Jumping for joy with Duke Ellington
  • Louis Armstrong & black sheet music
  • A treasure trove of African masks
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    Auction Finds

    Here’s your chance to nab a Duke Ellington treasure

    I was on my way out the door of the auction house when I spotted three lots of sheet music on a table. I always stop for sheet music even if I don’t intend to buy any of it.

    One of the boxes contained music for shows pertaining to African Americans or written by black composers during the first half of the 20th century. George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Roland Hayes singing “Water Boy.” Fats Waller’s music on the song “Ain’t Misbehaving.”

    The sheet that caught my eye was for the movie “Cabin in the Sky,” featuring some of the top African American actors and entertainers of the day: Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington and his orchestra.

    Duke Ellington piano

    Duke Ellington’s white baby grand piano on which he composed most of his compositions, with a starting price of $12,000 at the auction.

    Ellington had written a song called “Going Up” that he and his orchestra performed in the 1943 musical.

    Had the “Cabin” sheet been signed by the jazz great (or anyone else famous in the cast), I would have snatched it up. Now, you and I both can get our hands on some of Ellington-owned but unsigned sheet music at an auction of his memorabilia starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

    The auction house Guernsey will be selling 255 personal items from Ellington’s collection, with starting prices as high as $12,000 for the white baby grand piano he used to compose most of his songs down to $25 for four pieces of sheet music owned and written by one of the country’s most talented composers.

    In between are his suave dinner jackets, most of which are said to have his name written on the inside of the jacket pockets; pocket watch; cuff links; autographed photos; paintings he created; blank address book with Ellington’s name inscribed in gold leaf on the cover and personal luggage tags. The auction offers a boat-load of documents: original handwritten compositions, contracts for compositions, sheet music of his compositions, assorted papers pertaining to his compositions, personally designed Christmas cards, handwritten notes and more.

    Duke Ellington father's watch

    A platinum and diamond pocket watch that Duke Ellington gave to his father James in the 1930s after Ellington became famous. He credited his father and mother Daisy with making him into the man he had become.

    The last item in the auction is an oversized Ellington signature on a printing block. The auction house figured that it was used to stamp posters and large photographs. It has a starting price of $200.

    You can bid online now and on the day of the auction at either liveauctioneers.com or invaluable.com.

    I had seen at least one other grouping of Ellington documents to come up for auction. Several years ago, Swann Auction Galleries in New York sold a photo of Ellington and his orchestra along with claim forms from musicians seeking payment for rehearsals for a show that Ellington wrote in 1940 called “Jump for Joy.”

    The musicians were seeking payment from the company that financed the all-black musical, which ran in a Los Angeles theater during the summer of 1941 but never made it to Broadway. Ellington had written the show to negate the stereotypical images of African Americans.

    The lot sold for $1,020.

    Duke Ellington signature

    A printing block showing Duke Ellington’s oversized signature, on sale at the auction.




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