Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Duke visits Banning Street

On this day, in 1899, Duke Ellington was born in Washington DC. His is one of the biggest names in jazz, and indeed American music as a whole. In June 1946, at the height of his commercial and creative success, Duke Ellington and his band performed at the Winnipeg Auditorium on Vaughan Street. Tickets for that show were $1.65. (Calulated for inflation, that is $20.03 in today's dollars. You can barely see a mediocre Canadian mall-punk bands at the Garrick Theatre for $20 these days, let alone one of the biggest names in popular music at the city's biggest indoor venue. Clearly, today's concert-goers are being robbed at the ticket booths.)

While thousands of Winnipeg jazz fans got to dance to The Duke and his band performing "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Sophisticated Lady" at the Auditorium that Saturday night in '46, one West End kid got an even bigger thrill. As the Tribune reported the following Monday:
"Duke Ellington made a dream come true for a local colored lad Saturday night. Ever since he can remember, Omer Williams, 17-year-old Negro composer-pianist, has wanted to shake the Duke's hand. The Duke heard of this lad and his exceptional musical abilities and asked for Omer to visit his dressing room at the Ampetheatre.
Duke didn't just shake Omer's hand. After his concert and dance he went to Omer's home on Banning st. There he jammed on the home piano with Omer and ate a large meal with the Williams family.
The Duke was interested in young Omer. He smiled broadly when told Omer had written more than 75 numbers of his own. Omer said that he wrote his first at fifteen.
"Why, boy, that's how old I was when I did my first," Duke Ellington said.

Duke Ellington, with Williams

The next weekend, Gene Krupa, the legendary jazz drummer performed two nights at the Auditorium. Tickets were, again, $1.65.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home