This webpage is largely derived from Steven Lasker's The Washingtonians: A Miscellany. The complete texts of the quoted passages are reproduced to the right.
The 1972 Harrison Smith interview
Harrison Smith talks to Derrick Steward-Baxter can be read at Storyville magazine #47, June-July 1973
Impresario / songwriter / song publisher Harrison Godwin Smith claimed to have managed or been the personal representative of Ellington and his orchestra in 1926.
Smith is not mentioned in most Ellington biographies. If he did manage Ellington, the nature, duration and extent of his work with the band is unclear, and since Ellington seems to have taken on jobs without Smith's participation, it isn't clear Duke agreed Harrison was the band's manager. Smith seems to have booked Ellington's Gennett recording session, arranged a booking in Washington D.C. that fell through and arranged a tour that ended prematurely; beyond that is anyone's guess. He seems to have had irons in many fires, songwriting, song publishing, managing an actor, so he probably did not devote his time to Ellington.
Assuming Smith did manage Duke Ellington and The Washingtonans in some manner:
To sum up, it seems Harrison G. Smith did manage Ellington and his musicians in 1926. If he did continue after Irving Mills came along in late 1926, this may not have been his main preoccupation, particulary once he began working with Jelly Roll Morton.
- At some time in 1926, Smith became Eastern Region Manager for Gennett Records. This may have been before Ellington's March 30 Gennett session, although Smith seems to indicate it was after Ellington's June 21 session when Li'l Farina and (I'm Just Wild About) Animal Crackers were recorded.
- The cover of the sheet music for "Lil' [sic] Farina," published in 1925, credits Smith with its lyrics. (Li'l Farina was the name of one of the children in the Our Gang film series and Smith represented the child who played that role.)
'...OKeh put the record out. Then Gennett says to me, "Hey, we'd like to get in on this!" So Gennett made a record, and they released it on five different labels...So they say "How about Duke Ellington making it?" So I say, "OK, it's OK with me." That week I see Duke Ellington at the Lafayette Theater for the first time. So Duke recorded it... Well, anyhow, they asked me to join the family, you see, which I did as Eastern Regional Manager.'
- It isn't certain Ellington's band played the Lafayette that spring. It seems more likely they played Ciro's Club while its house band led by LeRoy Smith which had a conflicting engagement at the Lafayette. Violinist Ellsworth Reynolds said the band played the Ciro Club for three weeks before going to the Plantation to play the Messin' Around Revue of 1926. The Ciro work would have started in mid-April.
- Smith was involved in some way with the March 30 Gennett session:
'And I paid Duke the princely sum of 19 dollars for If You Can't Hold The Man You Love, Cry When He’s Gone. That was his first Gennett and the boys had to split the 19 dollars nine different ways, you know - or six different ways, at least. So in appreciation I took over Duke’s band'Samuel B. Charters and Leonard Kunstadt, "Jazz: A History of the New York Scene," 1962, p.215:
'Harrison Smith got together a 13-piece orchestra for the first session, but after the company heard what the band sounded like they protested at paying the price again.'
- The Lafayette engagement is not documented but is thought to have been in mid-April.
- If Smith was involved in the March 30 session, the Lafayette would not have been the first time he met Duke.
- Authorities differ on the number of men in the session - see TDWAW at 1926 03 30
- On June 21, 1926, Duke Ellington & His Washingtonians ("Memphis Bell Hops" on the Challenge label) recorded
(I'm Just Wild About) Animal Crackers and Li'l Farina for Gennett. Charters and Kunstadt, ibid.:
'...For the second session they were to give Harrison $125 to pay for the musicians, his own fee, and incidental expenses. Even at that low price Ellington was willing to record and he used most of his own orchestra...'
- Tucker, ibid., p.192:
'In June 1926 Ellington and his band were in danger of drifting around New York ... but in July and August Shribman's circuit gave them structure and a stable financial base. ...
- Tucker, ibid., p.192:
'On August 13, 1926, the Washingtonians gave their "farewell" New England performance...perhaps stopping to play at Orchard Beach. At this point song publisher Harrison Smith ... stepped in with an offer of more touring. Smith belonged to the Arthur Spizzi Syndicate, a booking organization ... Smith later claimed that, because of the Washingtonian's June appearance at the Plantation Café and the sales of their Gennett disc with "Animal Crackers" and "Li'l Farina," he was able to arrange a Stanley Circuit presentation tour for the band in Pennsylvania.
- Tucker, ibid., p.163:
'"Li'l Farina" (copyright August 3, 1925...) Smith claimed authorship of the tune ... his publishing office was reported as "cleaning up" with copies of the song in November 1926 ...The connection with Li'l Farina had an additional benefit for Ellington, as Smith...remembered:
'Thru co-operation of Pathé Pictures Exploitation Department and 10,000 Gennett dealers – Duke's name became a household one and thru the recording I became Personal Representative of the Band and booked it in leading theatres.'
- The last known New England date on this tour was August 15.
- Activities over the next two weeks are not documented.
- Smith, Storyville 47:
'A friend of mine built a beautiful theater in Washington... He shook hands with me ....four weeks, one thousand dollars a week. So to get the band ready for Washington, I booked them into the Liberty Theater down in Pittsburgh ...Ten minutes after I signed the contract, I'm walking up to Broadway, and I pass a dime dancery ... what they call a taxi joint...."The Duke Ellington Band opening on Labor Day"... which meant the same day as he was opening in Washington!...'
- This would seem to indicate Smith's management of the band was not the same as Duke envisaged it.
- The Washington job was supposed to be four weeks starting Labour Day but was cancelled as described below.
- Smith, 1944 article:
'Back in 1926, Harry Crandall ...founded his Lincoln Theatre, just built for the city's colored populace ...The season was to open labor day '26 and in view of The Paul Ash
Presentation policy being the vogue those days, I suggested to Guy Wonders, Crandall's general manager, the idea of planting Duke & His Washingtonians in 'the Ash manner.' My idea was okay'd and to get set for Washington, we set a four-week tour. The first two weeks found the ork. playing for Harry Davis ... After the orchestra's first show on Monday, Davis ... wired us back to NYC: "Duke's is the lousiest band that I ever heard." The report spread like "wildfire" thru booking offices and reached Wonders, resulting in the cancellation of the Washington date...
Later in the week Davis ...apologized for sending the wire but it was too late, the harm had been done and another orchestra substituted...'
- Tucker, ibid., p.192:
'The tour began in Pittsburgh (the first week at the Liberty [sic], second at the Schenley Theater,) then moved on to North Kensington and Homestead, Pennsylvania, and the fourth week to Grafton and Wheeling, West Virginia. During the fourth week, however,... '
- Smith, letter to Marshall Stearns:
... On the strength of the record and without the usual audition, I arranged a Stanley Circuit Presentation tour for the band. ... In 1926, ... the unit of eight pieces played at 'The Plantation,' ...closing there, played NE dance tour for Chas. Shribman, NE vaudeville dates for Harry Pearl and Presentation Theatre dates under this writer's management ... The Stanley tour opened at his theatres at 'Liberty,'[sic] Pittsburgh, 2nd week 'Scenley' [sic], Pittsburgh, 3rd week N. Kensington & Homestead, 4th week Grafton & Wheeling, W. Va., all 'play or pay dates,'
- Presentation style attractions were band entertainments.
- There were two Liberty theatres in/near Pittsburgh, but this Stanley tour began August 30 with a week at the Olympic there, followed by a week at the Schenley beginning Labour Day.
- The Olympic and Schenley theatres were both managed by Harry Davis.
- Grafton W.Va is about 100 miles south of Pittsburgh. Wheeling is about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburth and about 90 miles north-northwest of Grafton.
- The intended presentation tour appears to have included the Olympic and the Schenley in Pittsburgh, 3 days at Stahl's Million Dollar Theatre across the river in Homestead, and and 3 days beginning September 20 at the Ceramic Theater in nearby East Liverpool, Ohio. The tour ended prematurely. It isn't clear if the band played Stahl's. It was advertised and announced in the September 12 Pittsburgh Press but subsequent editions did not carry advertisements for Stahl's. It did not play the Ceramic, whose September 20 and 21 advertisements said:
'Because of the sudden illness of Duke Ellington, he, and his famous colored orchestra will be unable to appear here this week. '
- The Washington job was cancelled, not because Bubber left the the band or the band didn't want to tour the South, but because the theatre owner in Washington believed the first wire from the theatre manager in Pittsburgh. Smith, in Storyville 47:
'So, to get the band ready for Washington. I book them in the Liberty ... in Pittsburgh ... run by Harry Davis... After the first show, a Monday matinee, he sent me a wire. "This is the lousiest band I've ever heard..." And the guy in Washington ... heard about the report...Then after the first show, the guy sends me another wire ... "Duke Ellington is the greatest band I've ever heard in my life!” But the harm was done! ... the next spot was the same man's theater... up town. So they went over there, and went over all right, and there were several other stands down through Pennsylvania...'
- Smith letter to Stearns:
'...Miley got 'lonesome for Harlem' and quit 'cold,' the band got panicky and Duke said 'no dice' and the boys headed for NYC ... While 'trying' to replace Miley the band opened in the later part of '26 at '7-11 Club' Broadway & 47th, and later went over to 'Kentucky Club,' Broadway & 49th,...'
- The band's activities from September 20 to 24 are not documented.
- The band opened at the Kentucky Club September 25. Nothing has been found to show it played at "Honeymoon Lane" or "7-11 Club."
'As for the "dime dancery" Harrison Smith recalled as "Honeymoon Lane," note that 353 performances of a musical called "Honeymoon Lane" were staged at the Knickerbocker Theater, 1396 Broadway, between 1926-09-20 and 1927-07-23. It follows that Smith's memory may have been amiss on this point.'
'Between sometime in the 1930s and 1964, there was an establishment at 711 7th Avenue (between 47th & 48th Streets) known as "Honeymoon Lane."'
- The Lincoln Theatre engagement Smith mentions began Jan. 24, 1927.
- Andy Preer died in 1927 (his burial was reported in The New York Age 1927-06-04) and Ellington's band didn't begin its Cotton Club residency until December that year.
- Smith in Storyville 47:
'There were several other stands down through Pennsylvania. We were to about to go into Grafton and Wheeling, West Virginia...Bubber Miley cut out! Bubber Miley was a prima donna....he didn't like going on the road, you see. So we had no cornet, or trumpet, whichever it was he played...' '
- Joe Nanton, in an interview with Inez Cavenaugh:
'Somehow the band was booked for Huntington, West Virginia, and that sounded like the South...so we said 'Nay! Nay' and came back to the Kentucky Club.'
- Smith may not have known the band was uncomfortable with touring the South.
- Huntington is about 260 road miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
- Smith in Storyville 47:
'Then he moved over to the Club Kentucky and stayed there a couple of weeks. From there he went to the Lincoln Theater in Harlem. About that time Andy Preer, who had the original Cotton Club Orchestra, he died. So they were scrambling around for a band, and they got Duke. That's how he got into the Cotton Club...'
- The Lincoln Theatre date in Harlem began Jan. 24, 1927.
- Andy Preer died in 1927.
- The earliest documented involvement of Irving Mills with Duke is the November 29 Vocalion session. Smith may have continued working with Ellington after Mills came on the scene – Floyd G. Snelson, Jr., The Pittsburgh Courier 1931-01-10 s.2 p.8:
'Smith recently sold his contract covering the exclusive services of Ellington and his band, to Irving Mills and Duke Ellington, Inc. so Ellington could appear in Amos 'n' Andy's "Check and Double Check."
- Duke Ellington, Inc. was formed 1929 12 23 and the Check and Double Check film contract was executed 1930 06 24.
- By 1930, he was working with Jelly Roll Morton.
The Washingtonians: A Miscellany,
privately published, 2006:
Samuel B. Charters and Leonard Kunstadt
"Jazz: A History of the New York Scene," 1962, p.215:
'Harrison Smith got together a 13-piece [actually, only a 10-piece] orchestra for the first [Gennett] session [on 30Mar26], but after the company heard what the band sounded like they protested at paying the price again. For the second session [on 21Jun26] they were to give Harrison $125 to pay for the musicians, his own fee,
and incidental expenses. Even at that low price Ellington was willing to record and he used most of his own orchestra, including Bub Miley, with Charlie Johnson added on second trumpet. The popular song Animal Crackers and Harrison Smith's Li'1 Farina were released on Gennett 3342.'
In an undated letter to Marshall Stearns held in the vertical files of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Smith wrote:
' Gennett Record people contended that Miley's 'wah-wah stuff' on their Ellington band record of my tune Li'1 Farina was tops of all time till then 1926. They said they could not understand why Miley's work did not make him break a blood vessel. On the reverse side of the record was (I'm Just Wild about) Animal Crackers. Miley was a likeable guy but like most real artists he was 'as nutty as a fruit cake.' On the strength of the record and without the usual audition, I arranged a Stanley Circuit Presentation tour for the band. The key house of the circuit, since absorbed by Warner Bros. was The Strand, NYC. The circuit stretched from Brooklyn, N.Y. to KC. In 1926, contrary to Mills' press release in current issue of Downbeat re: The 10th Anniversary History of Duke's band, the unit of eight pieces played at 'The Plantation,' Winter Garden Theatre Bldg, NYC with Ethel Waters, closing there, played NE dance tour for Chas. Shribman, NE vaudeville dates for Harry Pearl and Presentation Theatre dates under this writer's management. [...] The Stanley tour opened at his theatres at 'Liberty,' Pittsburgh, 2nd week 'Scenley' [sic], Pittsburgh, 3rd week N. Kensington & Homestead, 4th week Grafton & Wheeling, W. Va., all 'play or pay dates,' with billing up for the 4th week, Miley got 'lonesome for Harlem' and quit 'cold,' the band got panicky and Duke said 'no dice' and the boys headed for NYC leaving yours truly to wiggle out of said 'play or pay contract' plus loss of commission on 20 weeks. While 'trying' to replace Miley the band opened in the later part of '26 at '7-11 Club' Broadway & 47th, and later went over to 'Kentucky Club,' Broadway & 49th, located in a sub-celler, where the bandstand was against the corner sewer. Sonny Greer had to drown the noise and squeals made by sewer rats. I shall never forget the nite I was their guest on that bandstand. Tom Mix had the courage to try to carve Sonny.'
Also found in the vertical files at the Institute of Jazz Studies is a typescript of an unpublished article Harrison Smith wrote in 1944 and in which he recalled:
'Back in 1926, Harry Crandall, who controlled most of the theatres in Washington, D.C., founded his Lincoln Theatre, just built for the city's colored populace, a "white elephant" although it was the last word in splendor. The season was to open labor day '26 and in view of The Paul Ash Presentation policy being the vogue those days, I suggested to Guy Wonders, Crandall's general manager, the idea of planting Duke & His Washingtonians in 'the Ash manner.' My idea was okay'd and to get set for Washington, we set a four-week tour. The first two weeks found the ork. playing for Harry Davis, famous Pittsburgh theatrical magnate, who controlled most of the theatres: Davis, Schenley & Olympic being the leaders. The Olympic first, and Schenley, second, both full week stands, contracted together. After the orchestra's first show on Monday, Davis, who had bought all the nation's top orchestras but who never heard an orchestra play in 'gut-bucket style,' wired us back to NYC: "Duke's is the lousiest band that I ever heard." The report spread like "wildfire" thru booking offices and reached Wonders, resulting in the cancellation of the Washington date for four weeks or more. Later in the week Davis thru reaction of the audiences who like[d] the orchestra's stuff apologized for sending the wire but it was too late, the harm had been done and another orchestra substituted. The substitute orchestra was hired for four weeks, cancelled and paid at the end of two weeks, because it could not "draw flies."'
Harrison Smith recalled (Storyville 47 (Jun-Jul73, pl66) that after leaving Pittsburgh's Schenley Theatre, Ellington's band headed south (ellipses are in the original text):
'There were several other stands down through Pennsylvania. We were to about to go into Grafton and Wheeling, West Virginia. I signed a pay contract, which meant that if the band didn't show up at the theatre, I personally had to be responsible for the amount of money the man would have to pay for the band or the attraction. Bubber Miley cut out! Bubber Miley was a prima donna....he didn't like going on the road, you see. So we had no cornet, or trumpet, whichever it was he played....1 don't know...'
Joe Nanton (interviewed by Inez Cavanaugh, Metronome, Feb45, p.l7) offered a very different take:
'Somehow the band was booked for Huntington, West Virginia, and that sounded like the South...so we said 'Nay! Nay' and came back to the Kentucky Club. '
Returning to the account Harrison Smith gave in Storyville, he recalled that just before Ellington left New York for Pittsburgh, he [Smith] entered into a contract obliging Ellington to begin an engagement at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C. on Labor Day. Ten minutes after signing the contract, he was "walking up to Broadway, and I pass a dime dancery....what they call a taxi joint... 'The Duke Ellington Band opening on Labor Day'....which meant the same day as he was opening in Washington! So [after the Lincoln Theatre engagement in Washington was cancelled] he [Ellington] opened in this 'Honeymoon Lane,' I think the name was, and stayed there a couple of weeks. Then he moved over to the Club Kentucky ..."