29th Annual Concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington

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29th Annual Concert of Sacred Music by  Duke Ellington

Saturday, December 30, 7:30pm
University Christian Church
4731 15th Ave NE
$14-40

Sunday, December 31, 7:30pm
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
8398 NE 12th St, Medina
$40

Earshot Jazz is proud to present the 29th annual Sacred Music of Duke Ellington concert—twice.

This year, audiences can enjoy two back-to-back performances of the beloved holiday tradition. On December 30, Seattle’s University District hosts the program at University Christian Church; then, on the eve of 2018, the music heads over to the Eastside at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

The concert features the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Michael Brockman and Clarence Acox, the Northwest Chamber Chorus under the direction of Mark Kloepper, guest vocal soloists Nichol Veneé Eskridge and Dr. Stephen Newby, and tap dancer Alex Dugdale.

Ellington’s 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 dancer. Presented by Earshot Jazz for the past 28 years, it is the longest-running presentation of Ellington’s Sacred Music in the country, and is now a staple of the Seattle holiday season’s musical fare.

Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts” series originated when the Reverend at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral approached The Duke about composing a liturgical work for the church. Ellington accepted and got to work on a composition that would combine jazz, spirituals, gospel music, dance, and narration in dramatic fashion. His familiarity with biblical texts and theatrical experience no doubt proved useful in this endeavor. The work also functions as a kind of staged pageant.

In the first concert, which premiered at the Grace Cathedral in 1965, the phrase “In the Beginning God” appears throughout as a kind of idée fixe, either sung by the choir or played as a six-note motif in a variety of instrumental formats. Since the piece is a bit like a suite built around songs and interludes, the “In the Beginning God” phrase serves as a unifying element that ties the diverse set of arrangements together.

Ellington composed two more Sacred Concerts in the ensuing years. (Contemporary “Sacred Concerts” are often assembled from material drawn from all three.) The final one, composed in the last year of life (and after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer), premiered at London’s Westminster Abbey and is dedicated to the United Nations. It was in the opening remarks to this concert that Ellington made his oft-quoted statement—both a declaration and a defense—that “Every man prays in his own language, and there is no language that God doesn’t understand.”

It is this quote that captures the spirit of the three Sacred Music concerts, which were the culmination of the last, liturgical phase of his life’s work in music. In his lifetime, Ellington stated this was the most important music he’d ever written.

“It’s the most beautiful music that Ellington wrote,” Clarence Acox asserts. “It’s so spiritual and gorgeously arranged and it meant so much to Ellington.”

Tickets and more information available at earshot.org.

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November 30, 2017