It’s time to celebrate The Duke and I don’t mean John Wayne. I do mean Duke Ellington and the annual Duke Ellington Society fund raising concert at 8pm on Saturday April 26 at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building, Queen’s Park Crescent, featuring Martin Loomer’s Orange Devils, a 14-piece band specializing in Ellington’s early period. This is an important event in the jazz calendar celebrasting the music of perhaps the greatest all-round musical figure of the 20th century. I know that I’m getting ahead of myself since the concert doesn’t take place this month, but over the years this has been a sold-out event and if you are interested in attending the concert – and you should be – it is better to buy your tickets now. Ticket price is $35 available by contacting Alan Shiels at 416-239-2683
Net proceeds go to the Duke Ellington Society Scholarship Fund.
Gone But Not Quite Forgotten: I have a CD review of Bill Clifton in this month’s issue but would like to make some additional comments on this highly talented pianist. He was born in Toronto in 1916 and began his musical training at the Royal Conservatory. He was a real talent and he knew both fame and fortune throughout the 1940s and 50s. He earned the respect of jazz legends including pianists Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson
He eventually moved to the States where he worked with a number of the “name” bands including Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, Woody Herman and Paul Whiteman. Able to play in any key he was active in the studios including CBS where he accompanied all kinds of performers.
After World War II, two new competing recording formats came onto the market and gradually replaced the standard 78 rpm – remember them? They were the 33 1⁄3 rpm (usually referred to as just 33 rpm) and the 45 rpm (sometimes referred to as “singles” or “seven singles” based on the content they could accommodate and the diameter, in inches, of the discs). The 33 1⁄3 rpm LP (for “long play”) format was developed by Columbia Records and marketed in 1948.
I mention this because it so happens that Bill Clifton was among the first musicians ever to make a long-playing record. In 1948 Columbia launched a series of “Piano Moods.” Twenty albums were eventually released. With the advent of the CD, Mosaic Records selected the jazz content from the original LPs and issued a seven-album set, no longer available, although I have seen a brand-new set offered on Amazon for a mere $750!
The artists featured on this box set are Earl Hines, Errol Garner, Ralph Sutton, Jess Stacy, Teddy Wilson, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Heywood, Max Miller – and to all of you fans of British Music Hall, it’s not that Max Miller! – Buddy Weed .. and Bill Clifton.
Clifton was active on the New York club scene into the 60s. But fashions change and maybe with the exception of emerging artists like Dave Brubeck, Bill’s style of melodic, accessible jazz was “square.” So work dried up for Bill and lack of funds forced him to take jobs on cruise ships, a demoralizing, unfulfilling and depressing experience for a musician of his background and ability, playing for passengers who wanted to hear songs like “ If You Knew Susie”and “The Whiffenpoof Song” or who might say, “Play something like Lawrence Welk.”
One night it was all too much. After playing, Bill retired to his cabin, took an overdose of sleeping pills and died, leaving a note asking that he be buried at sea. The ship authorities honoured his request.
Ability and Vulnerability: Bill Clifton’s sad end made me ask myself the question – are there more suicides by gifted people? Are high ability people more vulnerable? One expert source notes, “There seems to be a greatly increased rate of depression, manic-depressive illness, and suicide in eminent creative people, writers and artists especially. The incidence of mental illness among creative artists is higher than in the population at large.”
A 2012 study by Swedish researchers also found that artistic production can be used as therapy in helping individuals to cope with psychological conditions
For several centuries, stories of famous painters, writers and musicians who were depressed and took their lives made people wonder. Only in the last 25 years has scientific evidence demonstrated that creative people are more vulnerable to depression and suicide, regardless of whether or not they become famous.
Some high profile jazz artists who took their own lives include:-
J. J. Johnson. On February 4, 2001, he committed suicide by shooting himself.
Sonny Criss. By 1977, Criss had developed stomach cancer and did not play again. As a consequence of this painful condition, Criss committed suicide (self-inflicted gunshot) in 1977.
Susannah McCorkle. A survivor of breast cancer, McCorkle suffered for many years from depression and committed suicide at age 55 by leaping off the balcony of her 16th-floor apartment on West 86th Street in Manhattan.
Ben Pollack. In later years, Pollack grew despondent and committed suicide by hanging in Palm Springs in 1971
Frank Rosolino. Rosolino committed suicide after shooting his two sons in 1978.
Gallow(ay)’s Humour: So far this has been an atypically serious piece, and I feel I have to lighten things up a bit. So here are a few famous last words:-
Who: Gustav Mahler, according to his wife, Alma.
“Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do!”
Who: Groucho Marx
“Every damn fool thing you do in this life you pay for.”
Who: Edith Piaf
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
Who: George Bernard Shaw, said on his death bed.
And, finally, to round it off, a few epitaphs:
In a Ruidoso, New Mexico, cemetery:
For not rising.
Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.
On a dentist’s grave in Edinburgh, Scotland:
This ground with gravity:
Dentist Brown is filling
His last cavity.
And finally, on the grave of one Jonathan Fiddle, Hartscombe, England:
On the 22nd of June
Went out of tune
I wish you happy listening and try to make some of it live – and don’t go out of tune.
Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at email@example.com.