The Mitchell-Ruff Duo
Strayhorn: A Mitchell-Ruff Interpretation
(New York: Mainstream Records, [1970–71])
For six decades, Ruff’s principal collaborator was the remarkable pianist Ivory “Dwike” Mitchell (1930–2013). The Mitchell-Ruff Duo won wide acclaim for its numerous concert tours and recordings. One of their LPs features music by Billy Strayhorn, the composer and arranger who is best known for his work with Duke Ellington. It includes not only tunes made famous by Ellington (such as “Take the A Train”) but also a suite for horn and piano that Strayhorn composed especially for Ruff and Mitchell, not long before his death in 1967. Right after Strayhorn finished a draft of the piece, the Duo performed it for Ellington over the telephone. Ellington offered detailed comments, Strayhorn made revisions, and Ruff and Mitchell played through them, all in the course of a single lengthy (and undoubtedly expensive) long-distance phone call.
Willie Ruff and Dwike Mitchell at the Great Wall of China
Willie Ruff and Dwike Mitchell made many concert tours, and not always to the usual places. In 1959, during the Cold War, they joined the Yale Russian Chorus in a tour of the Soviet Union. Before the trip, Ruff undertook a crash course in the Russian language. And the Mitchell-Ruff Duo went to China in 1981, when that nation was just beginning to open itself to the West. Again, Ruff made an intensive study of the language he would need, and he learned enough to give a lecture-concert at the Shanghai Conservatory. In this photo, Ruff and Mitchell are seen atop the Great Wall of China.