Famous Ellington Step-Son

You can’t call a man a friend till you’ve eaten a barrel of salt with him.

How we got here is another story and perhaps I’ll tell it one day but for now Dale and I are walking west from Banff, where we’d spent the night in jail. Don’t get the wrong romantically sinister idea – we asked to spend the night in jail. We had nowhere else to stay. Now we’re heading to Vancouver, a place neither of us had been to but, going west, there was nowhere else to go. It was the end of the road, which had a nice ring to it. Also, we didn’t plan to walk it. There were just no rides. Dale kept saying it was because he was black but I argued that it was because I was Jewish. He kept muttering the one Yiddish word he knew. “Rachmones“. I looked at the asphalt and muttered “Feets, do yo thing!” We walked all day. Dawn to dusk. One day I’ll look at a map and try to remember where we walked to but it wasn’t really all the way to Vancouver. After popping for a motel room for the night we eventually got rides the next day.

The most interesting fact about Dale was that his step-father was a famous Ellington sideman. Dale claimed he didn’t like jazz. He wasn’t too crazy about Black culture, generally. He had a wallet full of pictures of white girls all of whom he claimed were his girlfriends back home in Teaneck, New Jersey. It’s only now, forty-two years later, that I decide he lied about every goddam one of those cutie-pies. For me, the only culture of any interest whatsoever was black culture so we bickered endlessly, but good naturedly, about this. We had some fun, anyway.

We made it to Vancouver finally. Hung out a week or two and went our separate ways. I got my uncle in New York to pick up a paycheck I had coming and mail me the cash. When it arrived I took the bus to San Francisco. I was too paranoid about hitchhiking in the States.

A week later I’d found a place to stay in an abandoned Nob Hill mansion with a guy who grew marijuana in the conservatory out back. He left me there to stay and water his plants, and to smoke as much as I liked while he took off to rescue his buddy in jail in Sacramento. (A few years later through another series of chance events and randon conversations I discovered that the Sacramento jailbird was poet Tom Jackrell with whom I travelled from Toronto to to Detroit in the company of another poet, Victor Coleman. ) I’d never had any marijuana till then. God, I loved San Francisco. Then guess who I run into in North Beach? Dale! I say I’ve got a place to stay and invite him back. It’s a mansion, after all. Lots of room. I get him high and he promptly vomits. Eventually he gets the hang of it and we proceed to have a ball in S.F., high the whole time. One night, it had to be 3 or 4 a.m., at least, the streets are empty and a cable car comes clanging down the street. The conductor is playing a crazy syncopated riff on the bells as the car whips by. It was beautiful. “See, man. Black people are the hippest!” Bud ponders a second and agrees, finally. “Yeah, man. I guess you’re right!”

Meanwhile he’s been telling me about his dad and this great home they have back in New Jersey and how great jazz musicians hang out there and J J Johnson lives next door and they all jam into the night in their living room. “You gotta come visit. Stay at my place and hang out – have a great time.” I can’t wait.

I had a great time hanging out with Dale but – I have to say this – he was a coward in the end. He goes to the Traveler’s Aid and gets a bus ticket home and disappears. Little does he know I’m ready to go anywhere for a party. A month later I call him from a Grand Central payphone. “I’m here, baby! Give me directions to your place. Let’s go!” Dale does a song and dance on the phone, big sob story, I don’t know what. His fourteen sisters are all back home and pregnant. The maid has scurvy. The roof exploded. I can’t remember. Long story short – I’m not welcome in Teaneck. I had a hunch being white was a factor but who knows. He wouldn’t even come to New York to hang out. Goodbye, my friend.

Years later I run into him again. He’s back in Vancouver and – get this – he’s a jazz deejay on a local FM station. I don’t hold a grudge. I get his address and visit. Waste of time. Barely spoke to me. Eventually he gets a gig at an all jazz station in Tacoma and a few years after that disappears entirely off the face of my planet.

Dale Bundrant died Nov 9, 2013.


7 Responses to “Famous Ellington Step-Son”

  1. Lyra Campbell

    It’s so unfortunate that you knew Dale so little to know that being the step son of a Duke Ellington band mate was likely the least interesting aspect of who he was and where he came from.

    Dale loved Jazz. He breathed it.

    Dale was raised in affluence, the son of a prominent Doctor, Herschel Bundrant, the grandson of Meleta Bailey, great grandson of Reuben Bailey. Google any of these names and you will find much more interesting things to write about as they relate to my fathers life.

    Dale served the United States Army, training in Alabama. Although a painful memory for him, the circumstance of being African American in Alabama were interesting.

    If you need more interesting information on Dale or his ancestors in the Ramy family of Kentucky, the Hannah family of Virginia (Gravel Hill Plantation) I am happy to provide it, as Dale is no longer living or able to defend the impression you have of him.

  2. Chad

    I traced a Reuben Bailey from New Castle, Indiana in my family tree. He was born in North Carolina and moved to New Castle, Indiana.

    I hope to hear something back. I have the names of his brothers and sisters mom and grandmother if this is the same Reuben

  3. Linda Bundrant

    Correction if you are interested: Dale died September 25, 2012, his memorial service in Tacoma was on the day you published.
    As well, I’d like to say how well Lyra wrote her comment.
    I’m sorry but I don’t remember you or that you came by to visit. At that time Dale worked for CJAZZ in Vancouver then KPLU in Tacoma.

  4. Greg Holden

    Sorry to hear of Dale”s passing. i worked at CJAZ when Dale was there. A more friendly and helpful guy you couldn’t know. When working 8-midnight shift I would often get a call from Dale about 10 to 12:00…Start my theme song man, I’ll be there as soon as i can!

  5. Daniela

    I met Dale through a mutual friend when I moved from Canada to the US. Dale was then on the air at KPLU hosting his own jazz program. I had worked in radio as well, so we shared many good conversations about our mutual love of jazz, working in radio and so on. I’ll never forget that he always played the tunes I requested when I called in to the station. I am sorry to hear of his passing. I didn’t know what happened to him after he left KPLU, and we had also lost contact. Still, when I wanted to reach out again I learned it would no longer be possible. I’m sad. He was an original in every.

  6. Alyce Brame-Galyean

    Wow. Too bad you didn’t really know Dale. What a character and what a true sense of humor. Dale and I were room mates in Tacoma We. while he was working at KPLU. Dale actually saved my life. While at a friend’s birthday party. a birthday cake was brought out, candles lit, we all started singing when suddenly Dale starts slapping the side of my head. Could not figure out what the check was going on. This just wzsn’ like Dale. Found out the host forgot to tell us they were never ending flame candles. Dale noticed my hair had caught on fire while leaning over the cake. Do he proceeded to try and put it out while yelling. (Girl, you’re hair’s on fire?!!!,).

  7. Marvin Mason

    Dale’s mother was Dorothea Burton. It’s in the 1950 census, Hershel was listed as Dale’s stepfather. Same with Hershel’s obituary!

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