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The 33rd Annual Concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music

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Saturday, December 26, 7:30pm
In-person & Livestream
Town Hall Seattle, Great Hall
1119 8th Avenue
$10-50

BY NINA DUBINSKY

More than five decades after Duke Ellington presented his first concert of Sacred Music at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, Ellington’s legacy lives on in Seattle. In a longstanding collaboration between Earshot Jazz and Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, the world’s longest-running presentation of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music returns in-person to Town Hall Seattle’s Great Hall this December for its 33rd annual iteration. Ellington’s Sacred Music 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. 

In this convention-breaking body of work, Ellington’s Sacred Music brings together gospel, swing, and classical music in a beautiful mesh of sounds. “Sacred music in all its forms offers a universal point of meeting. But what makes music sacred is not a rigid category nor a fixed pattern of taste,” said Ellington. Referring to his Sacred Concerts as some of his most important works, the jazz legend showed creativity beyond his time while he experimented with numerous large-scale suites and multi-part works far beyond the normal limits of traditional jazz bands. Due to the scale of the music and the number of artists needed to execute each work, quite the congregation of musicians is needed to execute this concert. Historically, the show has always brought in many special guests to share the stage and this year is no exception. The concert features the 17-piece Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Michael Brockman and Clarence Acox, accompanied by tap dancer Alex Dugdale, and vocal soloists Dee Daniels and Jacqueline Tabor.

Ellington’s Sacred Music roots started in Seattle with a pickup ensemble that consisted of specially selected players, instrumental soloists, and vocalists that rehearsed and presented the Concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington in December 1988, under the auspices of the Interfaith Council of Seattle. The original musicians from the 1988 performance included Seattle jazz world icons such as Don Lanphere, Marc Seales, Floyd Standifer, Michael Brockman, and Clarence Acox which led to forming the earliest iteration of the SRJO. Brockman, SRJO’s Co-Artistic Director and Executive Director says of the company and production,

In many ways, the annual Sacred concerts provided the impetus for SRJO forming. Why do we do this every year? Because, it’s just like stepping onto the stage at the symphony hall and playing the great works of Beethoven. A very powerful tradition is being upheld and shared.

This late-career body of work builds upon his earlier jazz suites that depicted his family upbringing and childhood in the Black church while intertwining his meditations on the struggle for freedom, justice, and forgiveness during the Civil Rights era. “[But] many of us, regardless of our faith backgrounds, see value in considering the larger issues of being human and being members of a world that is meant for more than just filling our own daily needs. Ellington’s music is absolutely ecumenical and universalist. He does not preach to us, but rather, he shows his listening audience that we are all in it together,” Brockman tells Earshot Jazz. 56 years later, Ellington continues to uplift and bring together our community with the joyful noise of his Sacred Music.

The concert returns to its in-person glory (with the option to join via livestream) after taking a digital hiatus last year. The event follows Earshot Jazz’s COVID-19 Policy and requires proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours required for venue entry along with full mask compliance. For ticketing and the full COVID policy, please visit earshot.org/ellingtons-sacred-music.

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December 2, 2021

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