Archive for the ‘Duke Ellington’ Category

“I also play piano” - My Time with Ross Taggart

Ross Taggart

Ross Taggart

It is always sad when you lose someone important in your life. Over the years the Vancouver jazz community has lost many great players who I admired for both their musicianship and character - Fraser MacPherson, Stew Barnett, Dave Robbins, Chris Nelson, Bob MacDonald, Lew Hilton, Bill Trussell. These were all musicians I worked with and I treasure my musical and personal experiences with them all. The latest to leave us was the multitalented tenor saxophonist and pianist Ross Taggart.

I first met Ross in September of 1986. He had just moved over to Vancouver from Victoria and was eagerly searching out opportunities to play. I had never heard of Ross but he showed up at Capilano College (now Capilano University) to audition for the big band I was directing at the time. Ross played some very fine tenor saxophone for me, he read well and soloed up a storm. I was impressed with what I heard. At the end of the audition I would always ask saxophone players what else they played, meaning do you play flute, clarinet or even oboe? Ross didn’t hesitate and said, “I also play piano.” A little surprised I said, “OK, why don’t you play something for me?” I don’t remember what he played, but I do remember enjoying what I heard. He joined the band that fall as the piano player and stayed for the entire year. I guess what struck me then, and something that stayed with him throughout his career, was his amazing ability to combine a deep sense of the jazz tradition (he really knew the vocabulary) with a modern adventurousness.

I continued to hear Ross perform in a great number of musical settings for the remainder of the 1980s. Ross then headed off to New York for a little while in the early 1990s and arrived back in town sometime in 1993. In the meantime I had personally been a little quiet on the local jazz scene, having disbanded my big band, The West Coast Jazz Orchestra, in early 1987. Coincidentally, I started up again around the same time Ross returned to Vancouver. I soon asked him to be the piano player and he remained in that chair until last fall.

Ross’ piano work with the band was always imaginative and often surprising. His very close friend saxophonist Campbell Ryga spoke warmly of Ross in a recent CBC radio interview and stated that Ross always played with great honesty. I would agree 100% with that assessment. Ross seemed incapable of playing a single insincere note. He was always totally absorbed in the  sound and purpose of the music. His playing was never self-absorbed.

In 1999 I transcribed Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige, which took me about 5 months, for a fall concert. In the premiere performance of Duke’s epic 50 minute score, at Carnegie Hall in 1943, Duke improvised cadenzas at several points to help tie various sections together. I had been talking to Ross about the project and mentioned these piano cadenzas. Ross immediately volunteered to learn them himself, which was typical of his generous spirit. When we had our first rehearsal Ross played those cadenzas, note for note, like they were his own. In successive rehearsals the cadenzas began to evolve into something more personal, something more “Ross.” But what I found fascinating was, that no matter what new ideas he would bring to those cadenzas, Ross never lost sight of Ellington, both musically and pianistically.

From the smile on my face Ross has told me something funny.

From the smile on my face Ross has told me one of his many funny stories.

In June of 2006 I recorded the CD The Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra: Forward Motion (Cellar Live). The CD was a representation of some of the music I had written for my band in the previous 4 or 5 years. The pieces don’t contain much in the way of singable melodies or even familiar II-V-I chord progressions. On top of that most of the rhythm section parts were fully notated, with very few chord symbols in sight. Ross, like the others in the rhythm section, did not take these notated parts as some sort of bible. They often played most of what I had written but added their own touches and ideas. For me, this is one of the great things about writing for a jazz orchestra, the addition of individual creativity. I find it fascinating to see and hear what good and sensitive rhythm sections might change and bring to my music.

Ross is all over that recording, comping through everything with an improvisatory daring. In concert settings I would often marvel at what he was playing and think that what I was hearing should not work. But Ross’ extraordinary musical sense of line and harmony was so strong and logical that everything he played worked beautifully. He was able to shape the complicated things I often wrote on the page into something greater and more meaningful. Hearing his playing I would often think - “Why didn’t I do that!” During the recording of the piece Floatation Device Ross mentioned he was having a problem with his back and he asked if would be OK if he didn’t play the constantly repeating B flats that go on for several minutes. I said, “Sure. Once the trombones enter with their B flats you can stop”. Because of the studio setup I couldn’t clearly hear Ross so I was unaware of what he ended up doing. I assumed he stayed out, but when Torben Oxbol and I went to mix, a month or so later, I was amazed at what Ross had come up with. Ross was playing random B flats all through the opening section which created a wonderful pointillistic contrast to the rest of the band. Again Ross’ musical sincerity would not let him just step back and rest because his back was giving him trouble, he contributed a startling idea that made a major contribution to the performance.

On the same recording Ross played a solo on Oddly Enough. Listening to the playback after a final take Ross expressed he was not happy with his solo, he wanted to do another take. I however was thrilled with what he played - the lines, the rhythmic bounce and the very daring out-of-key funny quote near the end. For me this solo sums up a lot of Ross Taggart the musician and the person. We can hear his sense of musical tradition, his impeccable time and rhythmic sense, his vivid and creative imagination and, for those of us that spent anytime around Ross, his great sense of humour.

For the past 4 years the Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra has been performing my transcriptions and arrangements of music from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. Heading into our third performance in November 2011 Ross called me to ask if I would possibly consider adding Duke’s solo piano piece Meditation. I hesitated, as the one recorded performance I owned was a little too long for the existing program, but I didn’t dismiss his offer. Ross soon found a shorter version (Ross was a real jazz scholar and avid collector of all things jazz) and this version fit comfortably into the program. I never asked Ross to play the piece in any of the rehearsals, I knew he would have it down. I finally heard him play it for the first time in the concert. The placement of Meditation half way through the second half of the program, along with his sensitive playing, created a beautiful moment, moving everything down to a quiet, reflective few minutes before we built up again for the rousing conclusion of Praise God and Dance. Ross’ two and a half minute solo was sheer musical poetry.

Ross was booked to play in our November 2012 Duke Ellington Sacred Music concert in his hometown of Victoria. A couple of months prior Ross called to say he had been booked to play and record with jazz great “Tootie” Heath. Unfortunately, the recording session was scheduled for the morning of our Victoria show. I told Ross, that although I would miss him, it was fine for him to sub out and take advantage of this great opportunity. Ross, typically, would have none of that, he wanted to do both and he really wanted to play the Ellington music again. So he went away trying to figure out how he might do both. He called back a couple of weeks later to say the recording session was going to be done quickly and when it was over he would take a cab to the downtown heliport and fly to Victoria, and he might be about a half hour late for our afternoon rehearsal. I knew he had his part down so I said OK. Around the beginning of October Ross called again to talk about his plans for doing both gigs. He also told me he wasn’t feeling great, but he was still determined to play both gigs. I do know that Ross loved Ellington very deeply and for him to have another chance to play such great music was something he was not about let pass. We ended up having a long conversation, talking about all manner of things both personal and musical. It was a memorable conversation and it was the last time we ever talked. The day before I flew to Winnipeg for some concerts in mid-October I received word that Ross was in hospital. When I returned I was told that Ross would not be able to play any gigs in the near future. With quite a bit of effort I found a nice substitute, one of Ross’ students. At the concert in Victoria, when we got to the spot in the second half of the program for Meditation, I stopped the concert and announced to the audience that a dear friend of everyone performing in the show was not well and that we are dedicating the next piece to Ross Taggart. I then sat at the piano, with trembling hands, going over my feelings for Ross and thinking what a performance legacy he had placed in front of me. I did my best, but it was tough.

In a big city like Vancouver there are many great jazz piano players, but Ross was my hands down favourite. I will miss him. While Ross’ passing has put the Vancouver jazz community into a sad state, I know Ross would rather us go play some music than dwell too long on his passing.

RIP Ross Taggart

All the photos were taken by Steve Mynett at our June 2006 big band recording session The Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra: Forward Motion (Cellar Live)

Cellar Live http://www.cellarlive.com/.

Steve Mynett http://www.mynettworks.com/ or http://www.mynettphotography.com

FSJO recording session June 2006

FSJO recording session June 2006

Ellington Sacred Music Concert #4

sacred-4-3522199

Here we are almost a year later, all set to perform another concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. We had previously performed the concert in Vancouver in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The 2012 concert is being held in Victoria at the Alix Goolden Hall on Saturday, November 10, 2012. The concert, as with our previous versions, includes vocal soloists Dee Daniels and Marcus Mosely, the Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra, The Sacred Music Gospel Choir, and tap dancer, Alex Dugdale.

You can read about Dee, Marcus, Alex and the Sacred Music Choir on last years post. However, the band this time out is a mixture of Vancouver and Victoria musicians. Coming with me are lead trumpet player Derry Byrne; Mike Braverman, clarinet/tenor saxophone; Chad Makela - baritone saxophone; Leo Bae, piano, Andre Lachance, bass; and Bernie Arai, drums. The Victoria musicians are Tom Ackerman, alto saxophone/clarinet; Gordon Clements, alto saxophone; Phil Dwyer, tenor saxophone; Bruce Hurn, trumpet; Dave Flello, trumpet; Alfons Fear, trumpet and 3 great Victoria trombone players - Ian McDougall, Mark Wilson and Matt McConchie. I’m really looking forward to the concert and sharing this great music with a new audience.

All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the work of Our Place Society with Victoria’s homeless and people living in poverty. Find out more about the work of Our Place and how you can help at: OurPlaceSociety.com

This concert has sold out each year so order your tickets early!

CONCERT TICKETS: www.eventbrite.com, Lyles Place at 250-382-8422, and Ditch Records & CDs, 250-386-5874, all in Victoria.

Here is Dee Daniels performing Tell Me It’s The Truth at our 2009 concert.

watch?v=sg7g1qah6JI

Of course this concert would not happen without the generous support of:

Our Place Society, the Victoria Jazz Society and:

cbc1chk1tc

ralmax-300x188

bmo-e1351642550830bay-300x74thrifty-e1351642362644bmonb_logo_eng-300x91

A Concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music

Duke Ellington 1965

Duke Ellington 1965

Here were are once again, having the great fortune to be able to perform some of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. This will be our 3rd time performing this great music in an effort to support the First United Church and their mission to help the homeless on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. This concert has started to become a yearly highlight for me and I’m sure it is the same for all the other performers and organizers.

Duke Ellington described this music: “This music is the most important thing I’ve ever done, or am ever likely to do. This is personal, not career. Now I can say out loud to all the world what I have been saying to myself for years on my knees.” While the centre of this music is the spirituality, it never feels overtly so. Nor does the singing take over, with the jazz orchestra taking a strict accompaniment role. Every performer is integral to the music. This was always one of Duke’s striking compositional traits, everyone contributed to the sound of the music in a deep, meaningful way. The great big band in our concerts, which is made up of some of the finest jazz performers in Vancouver, which in addition to a superb accompaniment role, shines on two instrumental features and provides a generous amount of solo statements throughout the evening. This is a total jazz experience.

For our 2011 concert presentation we are adding, or rather changing around, a few songs for this third performance. New this year are Is God A Three Letter Word For Love and Ain’t Nobody Nowhere Nothin’ Without God, both from Duke’s Third Sacred Concert and Meditation from the Second Sacred Concert. Also on the program are Come Sunday, Praise God and Dance, The Lord’s Prayer, It’s Freedom, Don’t Get Down on Your Knees To Pray, David Danced Before the Lord, In The Beginning (which won the 1966 Grammy award for best jazz composition), Tell Me It’s The Truth, The Shepherd, Ninety-Nine Percent and The Biggest and Busiest Intersection, which is an all out jazz tour-de force for the band.

It was singer Dee Daniels who really got the ball rolling on performing this wonderful music. We had done a concert for Festival Vancouver in 2008 titled Duke, Dee and Me. Dee sang some Ellington songs at the concert, one of which was Tell Me It’s The Truth, from one of Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. In her little preamble before we performed the tune she put forth to the audience how great it would be to perform Duke’s Sacred Music in Vancouver. Someone in the audience contacted her and away we all went. A partnership with First United Church, supporting their mission helping the homeless on the Downtown Eastside, was the final result.

What superlatives can I write about Dee Daniels that hasn’t already been said? I guess all I really need to say is that working with Dee is always a great pleasure. Not only is she a great singer, but she is a very warm person who cares deeply about every single aspect of the concert. For more on Dee click here

Last year was the first time I had ever worked with Marcus Mosely. I had seen him perform a few times over the years and I do remember meeting him briefly at a concert that we were involved with up at Whistler a few years ago. Marcus, like Dee, is also very warm and professional. And man, can he sing! For more on Marcus click here

Tap dancer Alex Dugale joined us for the first time last year. Alex is originally from Seattle and is currently finishing his music degree in saxophone performance at the Eastman School of Music. Alex’s tap techinque, impeccable time and imagination are fantastic to behold. He plays jazz with his feet!

The 12 voice Sacred Music Gospel Choir is comprised of some top level professional singers and they are also great nice to work with. The first year we had the wonderful Phoenix Choir but their busy schedule did not allow them to continue for a second year. However, a few members of that choir, along with other interested and skillful singers, wanted to continue to be a part of the performance. The choir which is managed by Mike Angell and Rob Hollins is: Corlynn Hanney, Crystal Hicks, Erin Hollins, Gregory Ferrugia, Matthew Smith, Miles Ramsay, Mike Angell, Patti Fletcher, Phil Jenion, Rob Hollins, Sara Ramsay, Siri Olesen.

This year we are being joined by the gospel group The Sojourners. The Sojouners are Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders and Khari McClelland. For more on the group  click here

Finally, the orchestra, or rather big band, is made up of some of my favourite Vancouver musicians. Their passion for making music and their individual and collective skill sets are truly world class. I always feel I have the best seat in the house when I stand in front of them.

Orchestra Personnel:

Conductor/Director: Fred Stride
Saxophones: Jens Christiansen, Aaron Hardie, Bill Runge, Mike Braverman, Chad Makela
Trumpets: Derry Byrne, Kent Wallace, Tom Shorthouse, Chris Davis
Trombones: Dennis Esson, Rod Murray, Jeremy Berkman
Piano: Ross Taggart
Bass: Andre Lachance
Drums: Bernie Arai

Our host, as for the past 2 years, is CBC’s Rick Cluff. Rick, like everyone else connected with this production, is also great to work with. He is warm and knowledgeable and a genuine fan of both the music and performers. Since this concert does not take place in a formal concert hall, but in a large church, Dee and I felt that the experience needed a little “help.” Amplification, or microphones are used only on the solo singers, choir and instrumental soloists, while the band is heard acoustically. Staging is also brought in to elevate the performers above floor level, giving us a stage. Finally, the concert is filmed and shown on a giant screen behind the performers, greatly adding the concert experience.

I hope you can join us for this great evening of music and dance and The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington.

For more on First United Church and their great work click here

Purchase tickets through www.eventbrite.com click here

Event: Sacred Music of Duke Ellington

Date: Friday, November 18, 2011 at 8:00 PM (doors open at 7:00)

Location: St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church 1012 Nelson Street (Corner of Burrard & Nelson) Vancouver, British Columbia

The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington concert is a fundraising event for the work of First United Church, a place of refuge for people who are homeless on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For more information, please visit www.firstunited.ca.

2011_ltr_poster_v3-1024-800

Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music

dukeellington-sm-140x140

I have an upcoming concert here in Vancouver performing the sacred music of Duke Ellington. This is one of the biggest jazz concerts I have ever done, involving a 17 piece big band, 2 solo singers, a choir and a tap dancer. In order to enhance the concert experience for the audience staging is being added, along with a large television screen capturing the various performers. Last year was the first time we performed this music and there were close to a 1,000 people attending the concert at Saint Andrew’s Wesley Church on Burrard Street.

Of course a concert of this size needs considerable help to make it all happen. To celebrate an anniversary, raise awareness and, most importantly, to raise funds, The First United Church joined with us in this presentation.

This years concert is on Friday, November 19th, 8 PM at St.  Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, Vancouver. Tickets available by calling Natalie Lanoville at 604-681-8365 – ext: 104 or purchase online. For more information click here

This years featured performers:

Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra
Fred Stride, Conductor
Jens Christiansen, Lead Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Aaron Hardie, Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Bill Runge, Tenor Saxophone
Mike Braverman, Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet
Chad Makela, Baritone Saxophone
Derry Byrne, Lead Trumpet
Kent Wallace, Trumpet
Chris Davis, Trumpet
Tom Shorthouse, Trumpet
Dennis Esson, Lead Trombone
Rod Murray, Trombone
Jeremy Berkman, Trombone
Ross Taggart, Piano
Andre Lachance, Bass
Bernie Arai, Drums

Singers - Dee Daniels and Marcus Mosely
The Sacred Music Gospel Choir
Alex Dugdale - Tap dancer

I sincerely hope you will be able to join us for an evening of great music and to help the First United Church with their great cause.

Below is a little blurb from some of the promotional material.

The first time I heard Duke Ellington on record in the late 1960s I realized this was something different. Seeing him perform on his last 2 visits to Vancouver in the early 1970s was equally enthralling. His piano playing, his grace moving about the stage, his introductions to his music, hearing the wonderful performers in his band play his music was an unforgettable experience. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s I played in many rehearsal and professional bands and it was always a wonderfully rewarding experience when one of Dukes original scores or a new arrangement of one his standards was called. His music seemed to be timeless to me. It also seemed to draw out the best in the players around me, encouraging, if not demanding, us all to play out and to express ourselves in a manner that was a deeper than many musical experiences.

Having performed several of his big works - The Tattooed Bride, Harlem: A Tone Parallel, Such Sweet Thunder, The Far East Suite, Black Brown and Beige as well as countless performances of his smaller works, it is a natural progression for me to his last big important works - The Sacred Concerts. In Duke’s Sacred Music his deep spiritualness fused with his musical imagination is simply irresistible to those of us that have long admired his music.     Fred Stride

Event Sponsors:

Co-sponsor:

Media Sponsors:

Corporate Sponsors:

First United Church. First United Church has been proudly serving the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood for 125 years.

Categories

Archives