In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, from a chapter titled “The Taste Buds,” Duke Ellington writes about his special diet, losing thirty pounds while on it, and the resulting onstage antics.
In 1955 my doctor, Arthur Logan, told me I would have to take off twenty-two pounds. I tore up his suggested menu and made one of my own. Mine was simply steak (any amount), grapefruit, and black coffee with a slice of lemon first squeezed and then dropped into it. With the exception of a binge one day a week, I ate as much of this and as often as I please for three months.
When we returned to the New York area, my first date was with the symphony in New Haven. Dr. Logan came up to the concert, took one look at me, and said, “Get yourself a banana split quick!” I had lost thirty pounds.
As I was conducting the third movement of Night Creature that night, I suddenly realized my pants were falling down. There I was, directing those big sweeps at the end of the piece, and holding on to my pants to keep them from falling off. The violins first, and then the whole string section, saw what was happening and broke up. They found it hilarious. The reason I couldn’t pull the pants up was because I was standing on them. At the end of the number, I had to maneuver them back into position before turning to face the audience for my bow. The musicians in the symphony continued to laugh long after I had left the stage. But my doctor was happy with the overall results!
Excerpted from Music is My Mistress, by Edward Kennedy Ellington
Ellington’s orchestra in a 1955 filmed performance