Home » Jazz Articles » Duke Ellington Orchestra at Arizona Musicfest


Live Review

Duke Ellington Orchestra at Arizona Musicfest


Sign in to view read count
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Highlands Church
2015 Arizona Musicfest
Scottsdale, Arizona
February 6, 2015

The Duke Ellington Orchestra delivered a solid mix of swing and ballads from the colossal repertoire of its namesake and his gifted composing colleague, Billy Strayhorn. The enduring sophistication of their collaborative creativity was interpreted by a coalition of exceptional musicians. As soon as the band launched the concert with the most famous Ellington chart, "Take the A Train," the Arizona Musicfest audience of 1,000 became immediately engaged.

What followed was a satisfying mix of popular favorites and several lesser-known compositions in the symphonic-style that Ellington often favored. The orchestra's diverse book provided a balanced fare of foot-tapping rhythms and burning solos. Charts ranged from the familiar "Satin Doll," "In a Mellow Tone" and "Caravan" to the more complicated and classically influenced harmonies of "Black and Tan Fantasy," and both "Ahmad" and "Isfahan" from "The Far East Suite."

Outstanding solos were delivered in the style of long-ago Ellington musicians. Among those were high-note trumpeter Ravi Best on "Such Sweet Thunder" (Cat Anderson) and torrid tenor saxophonist Shelley Carroll on "In a Sentimental Mood" (Ben Webster). Baritone saxophonist Morgan Price tenderly executed the always-sensual "Sophisticated Lady," complete with the memorable opening slide into the melody.

The brass sections deftly altered the moods of "Such Sweet Thunder," "Cotton Club Stomp" and "Johnny Come Lately" by employing a mixture of mutes (straight, cup, Harmon wah-wah and plunger) with lead trumpeter Kevin Bryan dazzling throughout.

Ballad renditions were particularly well-performed, each featured soloist demonstrating a high level of controlled delicacy on "Mood Indigo" and "In My Solitude," also the intricacies of changing tempos on "The Eighth Veil." The power of "Caravan" felt like an electrical charge, later contrasted by the moody depth of Strayhorn's poignant "Blood Count."

The orchestra leader, alto saxophonist Charlie Young, directed from his position in the reeds section. His spectacular alto replicated a Johnny Hodges-vibrato for a medley of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

The most intriguing chart was "Jack the Bear," written in 1940 to feature Ellington's hard-swinging bassist Jimmy Blanton with an ingenious mix of the 32-bar song form with blues choruses. It was stunningly performed by bassist J.J. Shakur, son of the late pianist Gerry Wiggins, enlivened by multiple musical quotes including "On Broadway," "Rhapsody in Blue," "The Entertainer" and the familiar intro to "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (created by longtime Los Angeles studio musician Chuck Berghofer).

But it was "Cottontail" that offered the most memorable sound and sight: all five saxophones up front, playing soli duets as well as full ensemble, as a 1940s Supersax. Throughout, the rhythm section of Ash-Shakur, pianist Robert Redd (Keter Betts Trio, 1992-2005) and drummer Marty Morell (Bill Evans Trio, 1968-74) was solidly well-meshed in the swinging drive that supported and propelled the orchestra throughout.

The concert was a treasure trove of the Ellington legacy of elegant music that, four decades after his demise, continues to cast a spell over listeners. The concert was part of the 24th annual Arizona Musicfest series in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Post a comment

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.