Earshot Jazz presents...
27th Annual Concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Town Hall Seattle, 7:30pm
1119 Eighth Ave (at Seneca, First Hill), Seattle
Tickets available at srjo.org.
Ellington's wonderful "Sacred Music" is both serious and swinging. It is a reverent and hip body of jazz composition, written late in his career, for jazz big band, vocal and instrumental soloists, gospel choir, and tap dancers.
For the past 27 years Earshot Jazz has presented an annual concert of Ellington's Sacred Music. This year's concert features the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Michael Brockman and Clarence Acox, with special guest vocalists Stephen Newby and Nichol Venee Eskridge, and the Northwest Chamber Chorus under director Mark Kloepper.
History of Ellington's Sacred Music
"Every man prays in
his own language." Duke Ellington
It is this quote that
captures the spirit of the three Sacred Music concerts
that Ellington premiered in 1965, 1968 and 1973, and
that were the culmination of the last, liturgical phase
of his life's work in music.
for the Sacred Music concerts began during the civil
rights movement of the 1960s. In his program notes for
the first concert he wrote, "How can anyone expect
to be understood unless he presents his thoughts with
complete honesty? This situation is unfair because it
asks too much of the world. In effect, we say, ' I don't
dare show you what I am because I don't trust you for
a minute but please love me anyway because I so need
you to. And, of course, if you don't love me anyway,
you're a dirty dog, just as I suspected, so I was right
in the first place.' Yet, every time God's children
have thrown away fear in pursuit of honesty-trying to
communicate themselves, understood or not, miracles
The first sacred concert
took place in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1965.
The Cathedral commissioned the work as part of its yearlong
consecration celebration, and Ellington's star-studded
orchestra, featuring such legends as Cootie Williams,
Cat Anderson, and Pail Gonsalves, performed with a massed
choir. The Second Sacred Concert took place in 1968
at the Cathedral of St. John in New York and St. Mark's
Cathedral in New Canaan, CT.
Ellington spent most of
his last full year of life composing a notably more
pastoral Third Sacred Concert. The compositions were
built around the voice of Alice Babs, the soulful baritone
saxophone of Harry Carney, and Ellington himself on
the piano. The third and final concert was premiered
on October 24, 1973 at London's Westminster Abbey. Exactly
seven months later Duke Ellington passed away, leaving
an insurmountable legacy that included these sacred
music concerts, performed hundreds of times during this
last decade of his life.
for these concerts drew heavily on earlier pieces, which
were then augmented to convey an intense emotion and
reverence. The pieces belied Ellington's spirituality
that was derived from his roots in the Baptist Church
but was able to transcend denomination with a poignant
universalism. The Sacred Concerts, wedding music and
spirituality as it brought the great jazz tradition
into the church.
In his lifetime, Ellington stated this was the most
important music he'd ever written, but because of the
scale of the music and the sheer number of artists needed
to execute each work, Ellington's sacred concerts have
rarely been performed in the 30 years since his death