Murray and Duke
MILT BERNHART speaking at a meeting of the West Surrey Big Band Society
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Perez Prado - Voodoo Suite
Murray and Duke

On May 29, 1996, Milt was the guest of the "West Surrey Big Band Society" (England). Derek Edwards hosted the evening and interviewed Milt.

Derek: Did you play with Murray MacEachern? (This is the only time he spoke.)

Milt: Oh yes, and Murray stands very high, and here's a sideline; Murray was very thick with Duke Ellington, they knew each other quite well, and for a good reason. Murray played saxophone as well as he played trombone, and was one of the few who could approximate to Johnny Hodges. There were a lot of people who tried. But only Johnny Hodges played like Johnny Hodges! But Murray came very close, and Ellington really admired him for this.

I did a call once for Duke Ellington, I'll never forget it. Most of the Ellington band were there but, for whatever reason, his trombones weren't. Murray MacEachen was first call, and then I got a call, and then George Roberts, bass trombone player, and Vern Friley, who was an excellent player. This was for a movie and Duke Ellington wrote a solo for Murray, it was in this movie. It was a picture long forgotten, with Frank Sinatra, and it was a beautiful solo; I'll never forget, just before they turned on the red light and it began, Duke said, and it's important (I can understand why playing with Duke made all the difference) he leaned towards Murray and said "Break their hearts"! And all these things sank in, indeed.

On one other occasion Duke said something to me; he came in one day and passed out eight bars of music to each guy, just eight bars on a scrap of paper, and it was a riff. There was never a rehearsal for Duke Ellington. This band never rehearsed, it's well known. So Duke said to the official there "How much music do we need?" And the guy said "About eight minutes of music, Mr. Ellington". We had eight bars of music, it was going to last about eight seconds! Duke, and only Duke would say a thing like this, I was thrilled to be there - "Let's make it".

So we're all looking at each other, and even Murray and he looks quizzically at me and then at Vern Friley. So just because I had to, and because here was my chance, I walked over to the piano, just before the red light went on, and I looked down at those baggy eyes and said "What are we going to do?" I said it very quietly, and Duke looked up at me. and in words I'll always remember, said "You'll know".

And this was the essence of Duke Ellington -"You'll know". That's why that band was that band. And you know something, it did work. We played the first eight bars and instinctively we realized we had to repeat those eight bars, so we did, and this was the entire band; then Duke played a bridge on piano, an Ellington bridge (I almost stopped playing) and then we went back to the first eight bars, and finished the thirty-two bars. At the end of that one of the guys stood up, as if someone had told him to, and played two choruses of pure jazz, and on the second chorus we made up a background with the trombones, it was just happening.

Then Duke played a few choruses of his own, and Cootie Williams was there and did some wah wah, and then we went back to the first thing we had done and did that. The tempo wasn't too fast and when we had done that it had taken about eight minutes. Duke finished it off with a few passages on the piano, and in the studio were a couple of arrangers, Bill Holman was one of them, Bill was there because it was Duke, and he was rolling around on the floor. But he couldn't believe what he'd heard, nor could anybody. There was no point in doing it again; Duke wouldn't have permitted it anyway, he was out the door.

Murray played a solo on the opening music of the film Three Coins in the Fountain. Maybe this is the solo referred to here. Ron Simmonds