Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Duke Ellington's Solo Piano at WWDC, 1946

Duke Ellington and Willis Conover

In the wee hours of April 21, 1946, Duke Ellington who was visiting Washington DC for a series of concerts at the Howard Theater, dropped in at WWDC station. 

The Duke's presence in his hometown was an auspicious event for Conover who recorded some shows and interviews with him for his radio station, celebrating Duke's homecoming. That day, at about two in the morning, Duke started tossing down some notes on the keys. Billy Strayhorn, Oscar Pettiford and some other members of his entourage were standing in the background. It was midnight music: heavy, messy, mysterious, rambling. Upon finishing the first piece, Willis Conover informed him that the whole thing was recorded on disc. Ellington sounded surprised but he kept playing while Conover and others chatted in the background. The chat died down, the music continued. When Ellington finished it was 2:35 AM. "Can I have a copy of that?," Ellington asked Conover.

Whether or not Ellington got a copy, we don't know. But we have a copy here to listen to:


  1. Strayhorn joins in for some duets on the second half. That's "Tonk" they launch into at about 01:38, after they sort out raising the seat for Strayhorn.

  2. Sadly, this copy of the recording has been subjected to truly awful noise reduction, to the extent that I find it unlistenable. Hopefully a clean copy exists that a decent mastering engineer can transfer.

    This isn't the first time it's happened to Duke. An even worse mess was made on the transfers of the audio tracks of Anatomy of a Murder for distribution on VHS and Beta, to the extent that everything but dialog disappeared, and even some of the quieter dialog. No music, no sound effects. I haven't listened to newer commercial issues of the film -- hopefully it was corrected in future transfers.
    I'm a retired recording engineer, specializing in live jazz, and consulted to a high quality videotape duplicator in the '80s.

    1. Jim, the DVD edition of Anatomy is quite all right in terms of soundtrack balance and the accuracy of the mix.

    2. Sound quality on consumer videotape formats like Beta and VHS was inevitably awful. Happy to hear that the DVD was properly done.

    3. Hi Jim. I'm hoping to clean the abundant noise from old jazz recordings (strictly for my own use) easily, or better yet automatically. Are there layman-level apps that accomplish this by using appropriate AI/algorithms to recognize and remove noise while leaving music unmolested?

      I'd love an autonomous (and of course free) app with one "CLEAN" button that strips the noise perfectly on its own, producing sweet music to brighten my daily flying-car commutes. If this doesn't exist outside my fevered fantasies, might you have some other tip or word of advice for me? Thanks very much.