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The Duke – Where and When

Liza and Her Shuffling Sextette
Wilbur C. Sweatman

and their effect on
Duke Ellington

This webpage was created
and is maintained by,
David Palmquist

Last updated

Related webpages:
The Duke, Where and When
Technical details and tips
Biggest Show of 1951
Ivie (Ivy) Anderson
Jimmie Blanton and Junior Raglin
Messin' Around Revue of 1926
Wini Johnson and Wini Brown

In early 1923 Duke Ellington, Sonny Greer and Otto (Toby) Hardwick left Duke's home town of Washington, D.C. to work for clarinetist Wilbur Sweatman in New York and New Jersey. They didn't enjoy the work, and quit when Sweatman wanted to take them to Chicago.

It isn't clear when Duke, Sonny and Toby left Sweatman, but they looked for work in New York for a while before returning to Washington. Back home, they formed a five-piece band led by Elmer Snowden, and played for a time in and around that city. The purpose of this webpage is to try to narrow down these dates a little.

Ellington, as quoted in Jazz as I Have Seen It, recalled:

'After I'd gone back home to Washington and stayed for a while, Fats Waller came through town with a burlesque show. Bushell was with the band too, and Clarence Robinson and Bert Adams were the featured dance team with the show. Sitting in my house, eating chickens by the pair, Fats told us they were all going to quit; that we'd better come on up to New York and get the job.
  Then there was a wire from New York saying that Fats had decided not to leave, so Artie Whetsol [sic], Sonny, Toby, and Snowden went up alone. Then they sent for me; ...The job was set back time and time again, and it got so that it looked very bad. We were living with some nice people and they told us we could stay on until we found some work. We kept right on auditioning, but nothing ever happened. There was no work.
  Barron's [Barron Wilkins' Exclusive Club] was then a very popular spot, and she knew Barron well. She got him to let his band go and hire us instead. We'd scuffled for five weeks, and here at last we were to go to work...'

Tucker suggests the Washingtonians went to New York some time after their June 8, 1923 booking at Wonderland Park, about 40 miles from Washington. In any event, our heroes returned to Washington not later than the end of Waller's gig, June 10, 1923, and their second try in New York was after June 3, when Waller's gig began.

Liza and Her Shuffling Sextette

Thomas A. ("Fats") Waller was the pianist in the Liza and Her Shuffling Sextet revue when it came to Washington in 1923. Clarinetist Garvin Bushell was in the revue and takes credit for screwing up the Washingtonians plan to return to New York to work.

Garvin Bushell:
'Adams and Robinson were a dance team, and their agent talked them into getting a band ... Bert Adams was the piano player and Clarence Robinson was the dancer and singer... Seymour Irick on trumpet, Lew Henry on trombone, Mert Perry on drums and myself... Now, one night some fellow fought Bert Adams in the park and shot him. He got killed. So we had to revise the act and got Fats Waller on piano. We put Katie Crippen into the act as singer. One of the agents downtown thought up a name: Liza and her Shuffling Sextette. On a trip to Washington, D.C., a few of us went to hear a band in a little backstreet place. This group was headed by Elmer Snowden, the banjo player. There was a youngster playing piano named Duke Ellington, Toby Hardwick was on saxophone, Schiefe on trumpet and Sonny Greer on drums. After we heard the band, Clarence and I got into a terrific argument and we decided to split up. So Clarence went to Snowden and said,'I've got a job for you.' I kept the original band with Fats on piano.
  In the meantime, we had six and a half more weeks booked with the act on the Politime. Clarence figured he could take this new band and do the gigs, but I decided to beat him to the punch. Early Monday morning I went into the Palace Theatre office in New York. I said, 'Clarence and I split up, and he's bringing in a strange band. I have the original one. Now, I could get a new dancer, or what you want to do?' They got leery and cancelled the whole six and a half weeks. So when Clarence arrived in New York with Snowden, Duke and that bunch, they didn't have any work – I'd cancelled all their jobs.'

Bushell's tale should be taken with a grain of salt.
  On the other hand, the "Liza and Her Shuffling Sextet" vaudeville act (also variously referred to as 'Liza and Her Shuffling Six,' 'Liza and her six dancing "fools,"' 'Liza and her Jazz Demons, "Shuffling Sextette," "Shuffling Six" and "Shuffling 6", appeared at the Gayety Theatre in Washington from June 3 to 10, 1923. Personnel included dancer Clarence Robinson, singer/dancer Katie Crippen, trombonist Lew Henry, clarinetist Garvin Bushell, trumpeter Seymour Irick, drummer Mert Perry, and pianist Thomas A. (Fats) Waller.
  Liza and the Shuffling Six were billed as a special sensational added feature at the Gayety in Washington beginning Sunday June 3.
  A June 7 announcement said the show was being held until Sunday (June 10) instead of closing Saturday night (June 9). This announcement refers to an added attraction, 'Liza and her six dancing "fools" ' which seems to be described as a girlie show.
  Liza and her Jazz Demons were included in the "today only" advertisement for the Gayety on June 10.

Sweatman advertisements and mentions late 1922 to mid-1923:
djp New

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David Palmquist
Delta, BC, Canada