Salute to the great Duke Ellington

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The late big band leader Duke Ellington is seen in this June 1968 photograph.
Associated Press

Music Director Leon Botstein will lead the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) on March 24 in a tribute to the genre-defying genius of the great Duke Ellington with an all-Ellington symphonic concert at Carnegie Hall, where the composer played a series of annual concerts and premiered many of his greatest works, including Black, Brown, and Beige and New World A-Comin.’

ASO said on Sunday that the pieces will be performed for Jazz Trio and Large Orchestra by American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader and teacher Marcus Roberts, who performs with his Marcus Roberts Trio.

The evening also features GRAMMY Award-winning jazz vocalist Catherine Russell, best known for her album Harlem on my Mind and her appearance as a featured artist on the soundtrack album for the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire.

ASO said the performance was originally scheduled for March 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

In lieu of the performance, Roberts collaborated with the ASO on the short film titled “United We Play,” “created in response to the turbulence of 2020” and released in December 2020.

The film features three world premieres commissioned by the ASO and composed by Roberts.

Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts performs Friday, April 6, 2001, at Avery Fisher Hall in at New York’s Lincoln Center. Roberts’ Avery Fisher Hall debut featured works by Scott Joplin, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Associated Press/Louis Lanzano/File

“His method of writing for trio and orchestra is to blend the two ensembles, the seemingly different worlds of Jazz and Classical they each represent, and the contrasting approaches of improvisational and written music-making into a collage that is uniquely and unmistakably American,” ASO said.

It said it will close its 60th anniversary season on June 5 with a free concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s newly commissioned Concerto for Electric Violin performed by renowned electric violinist Tracy Silverman.

“Duke Ellington’s musical style employs a unique blend of classical and jazz compositional techniques that also combine improvisation with written works, making him one of the most influential jazz composers of all time,” ADO said.

“Although he considered his compositions ‘beyond category’, and he never defined himself as a jazz composer, his instrumental groupings, improvisational skills, and jazz arranging brought the world a notable American sound that can be heard in works like Sophisticated Lady and Harlem,” it added. “His symphonic suite Three Black Kings demonstrates his focus on musical form and jazz composition.”

Ellington said his aim in writing Night Creature — which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1955 — was “to try to make the symphony swing.”

Now in its 60th season, the American Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1962 by Leopold Stokowski, with the mission of providing music within the means of everyone.

Music Director Leon Botstein expanded that mission when he joined the ASO in 1992, creating thematic concerts that explore music from the perspective of the visual arts, literature, religion, and history, and reviving rarely performed works that audiences would otherwise never have a chance to hear performed live.

ASO’s signature programming includes its Vanguard Series, which presents concerts of rare orchestral repertoire, and various other events dedicated to enriching and reflecting the diverse perspectives of American culture.

During the summer months, ASO said it is the “orchestra-in-residence” at Bard’s SummerScape, performs at the Bard Music Festival, and offers chamber music performances throughout the New York City area.

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