Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Some words remembering Duke Ellington:
The headline from the Sacramento Bee
Announced that Ellington had died. I think
The article may have referred to him as one
Of those things he really was. They got
It right, if I recall: they said he was
"A treasure"--treasure lost to us, to me,
Who'd only just begun to understand
What I'd been blessed to witness when I spent
A few buck on a ticket for a concert in
A cafeteria--a break from writing essays for
My English 1-B class. I got to hear
Duke Ellington--in a junior-college cafeteria.
That night I was as privileged as a prince
Who'd seen and heard Mozart conduct.
Mere Rocklin was my Salzburg, Duke's jazz
Demotic classical. Duke Ellington had passed,
The headline said. I thought of him, spotlit
That night, a black tuxedo, and the hair
Brushed back. That's how he must have looked
As he strolled past Archangel Gabriel.
To Gabe he may have said, "We love you madly--
But try it in a minor key this time."
When I saw him, I was 18 and thought
I knew just what Duke Ellington deserved.
"He's royalty," I thought, "does not deserve
This gig on cold linoleum." Time is
No satin doll who puts her arms
Round you, and now I think I' may have learned
What Mr. Ellington believed that he deserved:
To write, to play, and to conduct, as long
As God would let him, and anywhere the bus
Or train or plane might go. The music does
Not know it's in the cafeteria, or in
A segregated Cotton Club. And Mr. Ellington,
The evidence suggests, could take care of himself.
Ah, heaven's black piano's always tuned.
The A-train glides like silk into the night.
In Davis, California, and in Harlem, you
Can see the sky, and hear "Mood Indigo."
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom