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My experiences with my old pal Duke Ellington.....
Old 27th August 2006
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
🎧 15 years
My experiences with my old pal Duke Ellington.....

>Duke Ellington<

Edward Kennedy Ellington - A.K.A - “Duke” Ellington...

I recorded the Ellington Band several times during my years at Universal Recording in Chicago. The one group of sessions that stands out in my memory are a few days of work with the Ellington Band starting Thursday, November 29, 1962. As you can see from the following, Duke Ellington made quite an impression on this young 25 year-old Scandinavian kid from Minnesota. I can close my eyes and see him walking into the studio. He had a very regal bearing. I mean, the way he carried himself was like he was a member of royalty. When Duke came into the studio, you instantly felt something important was about to happen. And it usually did.

Duke Ellington's music, of course, had preceeded him when he entered my life in the recording studio. There are six songs that Duke and his collaborators created that stand out in my musical memory as being some of the most important music in my life. They are: "Mood Indigo", "Sophisticated Lady", “Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear From Me”, "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'", "Take The 'A' Train" and "Prelude To A Kiss".

I think you could say that Duke Ellington 'radiated' his being, his personality. He obviously, to me, and everyone else as well, loved his music 'madly'. Music poured from his body and soul. I could tell instantly, the first time that I met Duke Ellington, that he not only loved music, but he 'lived' music! I don't think I have been the same since I met Duke Ellington. Working with him, those few times, made me realize how much music really meant to me.

I have worked with many very talented artists in music, but none can compare with Duke Ellington for genuine love of what we are doing. My personal feeling is that Duke Ellington will go down in history as one of the most important persons in contemporary music. He was both a composer/arranger and a true creator of unique music. In addition to that he was a very warm, generous human being. A couple of times when I was recording the Ellington band, I would invite some of my musician pals to come to sit in on the sessions. They would watch the proceedings with their mouths wide open in wonder.

Studio ‘A’ at Universal Recording in Chicago was a very sizable studio. As I recall the dimensions were close to 75 feet in length by 50 feet in width with a 30 foot ceiling height. The control room was raised to the second story level. To enter the control room you had to go up a flight of stairs. Looking down into the studio from the control room, I remember the “Duke” sitting at the piano during a ‘Take’ with a very thoughtful expression on his face. Then he would scribble a little four-bar ‘riff’ on a scrap of music paper and quietly tippy-toe around the studio during the ‘take’. Of course he did this while we were actually recording. He would show this fragment of music paper to the saxes, the trumpets, then the trombones. At the appropriate musical moment, Duke would stand in the middle of the band, raise his arms and with a great sweeping motion, conduct this little gem, and it would become part of the arrangement. The notes on that little bit of paper would become a part of music history. I always get “goose bumps” when I think about being a part of events such as this.

The “Duke” encouraged me to try out my ideas in the studio. If I wanted to try a different mike technique, a new band set-up, or whatever, I never got anything but support from him.

I watched him closely in the studio. He was perpetually excited about music, he adored his music. When he talked about something new, his eyes lit up and everyone in the room knew that we were on the brink of something fantastic! I wanted to be the same.

All of a sudden, it hit me one day! “It’s OK to love your work!!!” It’s so simple! Later on I found out that in fact, it’s a real blessing to have a life’s calling that really turns you on.
I would like to use lines(As I have indicated below.) from one of Duke Ellington's poems to separate my comments about the “Duke”. The poem is in his book "Music Is My Mistress".

"Music is a beautiful woman in her prime."

My work with music is, of course, confined to the recording studio, but Duke's love of what he created with his instrument, the orchestra, showed me, what being truly dedicated to your craft, or work really means.

"Music is the woman you always wanted to find."

I think I learned a lot about self-confidence from watching Duke Ellington in the studio. I have always been a bit of an individualist, but when I met Duke, the king of innovators, I emerged from those sessions, inspired, and newly re-dedicated to doing everything in my power in making good music stick to tape.

"Music is a gorgeous bitch."

Even the way he dressed indicated to me, when I first met him in Studio 'A', that he wanted his appearance to be an orchestration of his deep, many-faceted character, not merely an expression of himself. He was definitely a style-setter! Duke Ellington's clothes were not just a "lead sheet", the Dukes threads were a whole arrangement!

"Music IS the woman."


I recorded the Ellington band during my years as staff engineer at Universal Recording in Chicago. I think Duke Ellington had been playing ballrooms, clubs and theaters in Chicago since the early 1930's.(Which was before I was born!)


Here are the songs that we recorded on one project at Universal in Chicago, in the sequence we recorded them in during the sessions:

#1-"Christopher Columbus" 3:05

#2-"Let's Get Together" 2:40

#3-"Goodbye" 3:05

#4-"Chant Of The Weed" 3:26

#5-"Volupte"-by: Duke Ellington 2:50

#6-"One O'Clock Jump" 7:21

#7-"No Title" 3:35

#8-"Getting Sentimental Over You" 3:25


I don't know what record label or company these recordings were released on. When I recorded the Ellington Band the sessions were always paid for and owned by Duke and his company. There never was a record label involved, that I recall, in any of the work I did with him.


The band consisted of :

4 Trumpets... Including 'Cat' Anderson

3 Trombones...

5 Saxaphones... Including Johnny Hodges
Paul Gonsalves
Harry Carney

Piano - played by Duke Ellington...
Drums- Sam Woodyard


Duke Ellington changed my life!!! I have not been the same since I worked with him!!!!

Bruce Swedien
Old 27th August 2006
All of a sudden, it hit me one day! “It’s OK to love your work!!!” It’s so simple! Later on I found out that in fact, it’s a real blessing to have a life’s calling that really turns you on.
hope to get to this particular point one day.

thanx again for sharing!
Old 27th August 2006 | Show parent
Lives for gear
superburtm's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Wow thanks for sharing that. Very cool memories to have! Your a lucky manthumbsup
Old 27th August 2006 | Show parent
Lives for gear
Empty Planet's Avatar
🎧 15 years
A lot of great ideas to think about. Thanks very much for collecting your thoughts and experience on this and sharing them.

Looking for these tracks as I write this. heh

Old 27th August 2006
Gear Head
dissolva's Avatar
🎧 15 years
here's the whole piece -


Music is a beautiful woman in her prime,
Music is a scrubwoman, clearing away the dirt and grime,
Music is a girl child
Simple, sweet and beaming,
A thousand years old,
Cold as sleet, and scheming.

Wise and patient,
Unfathomably kind,
Music is the woman you always wanted to find.

As fragile as a flower,
A single petal of a rose,
And what you think you think,
She already knows she knows.

A system of ribbons,
A multiplicity of ramifications,
Sparkling from her brain down through her core,
A million facets of gossamer sensations.

And you could be
A most inadequate bore.

Music is a gorgeous bitch, ...
A volcano of desire
Makes your blood to boil
As you get higher and higher.

Music is like the woman
Who is like mathematics:
Music is a woman who's true.

No matter how well you know her,
There's always more to learn;
An endless adventure, every day she's beand-new.
Music is that women, who
You'll hope will say,
"There's very few who do a new-do like you do."
But, alas, you're the victim of her coup,
'Cause she can always satisfy you.

Music is the woman
You follow day after day;
Music is the woman
Who always has her way.

The topless chick-
You like to see shake it-
No matter how hard you try,
You never quite make it.

When you don't hear her,
You desperately miss her,
And when you embrace her,
You wish you could kiss her.

- Duke Ellington
Old 28th August 2006 | Show parent
Gear Maniac
brad347's Avatar
🎧 10 years
would probably have been aaron bell on bass?

Did you ever meet Billy Strayhorn?
Old 28th August 2006 | Show parent
Lives for gear
Harvey Gerst's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Was that the legendary Wellman Braud on bass? I had the honor of recording him in 1961, when he came out of retirement (in his 70's) to back Barbara Dane. Amazing bass player. I understand that when he left Duke, they had to replace him with two bass players.
Old 2nd September 2006 | Show parent
Lives for gear
Greg Curtis's Avatar
🎧 10 years
Thanks for this amazing thread, and this entire discussion which you are doing for us Bruce!

I love Ellington's music too, more so as a big-band trumpet player, which I've been for most of my life (BA and MA in music performance, from the University of North Texas, pro player in L.A. for the last 6 years). His stuff has so much depth and meaning, and is challenging yet so rewarding to play.

I'd like to know a little bit about your recording technique for brass and wind instruments today. And so, since this is the Ellington thread, how would you mic his band today, if it were possible? What would you change, or would you change anything?



Old 7th September 2006 | Show parent
Gear Nut
🎧 10 years
Thats a great poem.

My Dad is the biggest Duke fan in the world.

He has told me loads of stories about Duke which this thread seems an appropriate place to share a couple....

On the day the president was impeached he found time to phone Duke Ellington to wish him a happy birthday.

Also Duke and his band used to play in an all white club. When Duke asked if his mum could come along one day to see the band the club owner said no. So some 'boss' type people had a word with the owner.....and sure enough Duke's mum came along to see the band. Not only that but from then on it was a mixed race club.

What a guy

Bruce you are one lucky mutha to have met and worked with him!!!!!
Old 9th September 2006 | Show parent
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Originally Posted by brad347 ➡️
would probably have been aaron bell on bass?

Did you ever meet Billy Strayhorn?

Yes, I worked with Billy Strayhorn in 1960 with Duke Ellington in Chicago... I think it was in 1960 at Universal....

Fantastic experience!!!

Billy 'Sweet Pea" Strayhorn lived a tremendously productive life. He influenced many people that he met, and yet remained very modest and unassuming all the while. For a time he coached Lena Horne in classical music to broaden her knowledge and improve her style of singing. He toured the world with Ellington's band and for a brief time lived in Paris. Strayhorn's own music is internationally known and honored. It has been translated in French and Swedish.

Great guy!!!

Bruce Swedien

Old 11th September 2006 | Show parent
Gear Maniac
frixion's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Wow Bruce! A big thanks for these stories, as I'm a huge fan of the Duke and enjoy hearing of people that worked with him.

I don't wanna destroy this magical musical aura but can you give me a hint how the whole orchestra was miced back then.
I tried to research late 50's and 60's Jazz recording techniques but didn't find much so far...

Cheers from a sunny Vienna,

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