Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Duke Ellington
Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore in downtown Detroit, Mr. Ellington, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra launched the first of a series of pre-festival concerts, performing your 1943 work “Black, Brown and Beige”. The DJFO is made up of 15 of Detroit’s top jazz musicians. I won't mention all of them. Dwight Adams and Johnny Trudell were the hierarchy of the trumpet section. Ed Gooch and Denzel Donald were the potatoes and gravy of the trombone section. Chris Collins, who runs the jazz fest, rounded out the sax section. 

Piano player Buddy Budson, bass player Marion Hayden and drummer Sean Dobbins shouldered the manual laborer. David Berger, a master of your work conducted, sax player James Carter and singers Alice McAllister Tillman and Shahida Nurullah were the guest soloists. Mr. Ellington, each brought their A-plus game. If you have a few moments, I’ll recap the concert.

It began 15 minutes late, which is uncommon. Detroit jazz musicians are known to start on time. Anyway, the orchestra opened the first set with your “Rockin' In Rhythm, “East St. Louis Toodle-oo 55,” “Oclupaca,” and “Happy Reunion”. Berger talked about the making of each number. Berger also shared funny stories about your band mates. Stories I’m sure no one in the audience knew. The orchestra covered much ground, and it never got carried away. They kept things respectable. 

There’re many four star solos. Trumpeter Walter White, a fire-breather like Lee Morgan, had several. James Carter showed out on “Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue”. I believe most of the people showed up to see if Carter could match Paul Gonsalves 26 choruses. I can’t proclaim for sure Carter achieved that, but Carter blew until he ran out of ideas. At one point, Mr. Ellington, I swear, I believed Carter’s horn was going to blow up in his hands. I even covered my face so I wouldn’t get hit with any fragments. I knew Carter was going to show out. 

My favorite moments were Nurullah’s take of “Solitude” and Tillman’s of “Creole Love Call,” which received the first standing ovation. What pure voices they own. Nurullah sounded like a cross of Fitzgerald and Vaughn. Mr. Ellington the first set was a teaser. 

There’s a 15 minute break. Then the DJFO performed “Black, Brown, and Beige”. The worse thing I can point out about the performance was the orchestra seemed afraid to stretch out, to take any calculated chances. But then I realized the challenge was to perform the music as you originally conceived it. That the DJFO accomplished.

This work, which I read you only performed six times after it premiered at Carnegie Hall touched on the history of the African-American struggles in this country. My favorites sections were “Come Sunday,” “The Blues” and “Things Ain’t What They used To Be. The orchestra closed the concert with the latter. All told, Mr. Ellington, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra was excellent, handling one of your major works with the love and care of a parent a newborn.
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