Here it is the night of Duke Ellington’s 114th birthday and Rifftides has left you bereft of a flowery tribute to his genius, immortality, indispensability and __________ (fill in the blank). Instead, let’s see all of that in action in a clip from the 1930 RKO film Check and Double Check.
Trumpets: Freddie Jenkins, Cootie Williams & Arthur Whetsol.
Trombones: Joe (Tricky Sam) Nanton & Juan Tizol (valve trombone).
Reeds: Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard.
Rhythm: Ellington (p), Sonny Greer (dr), Fred Guy (gtr), Wellman Braud (b).
Solos: trumpet, Jenkins; baritone saxophone, Carney; soprano saxophone, Hodges.
Did RKO brass order the makeup staff to blacken Juan Tizol’s face? Could be. In those days, movie executives were a bit nervous about mingling the races on screen. Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel were five years off.
That was not Ellington’s first film appearance. His Hollywood debut seems to have been five years earlier, a discovery announced today by The Library of Congress. The library’s blog posted details on this anniversary of Ellington’s birth. To see the explanation by their moving image maven Mike Mashon and a brief (extremely brief) clip, click on this link. After watching it several times, I concluded that the blink-of-an-eye scene runs from 37 seconds to 41 seconds of the sequence. I lifted a still from the movie and blew it up, but unless the sharp focus of your vision is better than mine, we’ll have to take Mr. Mashon’s word for what we’re seeing.
All that aside, to paraphrase what Ellington often said to audiences following a Johnny Hodges solo, as if addressing the deity:
Thank you for Duke Ellington.