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Duke Ellington’s Kabul concert in 1963 (BBC report)

20 September 2013

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BBC News 20 September 2013 Last updated at 01:04 GMT

When Duke Ellington played Kabul

By Monica Whitlock BBC World Service

Duke Ellington Arriving in Kabul, 1963. CU Collection Box 345:10. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville Duke Ellington arrives in Kabul with US charge d’affaires William Brewer (left)

Fifty years ago this week, Duke Ellington and his band played in a concert he later called one of the most memorable of his life. The performance was in Kabul, in Afghanistan, and even though Ellington was at the height of his fame, almost all traces of it have been lost.

For the organiser, Faiz Khairzada, and hundreds of Afghans in the audience, the concert was a high point of the early 1960s. "It was very exciting for me to have him in Kabul," says Khairzada, then head of Afghanistan’s cultural affairs organisation.

It was he who met Ellington at the airport and drove him on a golden afternoon across Kabul, then a small city, to the stage he’d built at the Ghazi stadium. Khairzada was a jazz fan and they chatted on the way about Louis Armstrong and about plans to make home-grown Afghan films. "You make the movie, kid - and I’ll do the music for it," Ellington offered, and in the Kabul of 1963, all that seemed possible.