Harry Carney (Harry Howell Carney)

Harry Carney

Harry Carney was the longest serving player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. On occasions when Ellington was absent or wished to make a stage entrance after the band had begun playing the first piece of a performance, Carney would serve as the band’s conductor. Ellington and Carney were close friends. The majority of their careers they rode together in Carney’s car to concerts, allowing Ellington to come up with new ideas. Fictionalized accounts of these road trips are documented in Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful (1991). Ellington wrote many showpiece features for Carney throughout their time together, such as “Frustration” (c. 1944-45). This was typical of Ellington’s ability to exploit the voices of his most treasured soloists by creating works that were tailored specifically to the individual rather than being for a generic baritone saxophonist. In addition, Ellington would sometimes feature Carney’s robust renditions of the melodies of such hits as “Sophisticated Lady” and “In a Mellow Tone”. In 1973 Ellington built the Third Sacred Concert around Carney’s baritone saxophone. As the Ellington orchestra increased its reed section to five players Carney’s voice was heard a little less as a soloist than it had been in the 1930s. From late 1939 onwards a regular tenor saxophonist was added, the most important being the outstanding Ben Webster and later Paul Gonsalves. It was also in the early 1940s that Carney ceased using the alto saxophone and Johnny Hodges abandoned the soprano saxophone. Carney’s clarinet continued to be deployed in the well-known composition “Rockin’ in Rhythm”, for which he is also credited as a co-composer. This was one of the ‘work-horses’ of the Ellington orchestra that remained in the band books throughout its life on the road. After Ellington’s 1974 death, Carney said: “This is the worst day of my life. Without Duke I have nothing to live for.” Four months later, Harry Carney also died.


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  • Harry Carney -


  • April, 01, 1910
  • USA
  • Boston, Massachusetts


  • October, 08, 1974
  • USA
  • New York, New York

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