Dad and Duke (Ellington), Jazz Class and Serendipity – All Jazz Has a Cool Hidden History

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By Deborah Hollis Kaye, March 10, 2018

Why did I look for the Duke composition from 1972?
I decided to change careers from being a Wall Street securities regulatory and new products lawyer for 40 years after a semi-failed spinal fusion to being a volunteer part time arts attorney. Why and how?  Since I had grown up with a family that lived and breathed music all the time, and I was a dance hobbyist for 35 years, I should focus on providing legal services to the types of artists I might know the most about – musicians and dancers.  In fact, my first career (but only 2 years) was as an entertainment lawyer.  Although I loved the intellectual challenge of being on Wall Street being part of changing the regulatory landscape at the world’s largest financial city,- New York City, running 5 divisions and companies at one of the world’s leading financial institutions, I came to a decision that I would most likely not be able to go back to Wall Street because I could not sit without pain due to continuing pain after the spinal fusion.  I just didn’t have the stamina.  But doing nothing was boring.

Once I had left Wall Street, everyone asked what I wanted to do next.  I particularly hated the question “what do you want to do;” all my hobbies had really died during my career as I had no time (Wall Street and law are jealous mistresses, as they say).  Never had an answer.  I started to take some courses at Hunter College in New York City, and found myself drawn to courses in Music History and the School for Visual Arts. I tried some dance courses but they hurt too much.

But after talking with friends, I looked at what I was actually doing, and that I was hanging around the arts and doing my thing with volunteering with charities and nothing else.  I finally had an answer to the question – what do I want to do: what I was doing.  Arts.

I was lucky to meet Professor David Wolfson, a fabulously informed, funny and erudite man who taught both 1000 Years of the History of Music and the History of Jazz to me at Hunter College.  One of the best teachers I have ever had, and I have had many teachers in college and law school, continuing legal education classes.  When we got to Duke Ellington in the Jazz course, I told him the following story about my Dad and The Duke:

In 1972 Duke Ellington was commissioned to pen a symphony for the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (“JSO”) for their Sesquicentennial- the 150th Birthday of the city of Jacksonville Florida.  My father, Dr. Bernard L. Kaye, was a world famous plastic surgeon, with a strong hobby in music.  He played somewhere around 15 instruments, mostly wind – all kinds of saxophones, flutes, clarinets, as well as the bagpipes, piano, guitar, piccolo, and other esoteric oddities (he had a hobby as an expert marksman so whenever they played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture he played the canons with his pistols).

As a teenager, he occasionally played with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.  His Jazz Nickname was “Zeke.”   I think he may have known some Latin guys – he always talked about Tito Puente.

The JSO frequently wanted to showcase our Dad when they wanted extra publicity, for a flute, clarinet or sax solo. When Duke was told they wanted a saxophone solo, Duke insisted that he had to hear our Dad play before he could write a solo (the statement being that many sax men sounded alike, he needed to hear his overall skill level).  My family was told what date and what time Duke would be calling our house from his hotel room in Toronto where he was staying at the time in order to hear our Dad’s “sound.”

He practiced for days and hours to get back his “tone.”  As his daughter, I could never tell the difference; he always sounded perfect. So when the time was drawing near, we were all positioned near the phones – everyone (my mother, my twin brother and my Dad) was positioned near a phone so we could answer the Duke!  I, Deborah, got their FIRST!

The phone rang – as if I didn’t know it would.  He was a few minutes late, which added to the suspense.

“Dr. Kaye’s Residence”, I answered, as I was trained to do for my entire life.

“Hi – its Duke Ellington.  Is Dr. Kaye there?”

“ Yes, I’ll put him on.  Dad, it’s Duke Ellington for you.”  (My heart is in my ears.)

Dad – “Hi Mr. Ellington. Good to hear you.  How can I help you with this piece?”

Duke – “Lemme hear you blow, man.”

Dad – “Certainly.”  He puts the phone up and plays a few bars.

Duke – “I dig it.”  Hangs up.

We got the piece.   Dad solos.  It’s wonderful.

Every year until Duke’s death we got a signed Christmas card from “The Duke.”

Dad unfortunately threw them out.

However, I do believe the Symphony performed the piece at Carnegie Hall later, which Dad was always proud of.

The Coolness of Discovery
Professor Wolfson asked me to tell the story to the class, and bring a recording if I had one.  Darn it, I knew I had a cassette tape, but I couldn’t find it.  I told the story anyway in late February 2018.  I knew my twin brother had a copy of the cassette, but we were estranged.  Like any person in this day and age I went online to see if I could find the recording on YouTube.  No such luck; but I wasn’t surprised.  However, the JSO keeps its archives with the University of North Florida archives, so I emailed them and asked for it.  In a couple of days they emailed me back, and said they were looking for it as well, but they didn’t have it.  All they had was the program. That was surprising.  They didn’t tell me why they were looking for it – so was the JSO – butt it turned out to be very important; unbeknownst to me – in their eyes and the eyes of the JSO, IT WAS MISSING FROM MUSICAL HISTORY – FOR 45 YEARS!!!!   Apparently no one in Jacksonville had it; and probably Ellington’s family didn’t either.  But my family had copies all this time.  No one had asked any of us – neither my Step Mother, me nor my twin.  Of course not, how would they know to ask us?

I decided that it was too important for musical history to not ask my twin for it, so I sucked it up and emailed my estranged twin brother.  As a writer, musician and music journalist, of course he did. After a bit of reconnecting from a 12 year gap in communication, he asked how many copies I needed. Since he records, podcasts and interviews musicians as well as writes, he could easily take the tape from cassette to MP3 or CD.  I asked for 6 copies (one for University of North Florida, JSO, Hunter, my Step Mother, 2 for greedy me, and another Ethnomusicology Professor Barbara Hampton at Hunter).  Good thing, because my twin’s CD burned burnt down after the 6th copy.

In a few days, they arrived.  I sent an email to University of North Florida, and told them I would send it to them – THEY WERE THRILLED.   I asked them who to send it to at the JSO, and whether they could play it.  They gave me a connection and said they didn’t know what the JSO was planning and should talk to the JSO.  I emailed the JSO with the story above.   Apparently, UNF and the JSO had already been searching for it, for a totally different reason, at the same time…..

Missing  Duke Music Found
Tony Nickle, Artist Director of the JSO emailed me back – “This is absolutely fascinating, and I would love to speak about this over the phone.”  On our call he told me that the JSO had submitted a request for a Grant to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (along with a few other symphonies) to play at the Kennedy Center.  They had been debating what to play.  As I alluded to above, for some reason, they didn’t know that this Duke Ellington piece, “Celebration”, even existed, until about the same time that I was trying to find my copy.  Apparently some “older” gentleman in Jacksonville mentioned it existed.  No one knew about it until he told them!   After searching  and searching for it, they found it in between the short time of date I asked for it, and the date I emailed Tony – late February to March 6, 2018.  They had a tape of it and the original hand written score.   They had already submitted the Grant in the beginning of March, but THEY WERE GOING TO AMEND THE GRANT TO INCLUDE THE STORY OF DUKE LISTENING TO DAD.

The World Will Hear The JACKSONVILLE Duke Again – and Dad
I got the CD.  Of course I had to play it.  I did so late at night – New York City being what it is, I was at an Edward Albee play that evening (wonderful; met the Director’s Dad, of course, serendipity being what it is in New York City) so I got home Really Late.  I had to play it over and over the night before the Jazz class, not knowing whether Professor Wolfson would play it in class the next day.  I was up until 4AM listening.  I had emailed Professor Wolfson and told him I thought Dad sounded a tad like Lester Young.   Of course I remembered every note of Dad’s soli – or solo – not sure which it is even after hearing the difference described in Jazz class (apologies Professor Wolfson).   One has to rehearse 1000 times to get one’s “tone.”

Here is what Professor Wolfson said, since he would be the first one in New York City to hear it outside of me:


Thanks so much for this. What a wonderful piece of serendipitous history—plus what a cool piece, and your dad killed it. 😉 (He doesn’t sound like Lester Young to me—he sounds like Johnny Hodges, Duke’s long-time alto player!)

With your permission. I’d love to play a portion of this for the class in a few weeks, probably when we start talking about fusion and the 1970s.

David Wolfson

Dad, you would love it.


Written by Deborah Hollis Kaye, March 10, 2018


Hear Duke Ellington’s Celebration (Written for the City of Jacksonville’s 150th Anniversary) performed live in Jacoby Symphony Hall Friday – Saturday, MAR 20/21 on the SHIFT: Kennedy Center Bound program. Tickets available here.

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