Thursday

I'm so like this on planes: Duke Ellington at sea


Duke's friends decided that a tour of Europe for him and his band might be the solution. The thought of such a thing alarmed Duke, who had an almost psychopathic fear of the ocean. His explanation was when he was sixteen he had read a book about the suffering of those who went down on the Titanic. "What about icebergs?" he asked his friends. He was unconvinced when told that a collision was not inevitable. Nevertheless, Mills booked him and his band for a European tour, and they finally boarded the Olympic, bound for England, in the summer of 1933. Duke was full of foreboding. His anxiety grew when a passenger told him that at night the ship was steered not by human hands but by an automatic pilot. "I couldn't understand," Duke says, "how an automatic pilot could see an iceberg. I decided that I wasn't gonna take any chances by sleeping at night. I slept in the day and stayed up all night, but it was very lonesome." Duke tried to keep the band awake and alert through the dark hours by buying the boys quantities of a drink composed of Bass ale, brandy, and champagne, but the plan was self-defeating. One by one, Duke's companions would succumb to sleep, and by four or five in the morning he would find himself deserted. He would pace the deck miserably, waiting for daylight.

Richard O. Boyer
"The Hot Bach"
The New Yorker (1944)

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