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The World of Duke Ellington 2015


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The World of Duke Ellington 2015
Jazz at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
April 29, 2015

Duke would have been 116 this year, and what a party he didn't have! JALC raised $3.9M on their gala night and the exceptional quality of all of the performances reflected the generosity of JALC supporters. There aren't many things that change as dependably as the unique inflections of jazz musicians, and with the legacy of Duke's charts they reinforce all that is good in life, even if it is only for a couple of hours. Doubly satisfying is being able to listen online for free in Britain (eye luggage increasing by the stream).

Waiting for the show to begin there was a lovely video interlude from Scots born Joe Temperley describing his long and rich history through the many styles of jazz in which he has participated.

The gala show started with a solo tap dancer as the curtains were raised to the intro of "Old Man Blues," accompanied by a company of dancers towards the second half of the song. It was hearing New Orleans music that inspired Duke Ellington. Next up were Jon Batiste and Joey Saylor, guesting on "Night Time."

Michael Keaton glided across the stage to begin hosting, "The reason we're even here tonight is to swing. No-one ever swung harder or had a better time than Duke. He spent 50 years on the road, serving as composer and song writer, arranger and re-arranger, conductor and pianist, talent scout and nurse maid, ladies' man... and faithful church goer."

Duke's friend and JALC mentor the late Albert Murray said, "At its best an Ellington performance sounds as if it knows the truth about all the other music in the world and is looking for something better."

As it happens Keaton is a big jazz fan, he warmly introduced Managing and Artistic Director of JALC, Wynton Marsalis who presented a CBS video about the Ed Bradley Award for Leadership in Jazz to piano man, board Chairman Bob Appel. Appel being a considerable advocate for jazz at JALC since 2008 and a firm believer that jazz can change the world.

Appel spoke about Wynton and the JALC team and the reasons why JALC is important. He is one of the nicest kind of old busy guys to be a Chairman of the board at JALC. He ended his speech by thanking the audience as philanthropists, and highlighting the quality of life in New York as a result of private philanthropy.

Keaton noted that Duke liked to incorporate the nuances of people he met into his music. Although bassist Jimmy Blanton was only in Duke's band for two years, he had a gift for precision notes that altered the rhythm section of the band and jazz itself, and so it was that Christian McBride led a lively "Jack the Bear" for his guest spot with the orchestra.

"Limbo Jazz," a Caribbean take on a Spanish dance featuring the Bansuri bamboo flute played spellbindingly by Pakistani Baqir Abbass with walk up flute by Ted Nash, one of many standout performances of the night.

Another video series filled a brief interlude with Wynton Marsalis, Todd Stoll Vice President of Education, and Aaron Diehl. Aaron talked about how the combination of the sublime and boogie together can talk to anyone.

Keaton returned to inform about Duke and Billy Strayhorn, "Take the A Train,"the first song to seal their relationship was written by Strayhorn when he was 21, in his own words it was born without effort. The orchestra took a jaunty pace with it, accompanied by dancing couple, James Brown III and Aaron Moore.

Actress Adriane Lenox sang a gutsy rendition of "Rocks in my Bed" by Duke and Barney Bigard augmented with sultriness by Victor Goines, and pianist Dan Nimmer keenly accenting the blue notes.

Keaton discussed the suite "Black, Brown and Beige," how it was dismissed at its première and how as a result Duke never played it again in its entirety. Pastor Shirley Caesar performed a stirring Gospel vocal of "Come Sunday." This was followed by the Essentially Ellington Alumni Orchestra led by bassist Carlos Henriquez performing "Happy-Go-Lucky Local" which swung with a major pulse, sassy brass and super deep bass, a truly vibrant NEON ARROWS JAZZ IS ALIVE sound proving beyond doubt that high quality jazz is available for new generations to come.

Entertainment lawyer and fellow Jazz Foundation of America board member Geoffrey Menin introduced the Ashley Schiff Ramos Community Development in Jazz Award, given to Executive Director and Vice Chairman of Jazz Foundation of America, Wendy Oxenhorn. In 1990 she co-founded Street News (like the Big Issue in the UK) and by Menin's account, is a mean blues Harmonica player.

In 2000 Oxenhorn became executive director of Jazz Foundation of America which provides assistance to musicians in need, she raised $350 000 which helped the foundation go from helping 35 to 300 musicians in a year. Ten years ago following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, she and the staff worked day and night for a year rehousing over 1000 musicians and their families. Her efforts led to the donations of over a quarter of a million dollars of horns, basses, pianos and drums which were distributed to musicians who had lost instruments during the floods. She also organised over 500 displaced musicians in over 24 states to make money by performing for children in public schools. This effort became the Agnes Varis Jazz in Schools program, which employs elders who are no longer able to tour any more, gives them dignified meaningful work and helps educate kids about jazz.

Wendy Oxenhorn gives a high level of personal care, including chicken soup and TLC to musicians in hospital, her huge heart connects to the board and donors. Wendy was recently nominated to Montreux Festival board; she is the first woman and first American member of Montreux Jazz Festival board. Oxenhorn didn't have speech and simply shared her thanks with her parents, her daughters Sky and Montana and the Foundation team, President Jerrard Lillian, Joe Petracelli, Bob Opatrani, Darryl Denver, Loren Roberts, Hank O'Neil, Mike Devans, Peter Verner, Lisa Hafkin; the people who do the job with her day and night. She shared a conversation with the audience, "Michael Keaton was wondering, he had questions about love and lust, here's my card. I'm available for coffee, I'm not married! Someone had to do it right." and Keaton came back on stage to lift Wendy's card!

One more surprise followed on from a mention of the Clark Terry film "Keep on Keepin On" and later Oxenhorn was seen clutching what seemed to be Terry's trumpet to pass to Wynton Marsalis as Clark's special award to him.

Keaton returns to host with the comic aside, "See this is why you do these things," and later follows with a comment on the little dude in the front row, 6 year old Cole, "Just by osmosis his taste will have jumped incrementally, in a couple of years his buddies are going to play him Justin Bieber and he will involuntarily vomit over that shirt his parents brought him."

"Tonk" performed by Dick Hyman, was the richest stride, positively jumping off the keys with effortless flourishes, a consummate performance.

Duke didn't like boxes, he wanted no divisions. In view of that the next performance of the evening was "Mood Indigo," performed by Joe Temperley from Scotland, making music for 70 years, and the young sensation from Chile, Melissa Aldana who was respectfully catching the baton, the sound was sweet, slow and reverent.

"Rockin in Rhythm" ended the show with the orchestra playing out in a fittingly celebratory gala ending. A brilliantly programmed evening and a sincerely memorable night of music. Thank you JALC.

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