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Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Dial & Oatts / Rich DeRosa / The WDR Big Band “Rediscovered Ellington” New Takes on Duke's Rare and Unheard Music
Dial & Oatts / Rich DeRosa / The WDR Big Band “Rediscovered Ellington” New Takes on Duke's Rare and Unheard Music
WDR Big Band feat. Garry Dial & Dick Oatts Ellington Unheard - Part 1
It’s no secret that jazz composers have been profoundly influenced by classical composers and vice versa. Duke’s version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite is a fine example. Duke embraced the classical composer’s music with love and respect but transformed it in his own beautifully sincere way – the way it worked most naturally for his band and himself. Miles Davis and Gil Evans fell in love with Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez which became part of their project Sketches of Spain.
Rediscovered Ellington is presented in the same respectful manner. To continue Ellington’s legacy, we resurrected these compositions with our perspective through personalized arrangements. Although a few of them suggest a “tip of the hat” to Duke’s sound, most of these renditions showcase how quality music may be transformed into something new and refreshing while respecting the original essence of its composer. We hope you enjoy these compositions in this context.
In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years, Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington. Rediscovered Ellington will bring this beautiful, rarely heard music to the public eye. Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, along with the WDR Big Band, have managed to capture the essence of Ellington. I am proud of their swinging contribution and I know my mother and uncle would be smiling.
Nephew of Duke Ellington
Here’s the story of how a poodle named Bravo inadvertently became responsible for this collection of rarely heard gems by the great Duke Ellington.
In the late 1970's I had the honor of working with Duke Ellington's sister Ruth and her son Stephen James. They hired me to record in alphabetical order the entire Tempo Music catalogue of Duke's music and his associates for their family archive. Entering Ruth's apartment was quite an experience. There stood Duke's famous white piano with his original painting of Satin Doll hanging on the wall. I was speechless and somewhat daunted. Ruth and Stephen were most gracious and warm to me, putting me at ease.
They described the job and when I saw how incredibly prolific Duke had been, I said, “You probably need ten pianists to complete this project!” I suggested Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron and Dick Hyman among others. “Do you want this job or not?” said Ruth. I gulped and said, “Yessssssss!”
I went to Ruth's apartment for about three months, five days a week. The music was in various forms: a sketch, a score, and even a published lead sheet. I was a kid in a candy store. As I played through the tunes, Stephen and his brother Michael would stop over and give me the eye if I wasn't getting the feel right. A wink meant I nailed it. In this way their wisdom guided me.
When it was time to record, the little poodle Bravo began singing along. It became evident he was not to be silenced. Therefore I suggested to Ruth that I should copy the pages, take them to my apartment and record them there without the barking. That's why 38 years later I am in the unique position of having these scores of Duke's music in my filing cabinets.
Rich DeRosa, Dick Oatts and I have collaborated on many projects together over the years. In 2015, Rich was chief conductor and arranger for the WDR Big Band. He contacted me about doing a Dial & Oatts project with the band. I thought of the trove of Duke Ellington treasures I had on file. Why not resurrect these rare, obscure tunes and present them for a new audience as well as diehard Ellington fans?
We selected nine tunes and got to work arranging them in our own style for the big band. We traveled to Cologne, Germany, where we performed the arrangements with the band at the Philharmonic halls in Cologne and Essen. During the day we recorded this CD in the studio. What a thrill to play our versions of Duke's tunes with these great musicians!
It's always an honor to work with my musical brothers, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa. Both Dick and Richie's fathers were great musicians in the era of Ellington. Oatts' dad, Jack, played alto in the style of Johnny Hodges. Richie's dad, Clem, was a drummer and arranger who led many famous bands including the Glen Miller Big Band. These dads would be so proud of their sons and this project!
A few months after we made the recording, I ran into Duke's granddaughter Mercedes at an event. I told her about our "Rediscovered Ellington" project and she gave us her blessing. Thank you, Mercedes!
I called Stephen, now president of Tempo Music, to tell him about the work. It was like old home week. We reminisced about the days I came to the apartment to help archive Duke's music. I thank him for his support, love of life and belief in our project. Much appreciated, Stephen. Bravo!
During the summer of 1961, my father took my brother Jim and me to a joint concert of Duke Ellington and Count Basie at the Des Moines Art Center. My father was a musician and huge fan of both bands. They were all legends in the Oatts house and, at 8 years old, my dream was to get an autograph of Duke and Johnny Hodges. During the short break, I had my pad and pencil ready for anyone in a tuxedo to sign their name. I was very shy but went up to two gentlemen who were standing together near the outside bar. I waited until they were done with their conversation and they saw me standing there wide-eyed.
They asked if they could help me so I asked for their autographs. They were extremely patient and nice and when they gave them back, I was shocked to read the names Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges. All I could stutter was a "thank you". Then my father came over to translate my surprise and ultimate gratitude. To this day, it was probably the most inspiring musical memory from my childhood.
As I watched all those great musicians get on the bus after the concert, my dream to play great music as a career began. Mom threw out our baseball cards twenty years later and the autographs probably went with them….
Duke Ellington showed jazz composers and arrangers the concept of writing not only for instruments but, more importantly, for the people who would play them. In my role as arranger/orchestrator for the WDR Big Band, Duke’s model has been a great influence for me. My choices of soloists, written and improvised, were always made for specific members of the band. Consequently, the unique personality of each player is naturally connected to the context of each arrangement.
Rediscovered Ellington is a rarity that comes along once every few decades, a trove of mostly unheard music by a music legend fashioned into a glimmering yet meditative production. The great Duke Ellington, for whom this album is a tribute, once observed that “there are two kinds of music”, the kind that connects to the audience with sincerity and the kind that doesn’t. Judging by the response of listeners worldwide, Ellington’s music is of the first kind: beautiful, cultivated, resonant, and timeless.
But for there to be any audience connection at all, the music must first be heard. And that’s what is special about this stunner. Maestros in their own right, Garry Dial, Dick Oatts, and Rich DeRosa, unearthed these compositions from obscurity. They turned musical amnesia into memorable and vivid works that bring Ellington’s life and music into sharper focus not only for the seasoned Ellington diaspora but those new to his sizable repertoire. Dial, Oatts, and DeRosa shaped these compositions with colorful and immaculate arrangements, rendering Ellington afresh and anew.
Prior to this recording, few of these works had a brief public life. Most were unknown to the general public. While a few of the arrangements suggest an homage to Ellington’s sound, most of the works showcase how music may be given new and refreshing life while respecting the composer’s essence.
The album opens with Hey Baby, a mid-tempo swing number recorded in 1946 and released on RCA Victor. It’s also a well-known tune from Blue Rose, the 1956 Rosemary Clooney album. It brings the virtuosity of soloists Oatts (soprano sax), Paul Heller (tenor sax), Dial (piano) and Johan Hörlen (alto sax) to the forefront, and showcases the big band’s mighty brass section in multicolored shout sections. Let The Zoomers Drool, an Ellington/Johnny Hodges tune, was originally released as a live album in 1945 on the Jazz Society label. It opens with a ruminating stride piano riff, enveloped by a slower swing feel, rich with a bluesy call-and-response between the piano and ensemble.
I Like Singing is a gorgeous ballad from Saturday Laughter, a musical Ellington wrote with the still-living lyricist Herbert Martin – and it draws upon Ellington’s classical influence: opening without drums, the sections take on an orchestral quality that features reedy doubles and a plush piano solo by Dial. The drums and bass enter, and the tune transforms into an engaging yet pensive ballad.
Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do is vintage Ellington with a straight-ahead melody recast across the horn and reed sections. This work was composed mostly by Onzy Matthews, a pianist and arranger who worked with Ellington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was undoubtedly performed live, but there is no previously-known recording. And to wit, this is some debut rendition, with Oatts on flute and Ludwig Nuss on trombone!
Introspection has no known recording, and is anything but introspective. The up-tempo swing sets up the WDR to showcase its legendary tightness of sound and precision of phrases. Similarly, Kiki also has no known recording. On this track, the big band is fully portrayed with a full, plush, even lavish aesthetic, which makes this album required listening for those looking to learn or merely just enjoy the craft of large jazz ensemble performance. For example, the trumpet section commands the lead line with alacrity, and John Marshall’s blazing trumpet solo stands out with achingly beautiful timbre.
Love Came was recorded in 1965 and released on the Red Baron label. The melancholy and longing melodic line is presented by trumpeter Andy Haderer, and the tune opens into a jazz ballad, allowing for one of the quieter and more introspective spaces on the album.
The penultimate tune of this album, KCOR (rock spelled backward), is thought to have been written late in Ellington’s life. But very little information exists on its origins: this long-form piece diverges so sharply in style from Ellington’s body of work that it probably did not receive much attention through his life.
The final track, I Must Be Mad, was written by Ellington and Patricia Petremont. She was a lyricist for several of Ellington’s more obscure works such as My Lonely Love, When You’ve Had It All, and This Is Where I Get Off – all from the late 1960s. The searching ballad begins with an alto sax and piano duet that illustrates the uncanny parallel relationship that Dial and Oatts have to Ellington and Hodges. Both Dial and Ellington have a way of orchestrating at the piano that enhances a melody. Although Oatts’ sound is different from Hodges’, both embrace a melody with warmth and soulfulness. Here it is Dial and Oatts who give the album a loving, thoughtful send-off.
Rediscovered Ellington is a through-and-through treasure, and music lovers should reserve their deepest gratitude for Dial, Oatts, DeRosa, and the WDR Big Band who have given the world the album of the year whose musical genesis spans many decades.
Garry Dial - piano, arranger, Dick Oatts - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, arranger, Rich DeRosa - conductor, arranger, big band orchestrations, The WDR Big Band: Johan Hörlen - alto sax, flute, and clarinet. Karolina Strassmeyer - alto sax and flute. Olivier Peters, Paul Heller - tenor sax and clarinet. Jens Neufang - baritone sax, bass sax, and bass clarinet. Andy Haderer (lead), Wim Both (alt lead), Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls, John Marshall, trumpet Ludwig Nuss (lead), Shannon Barnett, Andy Hunter, trombone Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone and tuba John Goldsby, bass Hans Dekker, drums.
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