Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra – Live At The Blue Note, Chicago – August 6, 1952 – NBC Radio Network – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra to get November rolling. Recorded live at The Blue Note in Chicago by NBC Radio on August 6, 1952.
By 1952 the Big Band era had peaked and was rapidly going out of favor with audiences. Tastes were changing, venues were smaller and audiences had more distractions (i.e. Television) to keep them home than there were during the War. Though some bands did soldier on, with leaders paring down sections or using local musicians during tours, it was not the same mass popularity as it once was. Jazz was heading in a much different direction; opting for smaller groups; trios and quartets – the style was changing – Bop was coming on strong and tuneful melodies were becoming jumping-off places for improvisation and virtuosity.
But there were still holdouts, and in a few cases new bands emerged; Stan Kenton, Sauter-Finegan, Elliot Lawrence and a few others kept the spirit going, but were relegated primarily to gaining popularity by way of recording, not touring. Some of the tried-and-true outfits were still around; Count Basie modified, pared-down and covered several bases – dabbling in Jump-Blues and becoming associated (in a tertiary way) with early Rock n’ Roll (Alan Freed’s short-lived network radio Rock n’ Roll Dance party featured Basie as house band). But Ellington kept it pure and weathered the storm – promoting his Famous Orchestra, while introducing new talent and embracing aspects of Bop in a big-band context. It was financially dodgy at first, with Ellington supporting the band by way of royalties from his enormous back-catalogue of standards going back to the 1930s, as well as continuing to record for a wide range of labels; keeping his fingers in a lot of pies in the process.
This gig, part of a stint Ellington did at The Blue Note in Chicago is par for the course, during this period of Duke Ellington’s career. One of his regular singers was Betty Roché, who established a career in her own right, but whose talent added bop-tinged scat singing into the mix. Jazz was a huge part of America’s Radio diet, and if anything, only increased during the 1950s with the advent of more small clubs all across the country.
To get an idea where Duke Ellington was musically in the early 1950s, here is one of many club dates Ellington did for all the Radio networks in the 1950s – Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra at The Blue Note in Chicago and broadcast over NBC.