Rarely does the phone ring at 3 a.m. with good news. But nearly 37 years ago, when Barrie Lee Hall Jr.’s mother-in-law woke him because there was “some ‘Duke’ on the phone,” the early-morning call launched a career.
The “Duke” on the phone was Duke Ellington.
Hall was an aspiring trumpet player at Texas Southern University. Hours before, he had met Ellington at the Shamrock Hilton show in Houston, where a friend had even bragged about Hall’s musical accomplishments.
“Duke says, ‘Oh, yeah? How come he’s not playing in my band?’ and he takes my number down,’ ” Hall said, remembering a conversation from 1972 with the band leader and pianist.
“I thought he was patronizing me,” Hall said.
The 3 a.m. phone call was an invitation to Columbus, Ohio, for a gig.
That gig never materialized, but after a year of keeping in touch with Ellington and the band, Hall finally got another phone call.
This time, he was asked to come down to the Shamrock Hilton Hotel, where Ellington and his band were performing.
Hall was told to wear a white shirt, black pants and a bow tie. He was handed the band jacket and sent on stage to play tunes such as Take the A Train and Mood Indigo without so much as a single rehearsal.
“I’m 23 years old, and down there to the right is Duke Ellington,” Hall said. “You want to make a mark and play well.”
Hall made enough of a mark to get a full-time gig. For a year, he was traveling the globe and performing with Ellington before the jazz legend died in 1974.