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VOL. 124 | NO. 170 | Monday, August 31, 2009



Music of Duke Ellington To Kick Start BPACC Showcase Season

By JONATHAN DEVIN | The Memphis News

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JAZZY EVENING: Three renowned jazz performers combine forces onstage at the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center Saturday for a “Symphonic All-Duke Ellington Night.” Dr. Jack Cooper of the University of Memphis, bottom, will lead a 40-piece jazz orchestra with pianist Donald Brown of Knoxville, top, and legendary Memphis blues singer Joyce Cobb.

The Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center (BPACC) kicks off its Showcase season with a tribute concert of the utmost sophistication. Jazz and blues singer Joyce Cobb and pianist Donald Brown will host a “Symphonic All-Duke Ellington Night” Saturday at 8 p.m.

Ron Jewel, director of BPACC, said this is the first time BPACC has staged an orchestral pops concert.

“Last year we did a wonderful jazz tribute to pianist James Williams and an awful lot of folks said, ‘Let’s do something like this again,’” Jewel said. “We wanted to put together an orchestral event, but we knew a pops concert would be more to our crowd’s interest. We discussed several options and as soon as Duke Ellington came up, I said, ‘That’s the one.’”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington is largely considered one of the originators of the “big band” sound, which brought jazz improvisation to an orchestral setting. His career as a songwriter and conductor ran from the early 1920s to his death in 1974.

“It’s going to sound great in our intimate, acoustical hall,” Jewel said. “You’re going to feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the orchestra.”

Jewel called upon several friends from his days as marketing director for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and was able to put together an ensemble of approximately 40 instruments. Dr. Jack Cooper, jazz professor at the University of Memphis, agreed to conduct and to arrange popular Ellington songs such as “Take the A Train,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Sophisticated Ladies.”

“I saw Lena Horne play ‘Sophisticated Ladies’ on Broadway,” Jewel said. “It’s just high art, no two ways about it.”

Cobb’s ability to engage a crowd and jump from one style to another made her the natural choice for vocals, Jewel said.

Brown, an associate professor of music at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and was nominated for a Grammy for his jazz composition, “The Insane Asylum,” which was first heard on Wynton Marsalis’ album “J Mood.”

Cooper has toured and recorded with the U.S. Army “Jazz Knights,” Manhattan Transfer, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Brian McKnight and the Temptations. Cooper is also musical director and founder of the Jazz Orchestra of the Delta.

Jewel said audience members can expect some spontaneity since Cooper decided against printing a program for the evening, preferring to introduce each piece to the audience himself.

“Cooper’s a genius of a musical arranger,” Jewel said. “The Duke’s music is so rich and then you add the strings to it and the lushness of that is just a wonderful set of music that’s very American.”

The concert is the first of several concerts this season chosen as tributes to celebrated pianists. Freddy Cole, brother of Nat “King” Cole, will perform Sept. 19. Chuck Leavell of The Allman Brothers Band will play with the Randall Bramblett Trio Oct. 3. Keyboard protégé William Joseph will take the stage as part of the finale of the two-day “Pianoforte” Festival Oct. 10.

Tickets for the “Symphonic All-Duke Ellington Night” are available for $20 each by calling 385-6440 or by visiting www.bpacc.org. BPACC is at 3663 Appling Road near Summer Avenue.

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