Duke Ellington broke in Charlotte? No way, Mr. Zappa

“On 28 June 1969 the Mothers [of Invention] played the Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of the Charlotte Jazz Festival. .. [Frank] Zappa claimed that ‘before we went on, I saw Duke Ellington begging — pleading — for a ten-dollar advance. It was really depressing.’ After the show Zappa told the band: ‘That’s it, we’re breaking the band up.’ According to Zappa, if Duke Ellington had to beg some assistant for $10, what was he, Zappa, doing with a 10-piece band, trying to play rock ‘n’ roll? But there is something wrong with this story.

“In 1969 Duke Ellington was 70 and feted wherever he went….Ellington famously ate little but caviar and steak, and on a tour of India he had his filet mignon flow in from the States. It seems extremely unlikely that he was begging for $10, as Zappa claimed in ‘The Real Frank Zappa.’….”

— From “Zappa” by Barry Miles (2004)

Zappa apparently used the Ellington fabrication to justify his decision to disband the original Mothers, whose final performance would be less than two months later.

Did you know Ellington’s father was born in Lincolnton?


3 thoughts on “Duke Ellington broke in Charlotte? No way, Mr. Zappa”

  1. I was at that show. I did not see the begging incident, but I would not be surprised that Sir Duke may have been prying his own money out of a managers hands. Not because of being broke, but just parceling out money to prevent theft or excess spending. It would not be the first time.
    Frank was not one to exaggerate, and was very matter of fact about life.
    I do remember that most folks were not too happy to see the Mothers come on stage…..their long hair was way too scraggly and greasy for the times……

  2. I was at the Charlotte jazz festival, and as I recall the management pulled the plug right in the middle of The Mothers’ set. I think at the time, they blamed it on a curfew. I do remember it was getting late and I think I remember reading someplace where Zappa complained about having the set cut short and how this was the final straw for him at that point – – – but I may be misremembering.

  3. I was there as an usher. The line ups were insane. Thelonious Monk and Zappa on the same night! Monk walked off the stage and popped up in the aisle listening to his own band. Backstage after an admittedly short set (every act ran over time), Zappa and the Mothers were very approachable (for 18 year olds in red jackets at least).

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