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Flamingo (1941)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Most people come to this world by stork. I came by Flamingo, and Duke Ellington delivered me. And it’s flown me all over the world.”

- Herb Jeffries

Rank 146
Music Theodor Grouya
Lyrics Edmund Anderson

Vocalist Herb Jeffries introduced this standard with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. By mid-1941 it had taken off in the hit parade and rose to #11.


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

More on Herb Jeffries at JazzBiographies.com

Jeffries tells the tale of how, one night in 1940 while performing with the Duke Ellington band at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia, a stranger approached him. In a 1993 interview with Don Ferguson for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jeffries recalled: “I was going out for dinner and this little guy stops me at the stage door. He says, in a French accent, ‘Monsieur Jeffries, I am Ted Grouya. The doorman would not let me in. Please, show my song to Monsieur Ellington.’ I said, `All right,’ and I put his music in my pocket. Later, I set it on my dressing-room table.” Arranger/pianist Billy Strayhorn saw the music, took it over to the piano and began playing it. Ellington heard him and said, “Whatever you’re playing, make a chart of it.” The music, with words added by Ellington chum Edmund Anderson, was “Flamingo.” Duke, needing one additional number for the band’s December 28, 1940, recording session for RCA Victor, recorded the tune. Although RCA executive Leonard Joy wasn’t impressed with the recording, it was Ellington’s first number to hit the charts in 1941 and Jeffries’ second hit record.


More on Edmund Anderson at JazzBiographies.com

More on Theodor Grouya at JazzBiographies.com

After the recording was released, composer Grouya contacted Jeffries, upset that the singer had changed some of the words. Jeffries told him, “You’re lucky when you brought it to me, you couldn’t even get to Ellington. You’re lucky I’m not asking to include my name on it as co-composer.” Once the tune was a hit, Grouya backed down. At Jeffries 88th birthday, Grouya was in attendance and performed the number with Jeffries.

“Flamingo” was on Duke Ellington’s short list of favorite recordings. In Walter van de Leur’s biography, Something to Live For:The Music of Billy Strayhorn, Ellington is quoted as saying, “[Flamingo” was] the renaissance of vocal orchestration. Before then, an orchestration for a singer was usually something pretty tepid, and it was just background--that’s about all. But now, this had real ornamentation, fittingly done, supporting the singer and also embellishing the entire performance of both the singer and the band.”

More information on this tune...

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(Hischak includes the history of the song and its performers in his encyclopedia.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Duke Ellington
Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band

This version of “Flamingo” introduced the song to the public and established it as a jazz standard. Ellington’s lush orchestration supports vocalist Heb Jeffries without ever overwhelming him.

Charlie Mingus
Tijuana Moods
Original recording 1957

This performance represents one of bassist/bandleader/composer Charles Mingus’ first classic arrangements of a standard. His edgy but rich orchestration features the unique voices of Jimmy Knepper on trombone and the otherwise obscure Clarence Shaw on trumpet.

Jimmy Smith
The Sermon!
Blue Note Records

Organist Smith presents “Flamingo” as a ballad feature for trumpet great Lee Morgan, who makes the most of the opportunity with his lyrical and soulful playing. Guitarist Kenny Burrell is also featured prominently.

Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond
Newport 1958: Brubeck Plays Ellington
Original recording 1958

This spirited live recording from Newport begins with Brubeck playing the melody on piano with a Latin feel. Thereafter, the band shifts to a gently swinging groove with tasteful solos by Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond.

Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli Quartet
Jazz in Paris: Oscar Peterson-Stephane Grappelli Quartet, Vol. 1
Umvd Labels

Pianist Peterson and violinist Grappelli show a wonderful rapport and play excellent solos on his elegant duo performance. Most of the tune is played in free time, and Grappelli’s soulful and creatively ornamented statement of the melody is a particular highlight.


- Noah Baerman

Carmen McRae
Birds of a Feather
2002 Verve 314589515
Original recording 1958
McRae tones down her growly delivery a little but it still retains its gruff sensuality. Her delicate phrasing and the low-key orchestra in the background add to the melancholia. Of special note is the great saxophonist Ben Webster, who contributes a solo.
Wynton Marsalis
Standard Time Vol. 3: The Resolution of Romance
1990 Columbia 46143
Original recording 1990
A swinging mid-tempo is offered by the great trumpeter. Marsalis’ horn is cool and clear as he struts his stuff over the top of a rhythm section (which includes dad Ellis at piano) that keeps a tango time.
Stan Getz
Stan Getz and the Cool Sounds
2002 Verve 547317
Original recording 1961
This is West Coast “cool” from one of the hippest. Saxophonist Getz leads this up-tempo rendition with unbridled delight, gleefully soloing with round, full tones and laid back bravado.
Terry Gibbs
The Latin Connection
1996 Contemporary 14022

Vibraphonist Gibbs takes this one at a relaxed tempo, setting the stage for soft tropical breezes and, of course, pink flamingos. Tito Puente and Frank Morgan are guest artists on the album.

- Ben Maycock

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