Just loved this recent post by my man Steinski:
Like the pack rat I am, I’ve been carrying around the December 1975 copy of Esquire – the theme of the issue is Great American Things – because it contains a lovely profile of Duke Ellington written by photographer/director/author Gordon Parks, illustrated with his photos. In the mid-1950’s Parks traveled with Ellington and his band (probably for LIFE Magazine), and his reminiscences of that time have charming insights about Duke and the band.
In one particularly great story, Duke (also referred to as Edward and Big Red) is sleeping in the backseat of a car driven by Harry Carney, with Parks as a passenger.
Harry Carney, who had been with Edward longer than anyone else in the band, became his driving companion, or better, his private chauffeur. The three of us were approaching San Francisco early one morning after an overnight drive from Los Angeles. In the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge floated eerily in the dawn mist rising above the bay. Harry called Edward, who was asleep in the back seat. “Hey, Big Red, wake up and look over yonder. Looks like something you might want to write about.” Duke stirred awake, wiped his eyes and looked at the bridge. “Majestic. Majestic. Goddamn those white people are smart,” he mumbled and fell back to sleep.
And Duke wasn’t the only one who was good off the cuff. The story continues:
When we reached our hotel, Paul Gonsalves was stumbling out, stoned out of his mind. Edward sleepily looked him over.
“Where you headed so early, my man?”
“Fishing,” Paul answered without stopping.
“Fishing? You’re not dressed for fishing, man.”
“Shit, Duke, I ain’t trying to impress no fish. I just wanna catch some of the bastards. See you later.”