During our Oct. 22 hour on jazz legend Duke Ellington, a caller from Nashville, TN, regaled Tom with her own personal memories of the jazz great. During one of the Duke’s many tours around the country, he visited caller Shirley’s native Buffalo, NY, where he performed in that city’s Kleinhans Music Hall. (Shirley said it must have been 1964, but the nearest date we could find to her recollections was an earlier concert in August 1961). Shirley remembered the thrill of being selected to sing with her choir in a Duke Ellington performance.
I’m from Buffalo, New York originally. I had the extreme pleasure of growing up in a very versatile musical community.
When I was 14 years old in Buffalo, New York, Duke Ellington came to Kleinhans Music Hall in 1964[sic], I was 14 years old at the time.
We got a call, the choral group I was involved with very heavily at the time was just at the top of their game, and we got a call — Duke was looking or a choir that was very versatile, eclectic in style and we were chosen. And that was the most serene experience of my life. Meeting that man — he was the coolest dude! What we did for the performance, was we walked in and of course I was nervous and the orchestra was there and Duke raised his baton, and he said ‘You’re getting ready to go on a flight with me. Don’t be afraid, just do what I tell you to do.‘ And so I was sitting there waiting for music or something. And he said, ‘When I raise this baton, I want every one of of you orchestra members and every one of the choir members to just quietly bellow out any note that you want.’
And we so we all looked, ‘Is he serious?‘ He raised the baton and I cannot…I get goosebumps just thinking of it now, I cannot tell you the kind of sound was created when we did that. He was so ahead of his time and everything, if you can imagine the coolest new-age sound and he said, ‘When I move the baton again, I want you go anywhere you want to go.‘
He was majestic. He was a genius, he was not afraid to do anything that he knew could be expressed in music.