorite jazz tunes.
** Savor a last ½ cup sampling
some of my own jazz-inspired poetry.
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First Sip:

I used to visit
all the very gay places,
those come-what-may places,
where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
to get the feel of life
from jazz and cocktails

– from Lush Life
lyrics & music by Billy Strayhorn
for the Duke Ellington Orchestra

Slice of Cake:

This week marks the birthdays of
two of the biggest names in jazz:
Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington.

Starting in 1923,
in the heart of New York City’s Harlem Renaissance,
and continuing for over 50 years,
Duke Ellington led his big band—
sometimes spending 300 days a year on the road.

“A Train”
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Albert H Small Documents Gallery

Along with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn,
Ellington wrote, composed, and arranged
more than a thousand songs.

From the beginning, The Duke Ellington Orchestra was known for innovation, complex arrangements, and a very elegant style.

This was America in the 1920s,
a decade named for its music: The Jazz Age.


For the first time in history,
the culture of a minority became the desire of the majority
– Jeffrey B. Ferguson1


Jazz music inspired
all kinds of other art forms during the Jazz Age:
literature, dance, language, photography, fashion, theater.

Jazz is really about the human experience.

It’s about the ability of human beings to

take the worst of circumstances and struggles and
turn it into something creative and constructive.

That’s something that’s built into the fiber
of every human being.
And I think that’s why people can respond to it.
feel the freedom in it.

And the attributes of jazz are also admirable.
It’s about dialogue.
It’s about sharing. And teamwork.
It’s in the moment, and it’s nonjudgmental.

– Herbie Hancock 5

Ella Fitzgerald’s music career also started in New York City.

It was Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in 1934.
Fitzgerald was 17 years old.

She won the contest that night—which led to her meeting Chick Webb—and,
less than two months later, Ella Fitzgerald was lead singer for the
Chick Webb Orchestra.

I never knew how good our songs were until
I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.

– Ira Gershwin 4

Ella Fitzgerald toured and recorded with Chick Webb’s band for four years.
Then, in 1939, Webb died of tuberculosis.

Fitzgerald took over as bandleader (she was 22 years old),
and the band was renamed Ella and Her Famous Orchestra. 2

She later went on to a solo career and, with the rise of bebop,
Fitzgerald began trying to “do what I heard the horns in the band doing”
and her scat singing began.3

Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs,
often written by immigrant Jews,
to a national audience of predominantly white Christians.
– Frank Rich
New York Times 4

In the 1950s, when rock and roll took over in popularity,
jazz kept going. And it got better. For instance…

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington collaborated
to record an ambitious set of 4 LP records in 1956-1957.

Why do I love jazz?

Jazz is syncopation.
Jazz is improvisation.
Jazz is collaboration and confrontation.
Jazz is history and innovation.
Jazz is America’s art form.

Now let’s hear some music
♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫
Here are 3 favorite songs featuring
Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald or both!

Take The A Train (1957)
This is Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra

My very favorite Duke Ellington tune is Satin Doll.

Here is my favorite version of this favorite tune:
It’s the Count Basie Orchestra recorded Sept 1981.

I put this song on and—to use Herbie Hancock words
I can “feel the freedom in it.”
It’s the most rejuvenating song I know.

But if you really want to hear the world’s best scatting—
And perhaps the ultimate jazz vocal recording of all time,
Here is Ella Fitzgerald on a tune called
How High the Moon.

It was originally released on the Ella Live in Berlin album, recorded in 1960.
(music written by Morgan Lewis, lyrics by Nancy Hamilton)

Happy 102nd Birthday
** Ella Fitzgerald **

Happy 120th Birthday
** Duke Ellington **

– Ella Fitzgerald was
born April 25, 1917
in Newport News, Virginia.

– Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was
born April 29, 1899
in Washington DC

Linger Awhile:

This week I’ve been thinking about (and playing and singing)
some of my favorite jazz tunes…

5 More of my Favorite Recordings of Duke Ellington tunes
as sung by 5 more Jazz Greats

Here is Etta James at age 17, singing the heartbreaking tune
In My Solitude
(music written by Ellington, lyrics by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills)

Soft-pedaled, classy version of
Sophisticated Lady by the divine Sarah Vaughan
(music written by Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills)

This Nina Simone recording is a perfect treatment
of an easily-overdone tune.
I Got it Bad (1962)
(music written by Ellington, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster)

You knew we couldn’t talk about the music of Duke Ellington without
It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).
There’s a fantastic Cleo Laine recording from 1989, if you can find it.
In the meantime—
here is Cleo with the Muppets‘ Electric Mayhem Orchestra!
(music written by Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills)

Here’s Dinah Washington, backed by Quincy Jones & His Orchestra.
Fantastic vocals and a fantastic arrangement of
the Ellington tune I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart (1954)
(I adore her voice.)
(music written by Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills)

Queen Latifah’s voice gives me chills on this
recording of Lush Life by Duke Ellington’s longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn (who wrote this song when he was only 18 years old).
And don’t worry—this clip let’s us hear the whole song from Queen Latifah,
even though Holly Hunter shows up to lip-sync at the end…
(music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn)

“Half Cup More”

Here’s some of my own jazz-inspired poetry from over the years.

Catching the Last Set

Music pounded and
Drummer, on point,
and piano…
The bass player grins a dimple.
Tonight, you see,
I’m thinking of you.

February 1981

from Headliner in the Headlights

to that pause of syncopation:
to the sound of a falling star;
to a silence that seizes,
every molecule freezes,
a star-lit world in mid-spin.

December 2014

Rain at Night

Streets glaze with it,
Spreading thin each
Multi-colored light’s long
shimmy down the pavement;

Trees grasp at it, rejoicing in a
fleeting prize; asphalt-weary
Dirt patches hoard it, mud-thirsting;

Garbage cans
pop – clink!
piiing –
Garbage cans sing it;

A city’s rain keeps
Many lovers.

January 1981

All poems © Kelly J Hardesty 2019

Take-Away Box

The 1920s expression ‘the bee’s knees‘ means ‘the very best.’

Is Jazz ‘the very best’ music??
My answer:
I’ll drink to that!

The 1920s cocktail Bee’s Knees was made from
bathtub gin + sweet honey + lemon juice.

And here’s a 1920s toast:

“To our best friends, who know the
worst about us but
refuse to believe it.”

– from Toasts and Anecdotes for All Occasions (1923)
by Paul W Kearney


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

notes & footnotes

A huge thank you to my sister Patricia
for helpful information this week,
for the many gifts of jazz CDs over the decades,
—and most of all, for taking an impressionable
teenager out to hear live jazz
all those times, all those years ago.
I’m a jazz music fan because of you.

Thank you to Elle for the bee’s knees cocktail photo.
Honey, you are the bee’s knees!

Thank you to Rocky for technical help and conceptual insights.

The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents (2007)
by Jeffrey B. Ferguson

Notable American Women 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary
edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul Boyer
Harvard University Press (1971)
Retrieved online on February 23, 2014.

Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song (2001).
by Katherine E. Krohn

“How High the Moon”
by Frank Rich
The New York Times
article published June 19, 1996,
four days after Ella Fitzgerald died

I got this quote from Herbie Hancock from the
website for International Jazz Day
International Jazz Day Global Host City for 2020 will be
Cape Town, South Africa, marking the first time the
celebration is hosted by an African city.


Please note:
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

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