DUKE ELLINGTON makes the swing look easy (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
DUKE ELLINGTON makes the swing look easy (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra pays tribute to Duke Ellington

All you need is “swing” to make the music of Duke Ellington sing. This was the credo of Ellington, one of the greatest American pianists, jazz composers, arrangers, and big band leaders of 20th-century music.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Jazz Orchestra, led by Israeli conductor, composer and arranger Yaron Gottfried, will try to reach the proper swing when performing Ellington’s toe tapping and soul freeing music on Saturday evening, April 29, 21:00 at the Charles Bronfman Cultural Hall in Tel Aviv, and at the Rappaport Center for Art and Culture in Haifa, on Tuesday evening, May 2, 20:00.

Ellington’ career stretched a half a century, from the 1920’s to the 70’s. He created some of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music, from smooth, suave dance music, to TV music, movie scores, and a set of new sounds he called “Jungle Music”. Along the way, he created a new, magnificent musical genre called symphonic jazz, a combination of New York jazz and the classical, symphonic orchestra. The Tribute to Ellington will showcase four of his important, big, symphonic jazz pieces, which straddle the symphonic seam between jazz and classical music.

Award winning, Israeli conductor, arranger, composer, and pianist Yaron Gottfried will lead the IPO and the Israel Jazz Orchestra in this tribute. Finding time to share his thoughts about the music with The Jerusalem Post, Gottfried’s enthusiasm was clearly contagious.

“Ellington is considered one of the greatest jazz composers of all time,” opens Gottfried. “He had enormous impact on the popular music of the late 20th century, leading his big band for more than 50 years while composing thousands of scores. His gift of melody and mastery of sonic textures, rhythms, and compositional forms translated into a body of music unequaled in jazz history. In addition, April 29th, the day of the concert in Tel Aviv, is the date of his birthday, and we will celebrate with his symphonic jazz along with his famous compositions for big band.”

 THE ISRAEL Philharmonic Orchestra.  (credit: ODED ANTMAN) THE ISRAEL Philharmonic Orchestra. (credit: ODED ANTMAN)

Ellington was famous for the longevity of the careers of the musicians in his band. Each was chosen for his sensitive and innovative improvisational skills. This grouping of the Israel Jazz Orchestra has a similar structure to the classic, big band, and Gottfried is proud to appear with its members, and guest saxophonist, Eli Digerbi.

“We have gathered our top musicians, composers, and arrangers into one creative and fruitful environment. Our sound is special because we pour in a variety of musical styles and colors. This time they are the swing band within the IPO, and will perform works written only for the jazz band, as well as joining the IPO on Ellington’s larger works.”

“The program is a mixture of big band well known hits like, Take the A Train, In a Mellow Tone, Satin Doll and more. In addition, we are giving prominence to four of Ellington’s compositions on a grand, symphonic scale.”

Black, Brown and Beige

THE CONCERT will open with Black, Brown and Beige, Ellington’s suite composed in 1943, in honor of his band’s first concert appearance in Carnegie Hall in New York. His intent was to reflect African-American history in the US. Black, Brown, and Beige became one of the first works establishing the theme of African-American music in the world of “high” art. Moreover, it brought jazz to a new and respected level of style and sophistication. “

Three Black Kings, composed in 1974, as a tribute (or eulogy) to Dr. Martin Luther King, was Ellington’s last composition. Gottfried explains, “Each movement captures the psychological depth of its respective subjects. The first movement depicts King Balthazar, (the Black King of the Nativity), and features propulsive percussion sounds that explode into ravishing, exotic melodies in the strings. 

“The episodic second movement fluctuates between sultry strings accompanied by harp and upbeat passages reminiscent of Ellington’s jazz orchestra, perhaps evoking King Solomon’s taste for love more than his fabled wisdom. In the gospel-inflected third movement, a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, one hears subtle tambourine backbeats.”

Night Creatures, composed in 1955, is where Ellington connects two disparate musical worlds: the Concerto Grosso style of the Baroque period and the realm of jazz soloists. Gottfried is excited this composition will receive its Israeli premiere with the IPO and Israel Jazz Orchestra.

The story behind Night Creatures is as fascinating as Ellington’s choice of format. “The first movement,” Gottfried explains, “ is about a blind bug who comes out every night to find that he is King of the Night Creatures and he must dance. The second movement is concerned with the imaginary monster we all fear we shall have to meet some midnight, but when we meet him, I am sure we will find out he too dances the boogie-woogie. The Queen, a dazzling woman who reigns over all the night creatures, is the theme of the third movement.”

New World A-Comin’, Gottfried explains, is a 13-minute rhapsody for piano and symphony orchestra in which he will be soloist and conduct from the piano. Ellington wrote in his memoir Music is my Mistress, “I visualized in this new world of the distant future, there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God.”

“I think you can find it all in Ellington’s music: sadness, hope dreams, fun, mystery and groove,” continues Gottfried. “This is quite a rare occasion to have Duke’s big symphonic works performed in Israel. The collaboration of Israel Jazz Orchestra and the IPO is also unique as you get a glimpse of all worlds in one program. 

“Personally speaking, I am looking forward to the rehearsals and concerts as a composer, conductor, and pianist who has been bridging the classical and jazz worlds for years. These are great and exciting concerts for me, and I invite the audience to take part.”

For further information: *3766 or website of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

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