Bury resounds to the sounds of the Duke

Bury St Edmunds FestivalSacred Music of Duke EllingtonSt Edmundsbury Cathedral, May Friday 21Edward Kennedy equals Duke Ellington became famous for his swinging big bands at Harlem's Cotton Club.

Bury St Edmunds Festival

Sacred Music of Duke Ellington

St Edmundsbury Cathedral, May Friday 21

Edward Kennedy equals Duke Ellington became famous for his swinging big bands at Harlem's Cotton Club.


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He went onto compose several theme linked suites, such as the Far East Suite and the New Orleans Suite as well as numerous major popular songs such as Satin Doll, Sophisticated Lady, Don't get around much any More and Take The A Train.

Ellington inspired some new textures of sound, featuring unusual combinations of instruments. He spent much of the last 10 years of his life composing a sacred concert … a fusion of swinging jazz and church music, complete with orchestra and chorus, singers both jazz and classical and featuring a tap dancer.

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He was also a religious man and coupled with his musical genius which resulted in this sacred music. It is, as the large audience at the Bury Festival concert concluded, a masterpiece.

A complex work it was brilliantly performed by Pete Long's Echoes of Ellington Orchestra along with the Bury St Edmunds Festival Chorus directed by James Thomas…. What a combination!

Tina May, proved that she is more than just a singer of jazz, and Pete Churchill's deep baritone voice was perfect for both song and narration, and Ellington even found space for a jazz tap dancer, elegantly performed by Tobias Tak, who tiptoed, shuffled, piroted and high kicked his way through a eight minute routine that fully earned the generous applause it received.

Originally there was 17 movements but this concert was reduced to 15.

The ancient Cathedral was a perfect setting for this majestic work. It opened with the Beginning, God that started quietly with the baritone saxophone of Alan Barnes and then Pete Long's wailing clarinet before Pete Churchill joined in to sing the gospel type song that included some narration.

It was almost appropriate that the setting sun cast long pale shadows through the high windows of the cathedral and on to the chorus as they sung Ain't but the One.

There were many other highlights throughout the evening including the high note finishers of trumpeter Nathan Bray and the alto sax solo Colin Skinner and there was also a neat piano introduction of Don Innes at The Start of Heaven.

Few singers can have such a pure voice as Tina May whose interpretation of the plaintive song Come Sunday was literally heaven and her jazz phrasing came to the fore in a high tempo version of the Lord's Prayer that became a gospel clap along with Miss May encouraging the audience to join in.

There were notable solos scattered throughout this wonderful and mainly ensemble work, including Steve Sidwell and Tony Fisher on trumpet, Alistair White on Trombone and on saxs, Colin Skinner, Adrian Revell, Pete Ripper and Alan Barnes.

All of it held together beautifully by Jim Richardson on double bass and drummer Mark Fletcher.

The Sacred Concert finished with Meditation and then Praise God and Dance, many in the large audience might well have offered silent praise for having been privileged to hear this magnificent work.

It was truly uplifting.

Alan Crumpton

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