I have a big admission to make here before I even start to write this review, and that is that, unlike many of the people who were in here to listen to the music of Duke Ellington and who were obviously familiar with much of the music played tonight, I have never listened to that much Duke Ellington music before. Yes, I know the name and have in the past put on the odd track on vinyl to play, listened to the odd tune online, but I have never until now heard an evening of Duke Ellington’s music as it should be heard, and that is played by a great live band.
The Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra and Echoes of Ellington band were led by Duke Ellington musical specialist Pete Long (also musical director of Ronnie Scott’s Big Band) and covered the classic 1945 and post – war musical periods when “The Duke” was collaborating on his music with composer–arranger–pianist Billy Strayhorn.
Our opening number from 1944 was “Bluetopia” and this was just the start of a night of classic jazz that included along the way great numbers such as “Take The A Train”, “It Don’t Mean a thing” and the for the time almost unimaginably titled “The Tattooed Bride” (CD of the same title available now folks). We were also treated to a few gems such as “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” with the later middle section “Transbluesency” put in to play all three musical moods in one uninterrupted performance. We also got treated to a newly discovered piece of music by Billy Strayhorn called “Le Sacre Supreme”. This work was never recorded by Duke Ellington, and Pete Long was premiering this work as its first Scottish performance tonight.
The night was not just all big band jazz. We also had some great vocal performances by Georgina Jackson on numbers including “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “Love You Madly”. Georgina is also appearing with Iain Hunter at the Queen’s Hall on 23rd July
The Echoes of Ellington Band Itself is made up of some of the very best players on the Jazz circuit today and picking any one out for special mention always seems unfair. Everyone on stage was a high calibre soloist in their own right, and putting them all together just brought that evocative sound from the 1940s to life. As this is a Duke Ellington show though, particular mention has to go to pianist Nick Dawson.
The show tonight was a real surprise to me. Until seeing and hearing this music played by top quality players, I had never appreciated the immense complexity of the music and how something that at times can look improvised is actually so carefully crafted. You do not have to be a lifelong Duke Ellington fan to recognise that this was the hand of genius at work between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. I also for the first time heard just how linear the link between the music of Duke Ellington from this period and the early sounds of “Rock’n’ Roll” is. This in parts is music echoed a few years later by Bill Haley and other early Rock’n’Roll bands.
I have to thank Pete Long here for much of the information in this article because he not only played some wonderful jazz in his own right tonight, led the big band, but he also acted as a guide to the music with his introductions to each piece of music. This is music that I need to track down, find a lot more about, and listen a lot more to. Pete Long has introduced a new fan to Duke Ellington’s music and that has to be what The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is all about – introducing people to new music (whether that music is old or new).
Review by Tom King