Duke Ellington Tribute

Date: 16 August 2003 at 8.00pm
: The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts

Reviewer: June Heywood








Duke Ellington declared that "Vancouver was the prettiest city in the world". Judging by the billboards displayed on the backdrop on the final evening of Festival Vancouver 2003, the Duke returned often.

Led by Alan Matherson, music director, the Festival Jazz Orchestra played many of Mr. Ellington's most popular compositions such as "Don't Mean a Thing", "East St. Louis Toodledo", and "Perdido".

Guest conductor, Fred Stride selected eight of twelve movements from Ellington's "Such Suite Thunder". Written in collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, the Suite was inspired by the works of Shakespeare and dedicated to Canadian friends that Ellington made performing at Ontario's Stratford Festival.

The three witches' music from MacBeth blared out like telecastors forecasting doom. To represent Iago in Othello, Ellington used the instruments to sound like a group of actors in the piece, "Up and Down; I believe in Up and Down". The instruments spoke to one another like a roomful of people as the drum and double bass kept the beat in A Midsummer Nights Dream.

From the record, Half the Fun, a number called "Lady" was dedicated to Cleopatra. The sadness of the doomed teen, Juliet, came out in the soft gentle, "Pretty Girl".

Tom Colclough, clarinetist gave a fine performance especially when holding a long final note at the end of "Half the Fun". A soprano saxophonist really got into the groove with his whole body despite the lack of applause for his first solo.

There was a loud, screaming, thrilling solo from a trumpeter and a lone alto sax player gave us a slow and stately piece. Another alto sax player gave us fine, fast finger work that rose to a final crescendo.


Host and featured vocalist, Jennifer Scott, sang "Rocks in my Bed" and the number to jitterbug to, "Jump for Joy". Her voice was high and sweet. She changed her speed and volume and her scat singing also attributed to a fine performance.

Introducing the star of the show, Ms Scott said, "All musicians try to play the right notes. Clark Terry plays all the good notes." This august, elderly gentleman, carrying his trumpet, painfully walked across the stage on the arm of his attendant. Seating himself he said, "Don't let anyone tell you different, "the Golden Years suck!"

Then with amazingly fast finger work, Mr Terry made his instrument sing as he played such Ellington standards as, "Take the A Train", "Squeeze Me But Please Don't Tease Me", and the bluesy, muted trumpet favourite, "Mood Indigo".

Mr. Terry also shared a couple of tricks. He poured some water in his ear and spat it out of his mouth as he laughed as much as the audience. While playing "Intimacy of the Blues" he played fleugal horn and trumpet at the same time, one in each hand.

From the LP "Brown, Black and Beige", Terry sang "Mumbles". He made this hugely funny with scat singing, nonsense sounds, facial expressions, parts of conversations, and hand wobbles. Mr. Terry and his audience were having great fun. The conductor wandered off the stage. Our star said, "We'd like to give you another short number." He played one note. Finally, there was a brief taps piece and the stage was cleared.

Duke Ellington defined jazz as simply the "freedom of expression". It was said of Duke Ellington that "he possessed a kind of debonair intelligence, an effortless nobility", and that he was a "favourite celestial child".

2003, June Heywood