Jazz Repertory Builds in Seattle: A Bridge from Past to Future

Originally published in Earshot Jazz December 2011

It’s the middle of the night at a Cleveland hotel in the early 1940’s. A teenage French horn player can’t get to sleep. The muffled sound of piano playing seeps through the wall from the room next door. At 5:00 am the piano finally stops. This repeats every night for a week.

The late night piano player is Duke Ellington, by then already a pioneer of original jazz compositions (“Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Solitude,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Caravan,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “I Got it Bad and that Ain’t Good,” “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me”). Ellington went on to chronicle the African American experience through music, be awarded 15 honorary Doctorate degrees, and receive from Richard Nixon the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The sleepless horn player is Gunther Schuller, employed as principal horn for the Cincinnati Symphony. Schuller, who would get a job offer from Ellington, went on to play on Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool, teach at the Manhattan School of Music and Yale, establish the first degree granting jazz program in the world as president of the New England Conservatory, and lead the way toward the preservation and performance of Ellington’s music as jazz repertory.

Duke Ellington Sacred Music Concerts Bless Seattle

Originally published in Earshot Jazz December 2011

Seattle has been blessed to be able to hear the Duke Ellington Sacred Concerts performed live every winter for the past 22 years. No other city can make that claim. But this year the piece “99% Won’t Do,” written by Ellington in 1963, takes on added significance with the Occupy Wall Street protests.