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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.

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