Another picturesque homage to Duke Ellington (high–school division) performed by the conspicuously talented Foxborough High School Jazz Ensembles (1997–99) under Stephen Massey’s baton. Massey must be doing something right, as his students’ grasp of the subtlety, dynamics and color of Ellington’s music is truly remarkable, especially for musicians who haven’t yet earned their high–school diplomas. Section work is uniformly precise and fluent while the various soloists succeed admirably in emulating the mood and character of the Duke’s renowned sidemen. To Massey’s credit, the program isn’t all “Sophisticated Lady” and “Solitude.” He has unearthed a number of seldom–heard gems including “Oclupaca” (from the Latin American Suite ), “Rockabye River,” “Main Stem,” “Old King Dooji” and a couple from the Shakespearean suite Such Sweet Thunder, “Half the Fun” and the better–known “Star–Crossed Lovers.” Finding the proper tempo is another important element in any Ellington composition or arrangement, and the FHS ensemble never misses the mark, from ballad (“Sophisticated Lady,” “Blood Count,” “Solitude,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Passion Flower”) to blazer (“Cottontail,” “Main Stem,” “King Dooji,” “Rockin’ in Rhythm”) or anything in between. Kudos to those members of the ensemble who do such a marvelous job of shadowing Ellington’s sidemen, especially Kurt Bacher as Johnny Hodges, Aaron Bell or Kevin Powers as Ben Webster/Paul Gonsalves, Bryan Murphy as Cootie Williams, Zack Howard or Nick Aldo as Jimmy Blanton, Erik Dahlgren as Harry Carney, Nick Foster or Karen Zuck as the Duke, and the five drummers who sit in for Sam Woodyard or Sonny Greer. If Ellington’s music is to survive and flourish (as it surely will), this is the place to start, and our hat is off to Stephen Massey and the FHS Jazz Ensemble not only for producing a marvelous tribute album but for embracing the enduring compositions of Ellington/Strayhorn and making them an integral part of the school’s Jazz Studies program.
Track listing: In a Mellotone; Harlem Airshaft; The Star–Crossed Lovers; Oclupaca; Rockabye River (Hop, Skip, Jump); Sophisticated Lady; Cottontail; Never No Lament (Don’t Get Around Much Anymore); Blood Count; Main Stem; Solitude; Half the Fun; Passion Flower; Old King Dooji; Prelude to a Kiss; Kinda’ Dukish / Rockin’ in Rhythm (57:14).
Collective personnel (1997–98–99): Stephen C. Massey, director; Justin Carney, Julie Flood, Gabe Foster, Mike Fraher, Chris Huyler, Bryan Murphy, Dave Piper, Mark Piper, Jason Rubeck, Aaron Schmidt, trumpets; Lauren Brown, Mark Champagne, Abby Cohen, Henry Foster, Jim Horvath, Ken McEnaney, John Maclaine, Matt Sylvia, trombones; Kurt Bacher, Aaron Bell, Erik Dahlgren, Jackie Flaherty, Matt Howard, Paul Mullin, Christina Muratore, Lizzy Nielson, Kevin Powers, Steve Repoff, Andrea Shea, Jarrod Weaver, woodwinds; Nick Foster, Karen Zuck, piano; Nick Aldo, Zack Howard, bass; Ryan Quinn, guitar; Jessie Flaherty, Rob Flaherty, Barry Marino, Jared Seabrook, drums; Kerrianne Kelly, percussion.
Contact: Stephen Massey, 508–543–1624.