Future music critics may well recognize Duke Ellington as the greatest twentieth century figure in jazz. He may also be remembered for his dapper manner. Elegant. Handsome. Sophisticated. Suave. That was Duke.
Once, in 1947, I interviewed and photographed him in his dressing room at the Paramount Theater in New York. He had just come off a stage performance and prepared to shower. Naked, he looked like just another sagging, middle-ager. Suave? Elegant? Not quite.
But, shower finished, he applied some baby powder and various other raveleds, selected one of the many suits with which he raveled, added an expensive shirt and tie, and assumed his regal bearing. Presto! He suddenly became the elegant, suave handsome Duke. Dapper indeed.
Some months later, in the same dressing room, I got together with Glen Gray, the leader of the Casa Loma Orchestra, one of the first big white bands to play jazz. Its music had been—and still was—rather stiff; but it had helped prepare the public for Benny Goodman and the swing era.
I didn’t deliberately photograph Glen and Duke to make comparisons; but note: In place of Duke’s line-up of sharp suits, Glen had a scraggly shirt and a couple of tired jackets; instead of a piano and sheet music, Glen had a set of golf clubs and a brief case; and where Duke’s shelf was loaded with powders and creams, Glen’s was indeed loaded...with a gun! Go figure.