By FREDI WASHINGTON PV's Theatrical Editor June 29, 1946 p. 16
SOME VERY KEEN COMPETITION in the musical world came to the surface at the Apollo theatre last week when Mercer Ellington presented his new fifteen-piece orchestra for the appraisal of any and all who were interested. Young Ellington who has ben [sic] doggedly working on his band since being discharged from the Army late last year, has created a musical aggregation quite unlike his famous father's or any of the name bands you might care to mention. His is modern jazz in good taste without the blare which characterizes so many of the brassy swing bands. This young man brings with him the advantage of long years of serious music study which have been enhanced by his direct contact with the practical experience of Duke, his dad.
Mercer, in his specialties plays arrangements by Luther Henderson and Bobby Williams, both in the orchestra. They are provocative and completely lacking in the usual Apollo style. The band is surprisingly smooth to have worked for so short a period prior to its stage debut. Working at the Apollo means a band must not only be able to play its own specialties, but must be able to play show music as well. I think it was this part of the program which held the biggest surprise, for young Ellington showed an ability to conduct the music for acts, far outranking many a seasoned band leader. This determined young musician, in physical appearance, is a ringer for his dad, having many of his father's mannerisms--the ready smile, the tilt of the head, ths [sic] use of his hands. He even hums out the music like his father only Mercer does it in a much broader manner. These are all characteristics acquired as a child long before he decided to be a band leader, so it is quite evident to those who know him, that it is not a studied pose with him. But that it is as far as the similarity between father and son goes. The style of Mercer's band and his mode of directing, is as different from his father's as Hampton's is from Dorsey's.
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MOST OF THE FOLKS who saw Mercer group up around New York and know that he decided to study music because his father wished it, when his mind was really on Boston Tech and aeronautics, have all had a question in the recesses of their minds as to whether he had a real talent for music. Well, they can all now erase their doubts. Not only does Mercer have a talent for music and leading a band, but he has been given the gift of determination and an ability to work hard to accomplish his aims.
The kid has gone after his career the hard way. He has asked no favors of his father nor has he taken the attitude that because his father is one of the top ranking musicians in the country, the music world owes him a short cut. He knows too, I think, there will be those in the band booking business who will be hesitant about giving him the necessary opportunities for placing his band, for hear that using the name Ellington will complicate his father's status and bookings. That old saying, "It's tough to be famous," works double in Mercer's case. All of his young life, he has had to bask in the reflected glory of his father. In carrying out his father's wish that he study music he did not follow the natural line of least resistance--slide through, be a play boy and depend on the success of his father. Mercer decided to learn all he could about music and the band business. He wanted his father to be proud of him and prove to the world that he has the ability to make a way for himself. His new band is the result of this decision.
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IT IS NOT ALWAYS EASY for professional parents to see their children grow up and enter into their particular field of endeavor. Somehow little devils within go to work making all kinds of suggestions as to how one can hang onto the niche they have carved for themselves without hurting their children or themselves. In the case of Duke, he has every reason to be proud of his offspring and I am sure that he is. Mercer is a credit to him and to the fine contributions he has made to America and the world of music. Duke can be doubly proud of the fact that his son is a steady, clean living young man with a lovely wife and family. Would that all parents could look with such satisfaction and pride on their offspring.
The road to attaining his aim is not going to be easy for Mercer and his orchestra, but I have a feeling if those who control the music business will regard him simply as a young, talented musician and orchestra leader and "Fathu," as Mercer calls him, will leave him to carve his own way without interference, it won't be long before Mercer Ellington's orchestra will gain the recognition it deserves.
Anyway, it is going to be interesting to watch the development of a talented son following in the footsteps of a famous father.