Duke Ellington – Circa 1972

By John Paul Jarvis

My ‘big’ boss was traveling with me and we would ultimately attend a seminar in Detroit that involved his corporate presentation. We worked for a major film and camera manufacturer that enjoyed 95% market share worldwide.

I set up a series of meetings, lunches and visits to move us geographically toward Windsor and then to Detroit and onto his return flight the following day.

I had reconnoitered the large US convention centre earlier, so we quickly passed immigration and drove directly into a very active event that had 12 lanes of traffic into the substantial parking lot. The sky was festooned with searchlights manned by State Troopers.

We located the business office and asked to see the next day’s meeting room and after some conversation, admission was granted with a security escort, but only through the kitchen.

We dodged waiters and traversed a bank of swinging doors with windows. I was astounded to see Duke Ellington seated at a concert Steinway, playing to the crowd. It was like a kinescope movie with that unforgettable profile backlit by a follow spot. My assessment of the function was growing exponentially.

Tomorrow’s room was replete with Republican revelers in support of Milliken straw boaters. The security officer smiled and explained that it was a fund raiser for the then Governor of Michigan and said, “you should be able to find your way out” and turned for the kitchen. I got it. And immediately: we began maneuvering towards The Duke.

There was a cash bar which presented a slight difficulty as we had only Canadian currency which made us obvious as gate crashers.

We hung around the piano all night and as the alcohol kicked in we emerged as Ellington’s official autograph team, introducing him to delegates using Kodak pens to have him sign the straw boaters.

We had a number of private conversations with The Duke and as the evening wound down, my boss secured a Vote for Milliken straw boater with a bite taken out of the brim, replete with teeth marks. He looked perfect and as you would expect there were a number of incriminating pictures.

I put him on the plane the next day; he stood at the top of the ramp and gave a full turn and a departing Nixon like wave of the straw boater.


John Paul Jarvis has enjoyed a full corporate career as CEO of four subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and served on six boards. Board and boat sailor, tennis player, terrible musician all tempered by eclectic friends – affords a basis for views and opinions on a broad range of topics.

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