This splendid album represents three years of preparation by the Jazz Ensembles at Foxborough, Massachusetts, High School for entry into the annual Essentially Ellington competition sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. The FHS Jazz Ensembles are the only ones to make the finals nine years in a row, and the 2004 ensemble, directed by Steve Massey, was runner-up in the competition. Whatever the purpose, it's great to hear young people playing classic music from the Swing Era, especially the acclaimed compositions of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and doing so with a reasonable measure of understanding and commitment.
The eighteen selections span the period from 1934 ("Stompy Jones ) to 1971 ("Portrait of Louis Armstrong ) and include such well-known favorites as "Isfahan, "Happy Go Lucky Local, "Cottontail, "Prelude to a Kiss and the celebrated "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. Although advertised as the music of Ellington/Strayhorn, I still prefer to believe (until someone proves otherwise) that trombonist Juan Tizol actually wrote "Caravan. Five numbers are performed by the 2003 ensemble, seven by the '04 group, half a dozen by the ensemble from '05. Many of the charts are by Ellington scholar David Berger, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's chief arranger, who also leads his own repertory band, the Sultans of Swing.
This is Ellington as originally scored and played, with few deviations from the norm. I'm not enough of an Ellington buff to say whether the solos are improvised or written; most likely some of both. The Duke, of course, employed a number of legendary soloists, and the FHS students are respectable pinch hitters for Johnny Hodges (Brian Carpentier), Jimmy Blanton (Marliese Ballon), Harry Carney (Jeff Richardi, Ivan Navedo), Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves (Richardi), Cat Anderson (Colin Nelson), Barney Bigard (Navedo) and even Louis Armstrong (Derek Shaw). Carpentier is especially persuasive as "Hodges on "Isfahan," "Rockabye River and the transcribed version of "Prelude, as is Richardi as "Gonsalves during seventeen heated choruses (of his own) on "Diminuendo and Crescendo.
Jen Stanley, whose diction could use some work, sings on "Jump for Joy and "Bli-Blip, both from a 1941 musical that never made it to Broadway. Most of the lyrics on "Joy are incoherent but I noted that the word "pastures, sung twice, was transposed to "pastors (I presume people "flocked to them). Stanley fares marginally better on "Bli-Blip, on which she also scats, and on trumpet ("Stompy Jones ). Five of these young musicians (Carpentier, Richardi, trombonists Phil DiCanzio and Stephanie Kasang, guitarist Ryan Fitzgerald) were members of all three ensembles.
On the basis of this delightful cross section, its easy to see (and hear) why FHS has fared so well in the Essentially Ellington competition. A first-class ensemble doing its part to help keep the Duke's spirit alive. One can't ask for more than that.
Harlem Air Shaft; Caravan; Jack the Bear; Isfahan; Jump for Joy; Happy Go Lucky Local; Portrait of Louis Armstrong; Sugar Rum Cherry; Bli-Blip; Purple Gazelle; Cottontail; VIP
Stephen C. Massey: director. 2003 -- Derek Shaw, Jen Stanley, Brian Kelly, Jeremy LaPointe: trumpet; Brian Carpentier, Matt Volpini, Dave Vines, Jeff Richardi, John Mihaley, Ivan Navedo: reeds; Nathan Burtt, Phil DiCanzio, Brian McNeff, Stephanie Kasang, Tina Sorrow: trombone; Cami Tedoldi, Janelle LeBlanc: flute; Greg Woodard: piano; Ryan Fitzgerald: guitar; Marliese Ballon, Andrew O
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