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Neighbors: More on Duke Ellington Band's 1940 performance in Fargo

Bob Lind

One day earlier this year, Danielle Erdmann, in Boston, got a call from her father, Tom Erdmann, in Fargo, telling her to be sure to read the Neighbors column online.

That column concerned the appearance of the Duke Ellington Band at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo Nov. 7, 1940, and of the prize-winning recording made of that performance.

Danielle, you see, has that recording, thanks to a friend who gave it to her as a birthday gift.

The downside of this is that Danielle hasn’t been able to hear it yet, since she doesn’t have a record player. “So I am using it as more of an art piece of decoration in my home,” she says, “but I look forward to the day when I can hear it.”

Danielle, by the way, graduated from Fargo North High School in 1999. Her dad was a well-known basketball player from Minot (N.D.) Ryan High School in the 1960s.

Steve Tschida is more fortunate than Danielle, in that he’s heard the Ellington recording.

Steve, production manager for WDAY-AM, Fargo., writes that he is a “big fan” of Ellington’s music, and has both the 1978 Book of the Month Club vinyl album release of the Fargo performance, which presents the complete songs played there, and the 1990 CD, which includes all the rough cuts and interrupted songs as well.

The interruptions occurred, Steve says, because the two local men who recorded the show “had only one portable disc cutter recorder that night, and when a disc filled up, they had to pull it off and slap on a new one, even if it was in the middle of a song.

“These recordings were long considered the Holy Grail of Jazz until their commercial release,” he says.

Steve passes along information about the Ellington performance published in a booklet which came with the CD.

The band had played in Winnipeg the night before, and was slated to appear at the Duluth (Minn.) Armory the next night. Then it was to be on to Chicago for a weeklong break from touring.

The Fargo concert began at 9 p.m., when Duke stepped on stage. But the Crystal’s doors had opened shortly before 8 p.m., and the band soon gathered and played without the Duke. That’s when the two men started recording.

The first half hour was broadcast live over KVOX. Steve says the announcer “can clearly be heard on the first half dozen tracks introducing the numbers and encouraging listeners to come to the Crystal and dance.”

After this tour, Steve says, “Duke’s repertoire and orchestra personnel would undergo changes. Of the nearly 50 songs heard that night in Fargo, five were known only to have been played in Fargo, two were first heard in Fargo and were known to be played in public or recorded later, and 16 others were soon dropped from the book and never played again.”

A story about the Crystal Ballroom’s owner and his daughter appeared here last week. Other information readers have sent in about the Duke’s Fargo appearance will be carried later.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail