Another Duke Ellington Story By KYS

Another Duke Ellington Story By KYS


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



Ellington’s handshake was so smooth, so warm, so tender

as he courteously held Rosemary’s farm-roughened palm.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Another Duke Ellington Story

By Kalamu Ya Salaam


The dance had ended forty-some minutes ago but no one seemed to be in any rush to go anywhere. Though they usually clamored to be on the road, quickly gone from these hick towns after they played, tonight the musicians were casually strewn backstage; some even cradled their still warm horns, occasionally sounding a very soft note or two. Duke grinned inwardly. Collectively, these men were his instrument and it made Ellington feel good when they felt good.

As always there was a coterie of jazz aficionados, aspirant entertainers, and non-music-related hopefuls who lingered in the hallway that led to the rear parking lot in which a bus waited to take the band back to the train depot where Duke’s private pullman car was parked, well-stocked with appropriate food and other road comforts almost unknown to most musicians who crisscrossed America.

One gentleman stood at the end of the slow moving queue crawling along the wall outside Duke’s dressing room. This small farmer recently turned salesman patiently awaited his turn to thrust the evening’s printed program into Duke’s hands so that Mr. Ellington might grace him with the gift of an autograph and, hopefully, also a flash of that fabulous love-you-madly signature smile. A stone-faced woman stood stiffly at his side. She had had a long day, was tired, and was the only audience member not displaying a beatific expression.

Unfurling the seduction of his whiskey-tinged baritone, Duke graciously received this last couple. “I am Duke Ellington. With whom do I have the pleasure of making an acquaintance?”

“Ah, Squire, Joe Squire. You can just put: To Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Squire. Please, I mean if you don’t mine.”

“Mister. And madam. Joseph. Squire. Thank you so very much for gracing us with your appearance tonight. You, your lovely wife, and all the other audience members made each of us feel at home.” Duke shook hands cordially and paused to sign the program that Joseph Squire had tentatively proffered. As Duke finished his inscription with a flourish, he turned to the woman who remained starkly still looking as though it would have pained her to move. “Mrs. Squire, I’m sure you have a lovely first name. Might I inquire what it is?” Duke held his gracefully manicured right hand waist high in front of Mrs. Squire.

Mrs. Squire was slightly taken aback by the man’s forwardness. She had not touched many negroes before and though she appreciated his musicianship she was not interested in any personal contact with this mister Duke Ellington. But he spoke with such manners and deference in his tone, and he bent at the waist slightly in sort of a half bow, and his smile seemed so sincere; her hand floated forward more drawn by Duke’s personal magnetism than guided by her own will.

“Her, her name is Rosemary,” Joseph Squire spoke up on behalf of his silent wife. Joe knew that Rose was past ready to go home and she had begrudgedly accompanied him backstage in his quest for Ellington’s autograph. Now that Joseph’s search had been successful, they should go.

But, she hesitated: Ellington’s handshake was so smooth, so warm, so tender as he courteously held Rosemary’s farm-roughened palm. “Mrs. Rosemary Squire would you please allow me to show you something stunningly beautiful which I have just recently discovered? Please indulge me. It won’t take but a small moment of your time.”

Duke gently released Rosemary’s hand after slowly guiding it back down to her side. He turned to the small group of people surrounding him. “Excuse us one moment please.” Without hesitation Duke cleared a path with a regal sweep of his left arm. He touched no one, instead everyone instinctively melted back like butter retreating from the radiance of a heated knife. With his right forearm Duke smoothly pushed open the dressing room door.

The first object Rosemary admiringly focused on was Duke’s stage shoes: a pair of gleaming patent leather pumps which sat languidly atop the dresser table next to a half drunk demitasse of tea–between two slivers of lemon a chamomile tea bag lay beside the china. Had Rosemary glanced at Duke’s feet she would have spied black lambskin loafers, but at that moment Rosemary’s nostrils flared as she inhaled the fragrance emanating from a spray of cut flowers which freshened the atmosphere as the bouquet lay beneath the over-sized dressing room mirror.

Duke sensibly had left the door wide open. At a discreet distance Joseph Squire and a few other people peeped into the room hoping to also see whatever was the beautiful something Ellington had promised to show the tight lipped woman.

“Rosemary Squire,” Duke guided her forward with the faintest touch to her waist, “regard. Behold something beautiful.” She turned to look at Duke. What was he saying? Duke nodded toward the mirror. She turned again. Duke stepped sideways so that he was out of the reflected line of sight. “Notice the elegance of the eyes. The determined jaw line which undoubtedly reflects a willful and passionate personality. But above all, the clean symmetry of the facial plane and the…aghhhhh,” Duke intoned wordlessly, “but oh, you can see as well as I.” Then Ellington stopped speaking.

Someone nearby gasped almost inaudibly. Rosemary virtually transformed before their sight. What had once been a cold mask of tolerance warmed into a tender visage of contentment. And as she started a smile, Duke picked up his pair of shoes from the dresser and backed out of the room. In the hallway Duke paused and touched Joseph lightly on the shoulder, ” Never forget , your wife is beautiful. Though youth may leave us, beauty can always find a home within. Sometimes beauty slumbers but even then requires merely an appropriately gentle nudge to reawaken.”

Then, on padded feet, Duke glided noiselessly down the carpeted corridor just behind Johnny Hodges who was already blasèly ambling toward the back exit. Clark Terry had been patiently leaning against the wall opposite Duke’s door; he grinned as he too shoved off to take his leave. Terry had seen the master do this many, many times before. Duke was casually adept at reading people and adroitly drawing out their best qualities regardless of how they felt at any given moment.

Exhibiting a rainbow of diverse complexions, a small knot of people stood outside the auditorium’s rear egress. Sporting their best coats and warmest hats, the locals huddled in the chilly Indian summer night exchanging murmured conversations with Ellington’s worldly array of well traveled musicians.

“Excuse me, the time of our departure draws neigh and I’m afraid we must bid you good night.” Disappointed but understanding sighs drifted through the frosty air as Duke strove to extricate himself from the thinning throng. A lady who would not be denied sought Ellington’s attention, an attractively tall woman, slightly darker than cinnamon. Duke signed her program “love you madly” and then climbed into the vehicle, the beginnings of a melody capering in and out of his consciousness.

Suddenly realizing where she was, Rosemary Squire pirouetted in slow motion searching the dressing room for Ellington. Ellington however, by then, was reclining aboard the bus. Rosemary’s gaze fell directly onto her husband. Joe was a bit blurry as Rose squinted at him through partially damp but very happy eyes. He smiled at her. She beamed back. And they walked off hand in hand.

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“Another Duke Ellington Story” (published in Italy; journal?; date?) — “it’s been published in italy. i don’t even know the name of the journal, but i can find out and get the publication date. the story is about duke ellington, but the focus is on a female audience member” (Kalamu ya Salaam)..

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Guarding the Flame of Life

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran ‘Julio’ Green

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update 31 July 2012




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