Jazzed in Cleveland

Part Twenty-Nine
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed September 12, 1997

Duke Ellington, perhaps the most important figure in jazz, performed at least 40 engagements in the Greater Cleveland area.

Click for larger image & band member names

After many weeks of searching through old newspaper articles and advertisements at the Cleveland Public Library and with a great deal of help from Ellington historian Art Pilkington in Toronto, we have been able to compile probably the most comprehensive list of Duke Ellington’s many appearances in the Greater Cleveland area. It includes nine full-week engagements at the Palace Theatre:

1. Week of July 4, 1931 at the Palace Theatre, E. 17th and Euclid. Ellington began his first national tour with a week-long engagement at the theatre which had opened in 1922 as Keith’s Palace. Ellington had just hired singer Ivy Anderson had just recorded "Mood Indigo." Ward Marsh wrote in the 7/5/31 Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Duke Ellington burns ‘em up!"

2. Week of June 11, 1932 at the Palace Theatre.

3. August 4, 1932 at the Crystal Slipper Ballroom at East 97th and Euclid. The Crystal Slipper, opened in 1924, had a dance floor to accommodate 4,000 persons. In 1934, the name was changed to The Trianon Ballroom, after a famous ballroom in Chicago.

4. December 27, 1932 at the Land O’Dance Ballroom in Canton. Land O’Dance was a new ballroom on Market Avenue North Canton that featured many top bands.

5. Week of March 22, 1935 at the Palace Theatre.

6. Week of May 11, 1935 at the Palace Theatre in Youngstown.

7. May 15, 1935 a dance at Public Auditorium, East 6th and Lakeside.

8. Week of July 31, 1936 at the Palace Theatre.

9. Week of August 6, 1937at the Palace Theatre.

10. Week of October 7, 1938 at the Palace Theatre.

11. November 25, 1938 at the Trianon Ballroom at East 97th and Euclid (formerly the Crystal Slipper Ballroom)..

12. Week of August 28, 1942 at the Palace Theatre.

13. February 20, 1943 concert at Public Auditorium. Seventry-two hundred people in the audience heard "Black, Brown and Beige," Ellington’s longest piece, performed for the third and last time. Others performances were in Boston and Carnegie Hall. Clevelanders George Early and Francis Williams were members of the Ellington Orchestra.

14. November 29, 1943 dance at Public Auditorium.

15. Week of November 3, 1944 at the Palace Theatre.

16. November 4, 1946 at the Music Hall, the small theatre in Public Hall at East 6th and St. Clair. Eighteen hundred people attended the concert which marked the American debut of Django Reinhardt. The Cleveland Press headline said "French guitarist steals Duke’s concert." The guitar used in that concert was later given by Django’s son to Cleveland guitarist and Django discographer Fred Sharp.

17. February 11, 1948 dance at the Akron Armory. Singing with the band was Dolores Parker Morgan, who now lives in Fairlawn.

18. Week of February 12, 1948 at the Palace Theatre. Ellington’s last appearance at Cleveland’s Palace Theatre which by 1950 was presenting little more than movies. In June of 1949, Ellington received his first honorary degree from Ohio’s Wilberforce College. He was also made an honorary citizen of the city of Cleveland.

19. October 16, 1951 at the Cleveland Arena at 3717 Euclid Avenue. Ellington performed a concert on a bill that also included Nat "King" Cole and Sarah Vaughn. Promoter Norman Grantz called his touring package "The Big Show of ‘51."

20. October 22, 1954 at the Music Hall. The Ellington Orchestra played a Norman Granz concert with the Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz groups.

21. November 23 to December 2, 1956 at the Cotton Club at East 4th and Huron.

22. November 6, 1960 at the Music Hall. Twenty-five hundred people attended the concert which also featured the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

23. June 28, 1961 at Public Auditorium. A concert with the Cleveland Orchestra. Ellington performed his "Night Creatures."

24. July 22, 1962 at Musicarnival on Warrensville Center Road. Musicarnival was a tent theatre, seating 1,500, which opened in 1954 for summer musicals on the grounds of the Thistledown race track. It remained in operation until 1975.

25. July 14, 1963 at Musicarnival. The Ellington Orchestra played a Sunday "jazz matinee" at the tent theatre where Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was being performed at night.

26. July 15, 1963 at Karamu House, East 89th and Quincy.

27. August 14, 1963 at Musicarnival.

28. December 17, 1963 to January 5, 1964 at the Golden Key Club at 641 Euclid Ave. The Cleveland Press later said, "The Duke Ellington-Golden Key honeymoon came to an abrupt and not entirely amicable ending over money matters."

29. May 30, 1964 at Musicarnival.

30. August 14, 1964 at Musicarnival.

31. March 27, 1965 at the Statler Hilton Hotel at East 12th and Euclid. A private party.

32. July 18, 1965 at Musicarnival.

33. April 15, 1967 at the Music Hall.

34. July 18, 1967 at Woodland Hills Park at East 116th and Kinsman. A summer festival at Cleveland’s largest ourdoor recreation center, the sprawling Woodland Hills Park which was renamed in 1980 "Luke Easter Park" in honor of the former Cleveland Indians baseball player.

35. July 14, 1968 at Woodland Hills Park. A free concert at a summer festival.

36. October 2, 1968 at the Music Hall. A concert just after Ellington’s South American tour, attended by about 1,900.

37. September 28, 1972 at the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel on Public Square. A private party in Cleveland’s largest hotel ballroom.

38. November 10, 1972 at the La Place Shopping Center at Cedar and Richmond Roads in Beachwood. A benefit for Glen Oak School Scholarship Fund in the Mardi Gras Room.

39. May 6, 1973 a dance at the Case Western Reserve University Gymnasium, University Circle.

40. July 10, 1973 at Admiral King High School in Lorain. Ellington’s last appearance in Northeast Ohio.

Ellington was scheduled to perform in Cleveland February 9, 1974 but the concert was cancelled because of Duke’s illness which led to his death May 24, 1974.

On August 12, 1975, Ellington’s son, Mercer, led the Ellington Orchestra in a concert at the Cleveland Palace Theatre -- 44 years after his late father had first played on the same stage.

This compilation is still a project in progress. We would appreciate any addition information about Ellington appearances in Greater Cleveland, with documentation if possible.

CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"

Copyright 1997 Joe Mosbrook

You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).