My First Backstage, Green Room Trip

In 1959 I went off to an all male boarding school, Moses Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, to start my last three years of high school. At that time and given where my folks lived, the seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, this was totally normal, especially for boys on a liberal arts college track. These days we tend to think of boarding schools as a way to straighten out kids on a path to destruction or as a way for the parents to get rid of the kids, but in New England in the 1950s, it was very common. My dad had gone to Exeter, and so I was quite happy to go to Moses Brown, and in fact, it was quite wonderful.
At that time, about 1/3 of the junior and senior high school students were boarders with the rest being day students, and to help make the life-styles of us boarders not too different from the rest of the boys, the policies regarding getting out at night on Fridays and Saturdays were reasonably liberal. We’d have to sign out and back in, and there was a curfue, but it was pretty easy to deal with.
Late one afternoon before it was time to go to the dining hall, I was hanging out in a fellow student’s room chatting, and a junior classman, I think a freshman (a year behind me) came in and said, “Hey, my grandfather is playing a show at RISD down the street this weekend. Anyone want to go?” I looked at him and replied, “Your name is Edward Ellington, III, right? You’re damned right I want to go!”
And go I did with a couple of the other guys to see Duke Ellington at one of the several peaks of his career. He was about three years past his triumphant 1956 gig at the Newport Jazz Festival with the hit live album from that performance. I had that album, Ellington Live at Newport, now considered one of his best and one of the most exciting live albums of all time in any genre. I’d grown up listening to my parents’ collection of swing and jazz 78s. I was into it.
The Ellington band at RISD was just great. Tight, swinging, Duke’s incredible leadership, his and Billy Strayhorn’s wonderful arrangements, and the spotlighted soloists taking the roof off the place.
After the show we all went back to the green room to express our appreciation of Ellington, the band, and the performance. Duke was elegant and gracious. And I was hooked on live music.

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