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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Music Reviews

Duke Ellington Orchestra at Birdland

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 4, 2003
315 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 581-3080

About the Author:

Duke Ellington Orchestra

(Archives and Bio)
Mark Gross, Alto Sax; Dave Bixler, Alto Sax; Craig Rivers, Tenor Sax; Anthony E. Nelson, Jr., Tenor Sax; James Stewart, Baritone Sax; Junior Vega, Trumpet; Chris Albert, Trumpet; Reggie Pittman, Trumpet; Don McIntosh, Trumpet; Stafford Hunter, Trombone; Benny Powell, Trombone; Kuni Mikami, Piano; Bryce Sebastien, Bass; Brian Grice, Drums;
Jack Jeffers, Bandleader/Bass Trombone
Jane Jarvis, Guest Vocalist
Most Tuesday Nights

315 West 44th Street, NYC
See Other Birdland Reviews)

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 4, 2003

Caveat: I may have some of the song titles slightly incorrect, as this was an entirely auditory experience with no program, as Jazz events tend to be. This is a true Big Band, with 15 musicians. Under the very relaxed and professional leadership of Jack Jeffers, Bandleader and trombonist, the band led this first set with Take the A Train, an Ellington signature piece. With a wild beginning, Jeffers entertained on his trombone, with Chris Albert coming in on trumpet. Benny Powell played his trombone mouthpiece, only, and the bass had a strongly featured passage. At this point in the set, I thought I was at the Cotton Club, long ago. In the second piece, perhaps entitled Stomping, Benny Powell was featured and utilized a plunger for exciting effects. The saxophones and trombones were featured here, with tiny, staccato blasts, and James Stewart joined in on baritone saxophone.

Prior to Sultry Serenade, Jeffers asked the band to be better blended, a tiny directorial aside that provided a highly intellectual and perfectionist quality to this jazz event. Chris Albert reached very high notes on trumpet, as did the baritone sax. In Isfahan, about a village in Persia, Mark Gross, on alto sax, was prominently featured, with a mellifluous sound, almost danceable, perhaps a Foxtrot, and Gross' saxophone developed the qualities of many different instruments. The Mooch opened like a train puling into a station. The saxophones and trumpets then built the energy level, with the trumpets muted, off and on, for contrasting effects. There was a sassy, sexy trombone, joking with the orchestra, as if they were jamming at 3 AM. Dave Bixler picked up the rhythm, and I imagined a wild, stylized Swing duo, with this very danceable passage.

In Don't You Know I Care, Benny Powell sang this torch song to a very quiet background. He can still sing, and the audience was encouraging and appreciative. Jane Jarvis, a Guest Vocalist, joined the band, with Squeeze Me, Don't Tease Me. This piece had strong contrasting rhythms and tempos. Such Sweet Thunder, which could have been a slow Swing or Foxtrot, the full-blasting horns, with rhythmic and tonal changes, showcased the very talented Bandleader, Jack Jeffers. In Sweet Georgia Brown, the charismatic Kuni Mikami energized the audience, with his rapid and lightning spins on his keyboard. The set closed with a slower, different interpretation of Take the A Train. Reggie Pittman, on trumpet, was featured in a melodic solo.

Photos by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower Guest Photographer, Dr. Henri Delbeau (See Review, Interview)

Benny Powell, Trombone

Ellington Orchestra

Benny Powell Sings

Kuni Mikami, Piano

Ellington Orchestra

Jane Jarvis, Pianist, and Benny Powell, Trombone

Dr. Henri Delbeau and Tarik Osman, Manager

Henri and Roberta

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