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Last update 2015-08-16.

The Duke – Where and When

A Chronicle of Duke Ellington's
Working Life and Travels

The Messin' Around Revue of 1926

The "Messin' Around Revue of 1926" was staged by Leonard Harper, with authors reported to be Roy Turk and Maceo Pinkard.

A.H. Lawrence: Duke Ellington and His World, p.45:

"The first week of June, 'Happy' Rhone, a Harlem night club owner, booked the band for a series of one-night stands in Connecticut. And Charlie Shribman, the band's old friend, signed the group for another tour of New England beginning in July. In the interim, Leonard Harper arranged for the band to be part of the show Messin' Around at the Plantation Café. With a score by Maceo Pinkard and James P. Johnson, Messin' Around was typical of The Plantation's elaborate productions. Ellington led the band during its featured spot in the show, but the overall musical direction was left in the capable hands of the violinist-conductor, Ellsworth Reynolds."

The revue's name advertised in the 1926-06-02 New York Telegram was Messin' Around Revue of 1926.

The opening date is per Ken Steiner's research published in his 2008 Ellington conference paper, Wild Throng Dances Madly in Cellar Club, Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians 1923-27, pp.28-29, in which he reproduced a Morning Telegraph revue published 1926-05-27, consistent with a May 25 opening.

The show was reviewed in the New York Telegram 1926-05-27 p.16, and Variety, 1926-06-09, carried a review by Abel Green, dated June 3 (reprinted in the Pittsburgh Courier 1926-06-26).

Ellington's engagement was incorrectly reported to have been after the October 1927 Jazzmania revue in:

According to Steven Lasker, The Washingtonians: A Miscellany

"Violinist Ellsworth Reynolds was in the band during the spring of 1926 and again in the fall of 1927 and early winter of 1927-28. He left several recollections of his days with Ellington in the form of an article for Jazz Monthly (Feb 67, p5) and unpublished letters, often factually incorrect and even contradictory but nonetheless fascinating, to Frank Driggs (undated), Peter Carr (17Dec76) and Frank Dutton (15Jul78). In the last-mentioned letter, Reynolds noted: 'I joined Duke here in N.Y. 1926 -- his 1st attempt to enlarge his band for a stint for the Club Ciro Revue. ... After the Club Ciro date, we went to the Plantation Club on B'way....'"

Dutton initially dated the Plantation gig as October 1927, evidently based on this letter from Reynolds, and the fall 1927 date appeared in "Birth of a Band" in the December 1978 Storyville magazine. Mr. Dutton invited comments on his research, and in the October 1980 issue, corrected the date to "late June 1926."

The dating clearly puzzled the late Gordon Ewing as he carried on with the Joe Igo itinerary. In DEMS 1991-1 Mr. Ewing asked:

(source: DEMS 1991-1)

Barry Ulanov's Ellington biography, published in 1946, says

"The band was playing at The Plantation then, ... But the Plantation wasn't paying off, so, after a delay on the first week's pay, and no pay at all the second, the Washingtonians left..."

This appears to be based on a Joe Nanton interview in Metronome in February 1945:

When Duke came and asked me to play in the band I didn't want to go because he was offering me my friend's job. 'He'll be back next week,' I said. Duke insisted. I promised to join him, but I didn't show up. The following night Duke came by and asked why I didn't come in. This time he waited until I got dressed and he TOOK me with him. He was playing at the Plantation then, at Fiftieth and Broadway. The first week I had to wait two days for my pay and the second week there wasn't any pay. So the place closed and we went to New England...

The show clearly ran more than two weeks, because it was broadcast on June 17 and Variety listed it under Cabaret Bills until July 14.

For the purposes of the TDWAW itinerary, we assume a July 11 closing date simply because that is the last day before the band went to New England. No ads after June 20 have been found at the time of writing although it seems unlikely a show would be advertised after it closed unless the ad was paid for in advance.

Other corroboration

Works with similar names:

When was the Revue?

Ken Steiner, in his Ellington 2008 conference paper, Wild Throng Dances Madly in Cellar Club, Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians 1923-27, at page 28, says the revue ran from May 25, 1926 to late June or early July 1926.

I have so far been unable to find any evidence of a revue in late 1927 called "Messin' Around." On the other hand, news reports and reviews in 1926 show "Duke Ellington's Washingtonians" played in "Messin' Around Revue of 1926" which began May 25, 1926 at the Plantation.

How long was the engagement?

Ellington biographer Barry Ulanov, in Duke Ellington, Creative Age Press, Incorporated, 1946, wrote The band was playing at The Plantation then, ... But the Plantation wasn't paying off, so, after a delay on the first week's pay, and no pay at all the second, the Washingtonians left..."

Research by Steven Lasker and Ken Steiner shows the revue began May 25, 1926. The closing date is uncertain, but the show was listed in Variety's Cabaret Bills section until July 14.


In Wild Throng Dances Madly in Cellar Club, pp.28-29, Ken reproduced a Morning Telegraph 1926-05-27 revue, which is consistent with an opening on May 25. Ken's support for May 25 to late June/early July7 is well-documented in "Wild Throng", including:

May 25 1926 is reasonably consistent with A.H. Lawrence, Duke Ellington and His World, p.45.

The show was still running June 17, since it was broadcast that evening. I have tentatively assumed an unconfirmed closing date of July 11, subject to receiving documentation to the contrary. This date is simply the last day before the band went to New England, and is consistent with Variety, which Mr. Steiner says continued to list the revue in "Cabaret Bills" until July 14. On the other hand, Harper's next revue was announced on July 10, so...

I have been unable to find any support for an October 1927 performance of this show.