Mies and Duke Ellington make music "Under Glass"

Join the Mies van der Rohe Society to celebrate the 122nd birthday of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Relive the golden year of 1957 and a concert originally played in Crown Hall by the Duke.
Dancing, cocktails and desserts
Saturday, March 29, 20088–11pm
S. R. Crown Hall 3360 South State Street Chicago
Cost $40 – $75 per person. More info here.
Free admission for IIT College of Architecture students, faculty & staff (cash bar)
Reservations required by March 21st.

Here’s the history: In 1957 Crown Hall was new. Chicago architect John Vinci was in the first class to study architecture there. The school had a tradition of an annual “I-Ball” dance and Vinci became one of those responsible for putting it on. Vinci and many of the Modernists loved jazz, although Mies did say, “when you improvise you must be very careful.” Vinci and his group booked Duke Ellington and his orchestra. The architecture students built a bandstand out of scaffolding, plywood and wooden forms used for concrete. It was nearly eight feet high, and they painted it all white. It must have been beautiful in Crown Hall. (I have not been able to find any photographs, but I’ll ask John Vinci again. Many of the Miesians took photos and I bet some exist somewhere of this event.) Vinci remembers that Duke Ellington and his band had to climb a ladder to get onstage.

Students from the Institute of Design decorated Crown Hall that night and their main effect was to shine blue and green spotlights from outside the building, through the branches of the honey locust trees around Crown Hall, so that the shadows of the branches were seen inside the building, playing on the milk-glass that goes from the floor to above eye-level. I’ve seen that effect at Crown (though not with colored lights) most memorable a few years back when the buidling reopened after a renovation. IIT shone spotlights through the branches, and on the inside it makes the milk glass look more than ever like living Japanese screens. (I have photos of this effect taken recently, I’ll post one soon.) Crown’s glass always has that effect, even during the day.

Supposedly Duke Ellington enjoyed himself so much that night that he wanted to return to Crown Hall to record an album. It was to be called “Ellington Under Glass,” – a great name – but that never happened.

And students such as John Vinci remember Mies that night, sitting in a Barcelona chair, with a cigar, enjoying the evening.

Crown Hall. Hear the music?

(Me, I’d love to commission Philip Glass to write a piece for Crown Hall and perform it inside. No pun intended. John Cage was a fan of Mies’ work also. But he’s gone.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: