Friday, February 22, 2013

The Duke and the Lake

By Chet Williamson

It’s the lake whose name even locals have trouble pronouncing. Commonly known as Webster Lake, school children from Webster, MA and other town smarties know it by its Indian name:  Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

It’s a huge body of water and according to the Webster Times has the longest name – 45 letters -- of any lake in America. Its history is deep and one with jazz connections.

Webster Times photo of the daytime fire, courtesy of OldeWebster

Before it was destroyed by fire on October 6, 1938, the Mohegan Dance Pavilion, located on the banks of the lake, was a regular stop for touring big bands. The Duke Ellington Orchestra was one of the many to grace its stage.

Ellington memorialized this once great Nipmuc fish hole in song. Although never recorded and remains in his book of unpublished pieces, the great American composer dubbed his tune, “Chau-go-ga-gog man chau-ga-gog chau buna-gung a maug.”  

It was written around the same time as the bandleader’s appearance at the pavilion. Unfortunately, another song about the large pond was published before Ellington’s.

That song, "The Lake Song: By Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagunga­maugg" was a minor hit for Fred Waring and his Pennslyvanians. It was penned by Will Heagney, Will Mahoney and Bert Reed and first published by the Harry Von Tilzer Music Company. Von Tilzer is the author of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."  

Another song about the lake was recorded by Ray Bolger and Ethel Merman for the Decca label in the 1950s. That tune is titled, "The Lake Song "Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg" and was written by Walter Cohen and Frank Perlman.

A young Ethel Merman

Ray Bolger

Possibly deterred by the success of the other 1930's song, Ellington left his Webster Lake tune in his library. In 1992, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter Edward Patenaude noted that a Lois C. Rosebrooks, of Upper Gore Road, Webster, had a copy of the song.

Daughter Introduces Mother to Duke. 

In the 1960s, Mrs. Rosebrooks', daughter, Lois M. Rosebrooks, was a professional singer who had performed with Ellington in his revered sacred concerts. 

In 1971, the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed a benefit concert at the Webster Town Hall for the Hubbard Regional Hospital Guild, for which Rosebrooks’ mother was president.

Patenaude said, “Mrs. Rosebrooks remembers the day she became president of the guild. ‘I came home and told George  [husband] about it. As it happened, the 'Merv Griffin Show' was on TV. Ellington was a guest. I looked at the TV and said, "Why not?' "

Rosebrooks said that it took some time, but arrangements were finally made and Ellington performed the benefit concert on April 18, 1971.

Tom Reney
WFCR radio host Tom Reney attended the show and wrote about it, saying, “my teenage friend Nic and I seemed the only people in the house under 50. How thrilled we were when, as we stood in front of the town hall an hour before the concert, the Ellington bus pulled up and the driver asked, 'Hey fellas, where's Duke Ellington playing?' And how dismayed when we saw one of Webster's finest search the bus once the band had disembarked."

Playing in the band at the time was tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, who grew up in Brockton and familiar with Lake Webster.

Paul Gonsalves and Duke Ellington

“When calling the roll of players at the Webster concert, Ellington managed to bring even more of a local flavor to Gonsalves' regional origins,” Reney recalled. “Here Gonsalves was introduced as having been born, 'just to the east of Lake Chargogagogg Manchaugagogg Chaubunagungamaugg.' The house responded with delight over the ease with which Ellington, ever to the manner-born, excelled as a name-dropper.”

Patenaude says at the concert Ellington was introduced to the parents of Lois M. Rosebrooks. Speaking of the jazzman, she said, “[He] was really a nice man. He was so relaxed and elegant, one of those people who just loved everybody.”

In conversation Ellington made mention of the 1930's Mohegan Dance Pavilion. "Some of the band members had been with him then,” Rosebrook said. “He  pointed them out to me, introducing them. That's when I found out about his lake song. 'I'd like to have a copy of it,'" she asked Ellington directly. True to his word, the composer mailed her an autographed copy.

Retired from the southern Worcester county bureau of the T&G for the past 10 years, Patenaude says that the show was poorly attended. “They did a lousy job promoting it. I didn’t get the assignment for the story until two days before the event. The funny thing is, they gave Ellington a plaque for playing. It’s up in the medical unit in what used to be the hospital.”  
Matt Savage

Sudbury pianist Matt Savage is also quite familiar with Duke's song of the Lake. In 2006, he traveled to New York City to view original Ellington scores. He was preparing to perform at the Duke Ellington Birthday Celebration at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art).

During the trip he was introduced to fellow pianist Garry Dial at the Manhattan School of Music. Dial who has cataloged material written by Duke that were found in box by the Ellington family after the composer’s death. One of the pieces was the song of the lake.

Garry Dial
Filmmaker Gary Keys also attended the viewing. He is the creator of Reminiscing in Tempo, an Ellington bio-pic.  

“Keys and his crew came to the college to film Matt and Garry sorting through Duke’s music and to look through the music themselves…. Everyone in then room was so thrilled to be looking at pieces written by Duke," wrote Diane Savage on the young pianist's website. 

Among the more than 300 pieces was Ellington’s “Chau-go-ga-gog man chau-ga-gog chau buna-gung a maug.”  (Note: The correct spelling is different,  “Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg”).   

“Since Matt is a geography enthusiast, he knew about this lake and has always gotten a kick from the name.  He was SO thrilled that Duke Ellington had seen the SAME lake and even written a SONG about it.  Matt placed the music on the piano, played the tune and even sang the lyrics to the song.  All of this was filmed by Gary Keys and his crew…. Needless to say, Matt chose this song as one of the tunes he will play to celebrate Duke Ellington’s birthday at MoMA,” Diane Savage said.

Recently speaking about the trip Matt Savage said, 
"It was truly an amazing experience looking through all those tunes. I remember seeing the Far East Suite pieces. So beautiful. And I still actually remember how to play the Webster Lake piece. It's a pretty easy song to play (but not to sing!) and you cannot forget a song that's that silly." 

According to Patenaude, the Ellington song about Webster Lake assumes knowledge of the alleged Indian dispute over fishing rights. “In the story," he wrote, "made up during the early part of the century, the lake's three interconnecting ponds are mentioned, and it is claimed two tribes of Indians lived on opposite ends of the lake. At some point, Ellington came across the fanciful interpretation of the lake's long name - Chargoggagogg, You fish on your side; Manchauggagogg, I fish on my side; and Chaubunagungamaugg, Nobody fish in the middle.”

Here are the lyrics:

"On Lake Char-gogg-a-gogg,
You fish on your side,
I fish on my side,
Nobody fishes in the mid-dle.

On Lake Char-gogg-a-gogg,
Love calls from his side,
Love calls from her side,
Just to sing to-ge-ther a lit-tle

Two tribes kept on verge of war
till brave boy took girl for squaw.
Now pa-poose take full charge of lake,
Chief on each side, grand-father-in-law.

You fish on my side,
I fish on your side,
Everybody fish in the mid-dle."

This is a work in progress. Send all comments to: Thank you. 


Special thanks to Carla Manzi for all her assistance. See:

Tom Reney hosts Jazz a la Mode on WFCR/88.5FM, where he produced a year-long series, The World of Duke Ellington, during Ellington's centennial year.

Reney on the Song

Another version of the tune sung by Bartlett High

No comments:

Post a Comment