Concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington

Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra
+ NW Chamber Chorus
+ vocalist Everett Greene

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Town Hall Seattle, 7:30 pm

1119 Eight Avenue (at Seneca), Seattle

Tickets now on sale through

Preferred Section Seating: $28 (this section is sold out)
General Seating Section: $24(tickets still available)
Discounts available for Earshot Jazz members, senior citizens and full-time students.

On December 26th, the beloved Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra returns with its annual concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington. For the first time, vocalist Everett Greene, a renowned Emmy Award winning vocalist currently recording and touring with the Count Basie Orchestra, joins the SRJO and its co-directors alto saxophonist Michael Brockman, an Ellington scholar and professor of music at the University of Washington, and drummer Clarence Acox, the award-winning director of Garfield High School’s nationally-ranked jazz program. Returning for this year’s concert is vocalist Nichol Venee Eskridge (who is also featured on the SRJO’s Sacred Music of Duke Ellington CD), tap-dancer Alex Dugdale, and the Northwest Chamber Chorus under Director Mark Kloepper.

As always, the SRJO aims to recapture the spirit of Ellington’s original Sacred Music that debuted on September 16, 1965 at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It was at the conclusion of this landmark concert that Ellington proclaimed, “I’m sure this is the most important statement we’ve ever made.” Ellington considered the Sacred Concert to be amongst his most significant accomplishments and devoted the last years of his life to performing the programs hundreds of times throughout the world.

in the program notes for the original Sacred Concert, Ellington wrote, “every man prays in his own language and there is no language that God does not understand.” He continued: “I believe that no matter how highly skilled a drummer or saxophonist might be, if this is the thing he does best, and he offers it sincerely from the heart in, or as accompaniment to his worship, he will not be unacceptable because of lack of skill or of the instrument upon which he makes his demonstration, be it pipe or tomtom.” Ellington’s compositions for the Sacred Concerts showcased the same trademark sounds of the Ellington Orchestra first heard at the Cotton Club, and as was his tradition, each concert celebrated the unique skills and talent of his musicians.

With the Sacred Concerts, Ellington was using jazz as a medium of expression of his religious faith in much the same way that early New Orleans jazz musicians played hymns and spirituals. Similarly, many of his contemporaries in the 1960s were also using jazz to explore ideas of religion and spirituality. Pianist Mary Lou Williams composed hymns and masses throughout the 1960s, and John Coltrane explored his faith on recordings like A Love Supreme (1964). Nevertheless, Ellington’s Sacred Concerts did play an important role in making the music of worship services more relevant to daily life and modern times. Ellington was quick to point that that “these concerts are not the traditional mass jazzed up.” Rather, they are extended and sophisticated works that incorporate elements of jazz, blues, gospel, and spirituals performed by big band, choirs, vocal soloists, and tap dancers. He also included lengthy passages of spoken word.

In their performances, the SRJO honors the spirit and intention of Ellington’s Sacred Music. In past years, these concerts have taken place in a church, and the concert is scheduled on or near the winter solstice in order emphasize the celebratory and ecumenical nature of Ellington’s compositions.

This year, the concert moves to Town Hall’s Great Hall, Seattle’s popular cultural center whose intimate, curved, amphitheater-style seating is well-suited to the skillful interpretations of Ellington’s Sacred Music. Not only are these annual Earshot concerts the world’s longest running presentation of these works, SRJO’s two-CD set, Sacred Music of Duke Ellington (2006), has received national radio play, was ranked one of the “Best Recordings of 2006” by, and was included in Jim Wilke’s “best picks” for his PRI program Jazz After Hours. This year’s program will include such favorites as “Come Sunday,” “David Danced Before the Lord,” and “Praise God and Dance.”

The SRJO includes many of the region’s best-loved jazz soloists and band leaders, including trumpeters Jay Thomas and Thomas Marriott, bassist Phil Sparks, saxophonists Bill Ramsay, Hadley Caliman, Travis Ranney and Mark Taylor, and trombonists Scott Brown, David Marriott, Bill Anthony, and Dan Marcus, and pianist Randy Halberstadt.

– Danielle Bias

Seattle Jazz