Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barrie Lee Hall, Jr. (1949-2011)

I sent an email to Ellington trumpet virtuoso Barrie Lee Hall, Jr. in early September of last year in the hopes of talking with him about an Ellington related project (details to follow soon). I didn’t hear anything, so I re-sent the email at the beginning of this year. This time I received a reply and we set a time to talk. I was a little nervous about the impending talk since his emails were rather terse. After talking with him, I found I couldn’t have been more wrong; he was a very warm and open person in conversation. (What I took for reluctance was probably just someone who just didn’t like to type!)

Part of our talk was on the Super Bowl IX half-time show in the previous blog entry. I had sent him a link to the video the day before I spoke to him. His simple reply was:
“Man, that made me happy! Thank you!”

If you’re over 40, you remember the days where if you weren’t in front of a TV to watch a televised sports show, it was gone forever. The summer, of course, was for reruns of regular shows, but not of things like ’live’ events. Since Mr. Hall was an active participant in the half-time show, he had never seen it. (He’s the tall trumpet player in the back, second from the left.) He had forgotten that Grambling was there, but he vividly recalled that the Ellington band’s white dinner jackets provided little protection from the cold on the field.

He thought he would be in the LA area in the near future; he’d give me advance notice and we would meet up for dinner or something. That was on Saturday, January 8th. This morning, I was saddened to find out that he passed away at age 61 on Monday, January 24th.

RIP, Barrie Lee Hall and “Thank you!”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jazz at the Super Bowl

It’s a fair bet that there won’t be any jazz during the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl. But once upon a time, they not only used the whole halftime show to pay tribute to recently deceased jazz legend; they didn’t even cut away to commentators or commercials! (Duke Ellington had died a little over seven months prior to this event. The death of Satchmo inspired a similar gesture in 1972.)

Super Bowl IX was supposed to be played indoors at the newly constructed New Orleans Superdome, but it wasn’t completed in time. Instead, the January 12, 1975 game was played outside in Tulane Stadium.

At halftime, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the Minnesota Vikings by the score of 2-0. The temperature on the field was in the mid-40s. Anyone who has played a musical instrument can tell you that it’s hard to stay in tune when the weather is cold. As the Grambling band marches onto the field, you can hear the effect it has on their intonation.

After Grambling’s overture, the Duke Ellington band, under the direction of son Mercer Ellington, takes over. (Dig Mercer’s jacket!) Fortunately, they don’t fall prey to the same intonation problems.

The band is crowded onto a relatively small float. As they play, Ellington themed cupcakes surreally swirl around the field. The last of the old guard, Cootie Williams, gets a significant amount of solo time on Take the “A” Train and “C-Jam Blues.” He’s in fine spirits, even though increasing health problems would make this his last year with the band.

The halftime show is spread between these two video clips. It starts about 3 minutes in on the first one and concludes on the second one.