07/22/2022 rahelzeier

Duke Ellington’s hospitality

Here is a little story written by my old Pavlov’s Dogs bandmate, Lee Cronbach.  It’s from my early years in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music.

Duke Ellington’s hospitality to a poor white country rock band

…showing what a warm giving person he could be.

Back in 1971 I was in Frosty Furman and Brent Moyer’s country-rock band, Pavlov’s Dogs, in Boston. We were all Berklee jazz students, all broke, living off brown rice and Hamburger Helper. We were playing biker bars, gay bars, and street people bars. I was gay and white and while at Berklee I met a former Duke roadie who was gay. He got us the gay gigs. One night we were playing at our best – we had practiced hard all week and the audience was very receptive – and rIght at midnight while we were doing a 20 minute version of Gloria, with each soloist outshining the previous one, Brent Moyer plays the best solo of the night (Brent is still gigging as ‚The Global Cowboy’), and in walked my friend with a friend of his who was – a Duke band member!

So after the gig he invited us all to be Duke’s guests at Paul’s Mall, where Duke was playing that week. Now you probably know Duke despised rock and disliked country music (he never covered a Hank Williams song in his life, I believe). And we were young, unknown, white, and broke – having nothing to offer the aging Duke (he died two or three years later).  Nonetheless, Duke greeted each of us with a warm double hand-shake, and said, “Tonight you are our guests, you sit at the band table”.  We were all Duke fans, none more than me, and were thrilled to get this close-up view…and our taste-buds were thrilled when a group of high-society Boston ladies walked in carrying silver platters all filled with elegant cuisine – asparagus hollandaise, filet mignon, brie and other cheeses, etc.  The trays were all passed down the band table and us hungry rockers got to take our stomachs to heaven!  To top it off, Duke allowed me to sit right next to Wild Bill Davis so I could watch how he was playing (I am a keyboardist).  This was the New Orleans Suite Band minus the departed Johnny Hodges. Then in the middle of the set Duke said, „I will now play a solo number dedicated to my fathers, who were all much greater men than me”, and he proceeded to play a solo more intricate and deeper than any solo I have ever heard of his on any record – for five minutes!

Later I read his autobiography and discovered his disdain for ‚rock and roll musicians’. So why was he so nice to us? We didn’t play a style he approved, we were broke and unknown, no connections, nothing to offer him …. and he treated us as if we were Count Basie’s grandchildren!  None of us have ever forgotten the night we were Duke Ellingtons guests. It certainly inspired us to practice harder!

Lee Cronbach; retired rock, cabaret, Mexican salsa, and gospel keyboardist now living in the Philippines.