[Dixielandjazz] Jimmy Forrest & "Night train"

Bill Haesler bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Sat May 15 18:50:54 PDT 2010

Norman Vickers wrote:
> Betty Forrest, widow of trombonist Jimmy Forrest, and founder West Michigan
> Jazz Society, writes in response to the New Yorker Magazine Book review about Ellington:
> Jimmy's "Night Train" was said to be a rip-off of Ellington's "Happy
> Go-Lucky Local", but most of it was something he had been playing around St.
> Louis in the mid-40's, several years before he was with Ellington in
> 1948-49.....He used it in solo choruses with the band and Ellington often
> picked up stuff from his soloists improvs and when they caught his ear he
> would later use them in his own format.  Ellington never agreed that Jimmy
> had ripped him off....but Mercer didn't feel that way!  He wanted to go
> after the rights, at one point, but Duke wouldn't let him....Or so goes the
> story as I was told it.

Dear Norman,
"Night Train" was discussed on the DJML back in February this year.
My reply at that time (below) may be of interest.
Mrs Forrest's response certainly appears to put the matter to rest.
Ownership of a composition is often a vexed subject. 
Barney Bigard mentioned in his book "With Louis And The Duke" (page 64-65) it took 28 years of lost royalties for his contribution to "Mood Indigo" to be officially recognised.
Very kind regards,

> I had wondered also why Ellington never did anything about Forrest using his tune.  I remember several years ago a radio show on NPR I think consisting of a discussion of Ellington and Strayhorn's compositions.  The comment was made on that program that Ellington did not want to take another Black to court and he said that "He could write a little piddly tune like that anytime'! The quote was like that I know the word "piddly" was used!

Dear Don,
In the 1971 Stanley Dance book 'The World of Duke' (page 22) Duke Ellington was asked in 1963:
"Does it worry you that they may take some of your material and make something different of it under the rock 'n' roll label?"
The Duke's reply was: "They did that with "Night Train". They took "Happy-Go-Lucky Local". It hurts and it's offensive. You threaten to sue, and you postpone until it's too late, and then you get real mad. You do nothing but spoil your disposition."

Without mentioning names or the title, Mercer Ellington told Stanley Dance (1978. 'Duke Ellington In Person'. Page 96) regarding "Happy-Go-Lucky Local": "Later, bearing someone else's name and a different title, it became a big hit, one of the many instances of shameless "borrowing" from Ellington's compositions. He didn't like this, and I don't think he ever forgave it, but he managed to put it out of his mind."
Very kind regards,

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