04/2 August-November 2004


Voort 18b, 2328 Meerle, Belgium
Telephone: +32 3 315 75 83

Duke's Brass, 1937-38
By Steven Lasker

DEMS 04/2-55

Sjef tells me that the personnel in Duke's brass section during 1937-38 has been a hot topic of late on the Duke-LYM list. This comes as no surprise, as the subject seems to have bedeviled discographers and historians for years. Stratemann and Vail got it pretty much right, in no small measure due to research reported by yours truly, some of it in DEMS ("Comments on Timner's fourth edition" pages 8 and 11, included with DEMS bulletins 98/3 and 98/4 respectively). This piece gathers all the relevant research in one place for the first time. Those for whom the subject is still unclear will be relieved to learn that the mystery is largely solved thanks to clues found in published literature. The original Master-Variety/A.R.C. ledgers document the number of brassmen present at the various recording sessions, and enables us to further perfect discographical listings of these sessions.

According to Barry Ulanov's 1946 biography of Ellington, Art Whetsel was replaced circa March 1937 by Danny Baker who was in turn replaced by Wallace Jones. Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz places Harold Baker with the band in 1938. However, I have found no account prior to Ulanov's that places Danny Baker with Ellington. The earliest print references I have seen to a musician named Baker in Ellington's band date to 1942, when Harold Baker joined. Press accounts from 1938-39 that I have seen list only the following trumpet/cornet players with Ellington: Whetsel, Jones, Williams, Jenkins and Stewart. Solid evidence, to be detailed below, establishes that Whetsel left on 19Feb38 and was replaced by Jones on 24Feb38. (Ellington played just one engagement between those dates, on 23Feb with a small group that included Cootie Williams. Thus, Ulanov's assertion that Baker replaced Whetsel and was in turn replaced by Jones is wrong.)

Between the springs of 1937 and 1938, Ellington's band carried a complement of three to four trumpets. Williams and Stewart were dependable regulars--although according to Stewart (Boy Meets Horn, p193), relations between them were frosty: "Wallace Jones, who had replaced Whetsol [sic] in the first trumpet chair, tried to be the peacemaker between Cootie and me, but to no avail. We didn't speak to each other for at least two years."

When Whetsel rejoined Ellington early in 1928, he replaced violinist Ellsworth Reynolds (per Reynolds, quoted in Jazz Monthly, Feb67p6). He stayed with the band continuosly thereafter, with only two absences prior to his retirement that I know of, the first between mid-June and early August 1935 when he was replaced by Charlie Allen. The April 1937 issue of Metronome reported he was "always on the job even when not well." When the band went on the road in early November 1937, Whetsel stayed in New York; Melody Maker (13Nov37) reported his "absence from the band will probably be permanent because of serious illness." Whetsel was nevertheless back with the band at its 30Nov37 Birmingham engagement (per International Musician, Feb38). Whetsel's final engagement with the band was a dance at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey on 19Feb38. According to the Pittsburgh Courier (3Mar38) Whetsel was "scheduled to leave the profession he loves so well as the result of a brain disorder from which he has been suffering many months. Whetsol [sic], who is in his thirties [actually about age 34], received his most recent shock from his prolonged illness during the band's engagment at Rutgers University Saturday night. At that time it became apparent that he could no longer walk in active circles in a world of music."

Jenkins, who first joined the band in 1928, took a leave of absence just before Christmas 1934 when a bout of illness (tuberculosis according to Ulanov, p204) sent him to Harlem Hospital (Chicago Defender, 5Jan35; Baltimore Afro-American, 5Jan35). By July 1935 he was much improved, the 13Jul35 Chicago Defender noting he was "never seen without that big smile ... and the surprising thing about it all is his faith in future possibilities for a great comeback." According to Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz, Jenkins in 1935 joined "Adrian's Tap Room Band," led by Adrian Rollini. Jenkins is heard with them on titles recorded for Bluebird on 26Aug35, some under his own name. When Louis Armstrong opened at Connie's Inn on 29oct35 Jenkins was present, filling in for Armstrong during changes (Swing Music, Nov-Dec35, p258) and conducting Luis Russell's Orchestra. The job lasted into late 1936 according to Chilton.

Jenkins rejoined Ellington at the Cotton Club in March 1937. A feature in the April 1937 issue of Metronome included profiles of Ellington's sidemen. Jenkins was noted as "back in the band after two years' absence due to illness." Reviewing the Cotton Club Parade for Jazz Hot (June-July 1937, p11), Stanley Dance noted "Jenkins was in the band each time I went there, and the seven-piece brass section had such tone, volume and punch as I'm sure has never been equalled in jazz." A photo taken at the Cotton Club of the band with the seven-man brass team of Whetsel-Williams-Jenkins-Stewart-Nanton-Brown-Tizol appears in Stewart's Boy Meets Horn.

In the fall of 1937, Jenkins was temporarily "bedded following an intricate throat operation" (Melody Maker, 13Nov37). The 30Apr38 Chicago Defender, in a story datelined the day before, noted that Jenkins was out of the band; "none of the musicians would say why" but Harlem rumor had it that he "needed a rest." Photographs of the band on the occasion of their 29May38 Randall's Island concert show Jenkins in his last known engagement with Ellington.

Although Ellington had seven brass players on call during parts of 1937-38, he seldom used that many at record dates, at least judging from the evidence found in the recording ledgers, which routinely noted instrumentation but seldom the names of sidemen in the large orchestras.

Here are the various sessions by the full orchestra from 1937-38 listed by recording date, followed by the brass instrumentation as noted in the recording ledger and finally the initials of the brassmen who I believe played on each session, based on what I hear, the historical data presented above and additional data presented below.

5Mar37; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT. (Some discographies show Jenkins "tap dancing" on I've Got to Be a Rug Cutter and playing "bells" on The New East St. Louis Toodle-o, but what is heard on the former is consistent with the foot stomping performed by the entire band on this title as seen and heard in the film "The Hit Parade," while the bells on the latter title sound consistent with Sonny Greer's bar chimes.)

9Apr37, also 22 Apr37; "6 brass"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.

14May37, also 8Jun37: "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.

20Sep37; "4 trumpets, 2 [sic] trombones"; AW, CW, FJ, RS; JN (absent from M646 and possibly M647; present on M648 through M651), LB, JT. The ledger sheet for M646 shows 14 men and the instrumentation just cited, i.e., two trombones; those for M647 through M651 indicates the instrumentation to be "same as M646," yet three trombones are heard on masters M648 through M651. Willie Timner (per letter dated 23Jul04) speculates that Nanton was absent for the "roll call" at the start of the session and the ledger-keeper neglected to note his presence on thesheets for the later masters. (In "Comments on Timner" I posited just two trombones on this session; thanks to Michael Kilpatrick for setting me aright that there are actually three, at least on masters M648 through M651. T. Larsson and Benny Aasland, in DEMS 83/3p7, also reported hearing three trombones. Brooks Kerr believes that he can hear three trombones instead of two in Chatterbox, M646.) Although Nanton doesn't solo on this session, both Timner and I believe we occasionally detect his distictive sonority within the section.

13Jan38, also 2Feb38; "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; AW, CW, FJ, RS; LB, JN, JT.

24Feb38; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW, FJ; LB, JN, JT. The session, which produced just two titles, went from 6:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. according to the recording ledger. According to Melody Maker (12Mar38, p1), "the other night, the band was up at Brunswick for a 7 p.m. session, remained there until two in the morning, and only got two done! Rex Stewart could not show up owing to illness in his family, and Freddy Jenkins was hurriedly sent for. Wallace Jones played first trumpet on this date in place of Artie Whetsel, who is said to have become very eccentric in his ways. Jones, by the way, is a cousin of Chick Webb." Per Down Beat (Apr38), "Duke Ellington .... has replaced Arthur Whetsol [sic] because of illness, with Wallace Jones whose only bid to swing fame thus far is his previous association with Willie Bryant and his close kinship to Chick Webb. Jones joined the band on its recording date when Ellington put on the wax several new tunes from the Cotton Club revue."

3Mar38 (2:00 to 7:00 p.m.); "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW, FJ, RS; LB, JN, JT or Herb Flemming. Flemming recalled this session in a 1970 interview with Bo Scherman: "I replaced Juan Tizol for the recording session which produced Braggin' in Brass. I played the virtuoso trombone duet with Lawrence Brown (actually the trombone trio passage) on Braggin' in Brass, which made a great impression on musicians at that time." (E. Biagioni: "Herb Flemming, A Jazz Pioneer Around the World," Alphen aan de Rijn, 1978, p57.)

11Apr38; "4 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW (master M809 only), ?RN (masters M810 and M811), FJ, RS; LB, JN, JT. According to the ledger sheet for M810, "Cootie left this number." His replacement was reportedly Ray Nance, who recalled the session independently to both Bruce Davis (DEMS 85/4p4) and Brooks Kerr. Note, however, that Nance was then a member of Earl Hines' orchestra, which was likely in the deep South at the time at least judging by that orchestra's chronology as presented in Stanley Dance's The World of Earl Hines (p297). (I haven't independably researched Hines' itinerary.) Note also that Ray Nance recalled in 1973 to Brooks Kerr that the arranger of I'm Slappin' Seventh Avenue (M810) was Chappie Willett, the same who arranged Prelude in C Sharp Minor (Cotton Club 29May38).

7Jun38, also 9Aug38, 19Dec38, 22Dec38; "3 trumpets, 3 trombones"; WJ, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT. (However, note that only two brass play on Blue Light, WJ and LB.)

20Jun38, also 4Aug38, 2Sep38; "6 brass"; WJ, CW, RS; LB, JN, JT.

As for the second trumpet on Rex's The Back Room Romp (7Jul37), the ledger sheet for master M549 helpfully names all eight men: Stewart, Jenkins, Hodges, Carney, Ellington, Fleagle, Alvis and Maisel. According to Paul Eduard Miller (writing in the September 1937 issue of Down Beat), "The trombone part is ably played by Jenkins on the trumpet." I don't hear Jenkins on any of the other titles made that morning (at a session that went from midnight to 5:00 a.m.).

Benny Aasland (DEMS 84/2p8) placed Danny Baker in the band from December 1939 until February 1940 on a supposed tour booked by Consolidated Radios Artists, an unsourced assertion unsupported by any evidence found in the contemporary press by Ken Steiner or me, and at a time when Ellington was booked by the William Morris Agency. We are accordingly dubious of thereport.

While Ulanov, Aasland (in DEMS 83/3p7 and 84/2p8) and others have shown Danny Baker with Ellington, I haven't found any hard evidence that a trumpeter of that name ever existed, which leads me to suspect that "he" is a phantom. (If anyone who reads this has access to a membership directory from the late 1930s for New York musician's union local 802, please report whether a Danny Baker is listed therein.) As for Harold "Shorty" Baker, I've found no credible evidence to support John Chilton's contention that Baker was "briefly with Duke Ellington in 1938." Would someone who knows Chilton please ask him where he found his information, and report his answer through DEMS? Absent convinving evidence from Chilton, I am inclined to believe that when Stanley Dance wrote (The World of Duke Ellington, p166) that Baker began his "long and occasionally interrupted career" with Ellington in 1942, he got it right. (Note: a photo of the band taken in 1938 or 1939 and reprinted on the cover of Max MLP 1001 is miscaptioned to show Harold Baker rather than Wallace Jones, who is the trumpeter depicted--at least to my eyes.)

Topics for further discussion: Are two or three trombones audible on M646 and M647?
Did Herb Flemming replace Juan Tizol on the session of 3Mar38 as he recalled?
Is Ray Nance actually on M810 (and presumably on M811 as well) as he recalled?
Isn't it about time to say adieu and R.I.P. to Danny Baker (1946-2004)?

Request: Can any collector with a Jenkins autograph tell us how he signed his first name?
Steven Lasker
7 August 2004