Sunday, 20 May 2018

Conference, Birmingham: Blue Light

Here is the cover of the latest edition of Blue Light, The International Journal of The Duke Ellington Society UK.

This particular edition is themed around Duke Ellington's relationship to schools, colleges and universities during his lifetime and contains full details of the Day Schedule and Abstracts for the forthcoming 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference.

Copies will be available at the conference this coming Friday.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Conference, Birmingham: London Calling

There is a marvellous piece on the forthcoming 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference by peter Bacon on Sebastian Scotney's excellent London Jazz News website.

You can read the full article here.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Conference, Birmingham: Press Release

U.S. jazz legend celebrated at Birmingham conference
The work of American composer, pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington will be placed under the spotlight at a three-day conference taking place in Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire this month.
Held between Friday 25 and Sunday 27 May, the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference will celebrate the life, music and legacy of the pivotal figure – often credited as the artist who brought jazz in to the mainstream around the world.
Alongside themed panels of speakers, including Dr Harvey G Cohen (King's College London) and Dr Katherine Williams (Plymouth University), the event will showcase four concerts by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Ellington Orchestra, present numerous small group jam sessions and host the AGM of The Duke Ellington Society UK.
Conference co-organiser, Jeremy Price, Head of Jazz and Artistic Director of Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, said:
“Duke Ellington in many respects set out the blue print for jazz composition and is still the model band leader to anyone wanting to lead diverse creative talents in their own ensemble.
“He is the boss you would love to be and the boss you would love to have; enabling creativity of all around him through benevolent trust and shining example. These are just some of the reasons why he is so deserving of much scholarly attention and why academics and aficionados alike keep returning to this rich seam of fascinating jazz activity for their inspiration.
“This conference will also stand out for integrating abundant live performances, with our Ellington Orchestra doing several shows in our very own Eastside Jazz Club.”
Born Edward Kennedy Ellington in April 1899 in Washington D.C., he was nicknamed ‘Duke’ by a boyhood friend, and the moniker stuck. Self-taught at the piano, his influences were wide and varied – from religion to travel, and Shakespeare to Degas – and, as result, he created works in almost every conceivable medium, including solo songs, orchestral suites, church music and a full-length ballet.
Ellington and his orchestra performed all over the world, including extensively in Europe and entertaining audiences in UK cities such as Birmingham, Coventry and Cambridge.
The conference has been co-organised by the Jazz Studies research cluster at Birmingham City University, which is led by Professors Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton, and Dr Nicolas Pillai.
Although only five years old, the cluster boasts more than 40 members, including 10 jazz researchers from across Birmingham School of Media and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, eight doctoral students and leaders of the regional jazz community, as well as additional academic partners at University of Warwick, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Music and the Performing Arts Graz (Austria).
Furthermore, the University’s new £57 million Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is home to Eastside Jazz Club, the first permanent jazz space in any UK conservatoire. In 2017, the Conservatoire launched its big band Ellington Orchestra, who are a regular fixture in the club.
Co-organiser, Dr Nicolas Pillai, Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University, said:
“This conference is a milestone for Birmingham City University in many ways. Not only is it the first academic jazz conference to be hosted in the fabulous new Conservatoire building but it has also been a wonderful opportunity for us to build collaborative links with The Duke Ellington Society UK.
“We are very lucky in Birmingham not only to have the hugely respected Jazz Department within the Conservatoire, led by Jeremy Price, but also a world-leading team of jazz researchers based in Birmingham School of Media. Events like this allow us to create exciting new connections between practice and research.
“I am looking forward to panels which will give us new insights into not just Ellington the man, but also models of collaborative creativity within his orchestra which have larger socio-cultural implications for us today. Ellington’s music was ultimately about connection and this conference will create a space for international scholars from various disciplines to discuss not just the historical but also the relevance of Ellington in the 21st century.”
Tickets for the conference, as well as a full programme, are available online.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Sacred and the Profound

Review: Duke Ellington Sacred Music at Lincoln Cathedral
Saturday 12 May 2018

Proof – if ever any were needed – of the genius of Duke Ellington can suddenly steal upon anyone who has ears to hear in the most unusual and unexpected of ways.
    Saturday last, I had inadvertently mislaid a car park in Lincoln. It’s easily done but I was annoyed with myself nevertheless: I was sure I had put it down somewhere. Attempts to negotiate where I had last seen it involved navigating the perimeter of the city’s cathedral walls. Whilst doing so, I heard through the thick stone rehearsals in progress for the concert of Ellington’s Sacred Music taking place that evening, featuring Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Ellington orchestra, directed by Jeremy Price. (My arrival that day in the city for the first time was no coincidence). I recognized the tune: In the Beginning God.  What I was unprepared for was the sheer force of the music, the power in the music in the lyric being intoned by the voice of a bass baritone for which the word ‘awesome’ might have been coined.
    It is no exaggeration to say that the walls of the cathedral rang – to borrow a phrase from the poet – like some fine green goblet. If this is what the performance sounds like through six feet of stone, how is it going to sound sitting in the nave of the cathedral at 7:30 this evening, I wondered?
    I had never been struck so forcibly nor so powerfully with the drama of this music however many times I have listened to the recording of it on an album. But then, listening to a mechanical reproduction of this work is simply not enough to convict the listener in the majesty of Ellington’s work. His Sacred music has been given short shrift occasionally by critics and admirers of his music both. Whilst the composer’s conception of what might constitute his art was limitless, it has not always been the case that the perceptions of his audience have been. They need to get out more.
    I understand their point of view: the – secular, should we call it? Profane? – music for which Ellington and his Orchestra are justly famous is as unique as a fingerprint, created as it is by Billy Strayhorn, Ellington himself or in collaboration with the soloists for such individual voices. In contrast, with a few notable exceptions, the music across the three sacred collections allows less space for the articulation of ‘solo responsibilities’, relies more upon concerted section work, is characterized by less polyphony, is more ‘straight forward’ than we are used to descrying in Ellington’s music. All this adds up to, however, is to encourage in the listener even more respect for the talents of the young musicians who comprise the Birmingham Conservatoire’s Ellington Orchestra. Having seen the Orchestra four or five times over the last eighteen months, at this performance of the Sacred works, I saw something new: as well as being able to present the more idiosyncratic music characteristic of Ellington’s ‘jazz’ work, they can deliver a powerhouse performance of startling power and precision en masse. It is quite an aggregation. Their performance also taught me something else about Ellington’s work. Whilst Ellington was happy to ‘farm out’ his scores for symphonic works or ballets or stage shows such as My People, (music which has largely disappeared from the ‘world view’ of Ellington I suppose because it isn’t contained in an album recorded by him) with his Sacred work, it was expected that his regular working Orchestra would be in service to what he saw as his larger purpose and the sacred performances were absorbed into the orchestra’s working schedule. Just so, individuality was sacrificed here to a bigger design. There were no egos on display here, just disciplined and talented people enjoying each other’s talents and harnessing their own in contributing towards that grand design. Which is not to say there weren’t some stand out moments of individual expression: drummer Noah Stone’s roiling solo  (roiling Stone?) during In The Beginning Godwas thunderous and incendiary. Fire and brimstone as both threat and promise. Lewis Sallows delivered a delicious commentary on alto sax on Heaven. Josh Taylor made his presence felt, as ever, on bass as did Cameron Woodhead on baritone sax, reminding us all of the extent to which Harry Carney was Ellington’s rock.  
    And something else to confirm what a wily old bird Ellington was: this is music writ large for performance in a large space. For their opening set, the Ellington Orchestra played half a dozen compositions from the ‘secular’ book including Harlem Air Shaft(which is rapidly becoming almost the Orchestra’s unofficial theme tune) and Black and Tan Fantasywith a couple of delights thrown in for the connoisseur – CafĂ© au Lait(or should that be Laity?) and Magnolias Dripping with Molasses. These performances were not lost in any sense in this huge space but enhanced rather by the acoustic to give them a satin sheen. The perfect finish. When the Sacred music began to be played with the second set, however, one sensed that this was the music for which this sacred space had been waiting. It was conceived perfectly not only to reach the rafters but also to raise them.
    Just as Ellington himself had to augment his usual resources to give his ideas full expression, so, too, here: the Conservatoire’s Ellington Orchestra appeared in concert with Lincoln Cathedral Choir, directed by Aric Prentice. The Choir’s luminous singing was an essential dimension in the presentation of this music. Award winning jazz singer Vimala Rowe gave her own distinctive impress to those songs associated first with Mahalia Jackson and then Queen Esther Marrow. In her phenomenal style, Vimala was able to embrace both the scorching energy of Tell Me It’s The Truthwith its intense infusion of Gospel and Soul and the deep spirituality of Come Sunday.
    One advantage Jeremy Price has as Director of Jazz at a Conservatoire is that he can reach out ‘beyond category’ to other music departments. So, from students studying classical and operatic music, the concert was graced with the presence of Madeline Robinson, currently in her third year of the BMus (Hons) course who sang those pieces written originally for Alice Babs. Those sudden wordless ascents in Heavenand Almighty Godwere thrilling and transcendent. And the voice I heard through the walls of stone? The first intimation of an immortal evening? The voice belongs to Andrej Kushchinsky, a Ukranian baritone who is a first year undergraduate. One can only imagine the dizzying heights to which his talent will ascend.
    Two further solo performances could hardly have been further apart in mood and style only emphasizing the breadth of the artistic vision and the talent called in service to express it: redolent of Bunny Briggs’ contribution to the First Sacred Concert, Perry Louis danced flame-like down the nave, the very embodiment of the human spirit. In contrast to these physical pyrotechnics, John Turville’s piano solo on Ellington’s sublime Mediationwas as cooling as a mountain stream with a quiet intensity that was pellucid and lyrical.
    It can be argued that Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts grew progressively darker in expression. The performance at Lincoln drew exclusively on the sunlit uplands of the First and Second, presenting a colourful and multi-faceted spectacle. In many ways, the music is offered through the prism of Ellington’s professional career, a kaleidoscope which reflects his development as an artist, the pageants of his boyhood in Washington DC and the floor shows of the Cotton Club, for example but which also in its slew of memorable melodies assailing the audience’s sensibilities first from one direction and then another resembling that much looked-for success on Broadway. What earths the spectacle, however, is both its spiritual and political concern. The two are inextricably fused: Freedomis the cry as the concert builds to its climax. It is the mantra not just of Moses leading his people out of Egypt but when these concerts were being written and performed the exhortation of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 
    Jazz, Ellington contended – if the word means anything, it means freedom of expression. The message is as potent now as it ever was. It was given voice magnificently by the whole company in an evening that will continue to resonate with all of us lucky enough to have been there, long after the last echo of the last note has stilled. 

Monday, 7 May 2018

Conference, Birmingham

Jolly Holiday You Can Bank On!

From Laurent Mignard and The Duke Orchestra,a broadcast by France Musique of their new production Jazzy Poppins

Conference, Birmingham: Michele Corcella

With a little less than three weeks before the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group begins on Friday, 25th May, 2018, over the next few posts, we will highlight some of the participants who are presenting papers at the conference.

Michele Corcella is an arranger and composer who teaches at the Conservatorio di Musica Giovan Battista Martini, Bologna has presented at two previous Ellington conferences, Amsterdam in 2014 and New York in 2016.

He graduated in Musical Studies from the University of Bologna having written a thesis on Duke Ellington's soundtracks. His expertise is evident in the following performance of the main theme from  Anatomy of a Murder which is performed by New Talents Jazz Orchestra from Michele's transcription...

The title of Michele's paper is Beyond the Blues: Ellington’s experimentation techniques in the New Orleans Suite.