Duke Ellington’s smile


It was spring 1957, and I was a draftee soldier at Fort Eustis, Virginia.  Soon to be released and needing money, I was also a volunteer soldier-waiter at the Officer’s Club.

One Saturday night was Spring Dance at the club, and the featured performer was Duke Ellington at the piano.  I had been aware, naturally, of Ellington as a band leader, but hearing him perform alone was a treat.  Or, it would have been had I not been waitering and cleaning up after tipsy officers and their wives and lovers.  It seemed that no one was paying attention to perhaps the greatest of all jazz greats.

As business slowed, however, I managed to find reasons to linger at attention in my white apron just outside the kitchen swinging door — and next to the small stage.  There I could surreptitiously (I hoped) watch Duke Ellington’s hands.  My knowledge of jazz was deficient, but I was watching those hands, and making eye contact, better than any other person in that club. 

And that is why, I will always choose to believe, at a certain moment Duke Ellington glanced my way, fingers never hesitating, our eyes meeting as he flashed a quick smile, as if to suggest that we two shared a secret that no one else in that hall could fathom.

Bruce Curtis
East Lansing

(Monday marked the 125th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth.)

(Have an interesting experience to share? From your past, or something recent? City Pulse welcomes them. Please send them to letters@lansingcitypulse.com. The limit is 250 words.)


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us