Legendary Duke Ellington Jazz Performance Reissued for Download and CD


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The Duke Ellington-produced album A Morning in Paris -- recorded in 1963 by South African jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin featuring Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Abdullah Ibrahim as pianists -- will be reissued for download on Tuesday, October 16 in celebration of Sathima's 71st birthday. CDs will be in stores January 22, 2008, but advance copies will be available at Sathima's birthday concert at New York's Sweet Rhythm Jazz Club on Wednesday, October 17.

The story of Sathima Bea Benjamin's A Morning in Paris -- one of the lost and found gems of jazz recording history -- begins in 1963 when a young South African singer named Beattie Benjamin, living in exile in Zurich, catches Duke Ellington's ear after his own performance and convinces him to come directly down to the Club Africana to listen to her boyfriend's trio. Beattie (who would later be given the name “Sathima" by bassist Johnny Dyani) exercised that night a persistence that would dramatically change her life and career, as well as that of her future husband, Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim), and perhaps even the history of jazz. Duke not only agreed to hear the trio; he also insisted that Beattie sing for him. Enthralled by what he heard, Duke sent the musicians to Paris, whereupon both Dollar and Beattie would record albums for Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records, for which Duke was in charge of A&R. Dollar's album became in short time a classic that would establish him as one of the most uniquely personal pianists in jazz history.

Sathima's tapes never reached the public, and were ultimately thought to be lost. However, the tapes resurfaced in 1996 when author David Hajdu, in the course of working on a Billy Strayhorn biography, was given a copy of the session that was secretly made by Gerhard Lehner, the recording engineer. For Sathima, the events of that Paris morning were dream-like in more ways than one -- the performances lived on the courage to take a chance, flourished under the unexpected support of a great artist; became dreams of the past when the possibility of ever hearing them again disappeared into thin air, only to resurface for her and the world to hear 33 years later.

Writing about the morning, Sathima Bea Benjamin notes “I know I shall never, ever again have such a positively wonderful and ecstatic musical experience. I have been blessed beyond words, to have Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Abdullah Ibrahim as my accompanists that 'Morning in Paris.' Their input in my musical career empowers me forever."

Since the recording debut, the Grammy-nominated jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin has established herself as a master interpreter of American jazz standards, having recorded and collaborated with some of the most legendary figures in jazz. In 2004, President Thabo Mbeki recognized Sathima's work in jazz and support of the exiled ANC during apartheid, and awarded her the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa's highest honor.

Out-of-print for several years now, A Morning in Paris will be made available for download for the first time ever on October 16, 2007. Copies of the CD, distributed exclusively through City Hall Records, will be in stores January 22, 2008.

However, advance copies will be available at Sathima's 71st birthday concert, at New York's Sweet Rhythm Jazz Club, on October 17, 2007. The concert features Sathima in performance with pianists Stephen Scott and Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassist Marcus McLaurine, and drummer George Gray. To reserve seats, visit Sweet Rhythm on the web at www.sweetrhythmny.com

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz.
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