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Duke Ellington jazz orchestra launches at University of East Anglia

Fri, 30 Sep 2011

A new jazz orchestra paying tribute to the legendary American composer, pianist and big band leader Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington is launching at the University of East Anglia.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra will be dedicated to recreating his pieces from recordings and transcriptions.

While other such orchestras exist in the States, it is hoped that the new ensemble will progress Ellington's original works by building on his methods of collective improvisation.

Long term plans include a performance of Ellington's epic 'Black, Brown and Beige' which was first performed in 1943.

A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington's career spanned more than 50 years before his death in 1974. He wrote more than 1,000 compositions.

Dr Vic Hobson, from the university's School of Music, said: "The ensemble will be modelled on the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Using transcriptions of original Ellington recordings, it is intended, as far as is practical, to recreate the instrumentation, techniques and sound of the Ellington orchestra.

"We know from reports of people who sat in on rehearsals of the Ellington orchestra that the compositions and arrangements were arrived at collectively and much of the playing was improvised. Each member of the orchestra brought their own unique musical voice.

"There are other Ellington Orchestras, but in time I hope we can develop the idea further than others have taken it.

"Whilst playing note-for-note transcriptions is a good starting point, and quite a challenge in itself, I would like to see if we can use this orchestra as a way of exploring these compositional, arranging and improvisational processes."

The orchestra is open to past and present UEA students and will start by using transcriptions produced by David Berger for the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Auditions and a first rehearsal are set to take place next week.

The university Library has purchased a selection of performance sets of Duke Ellington favourites, such as Black and Tan Fantasy and Caravan, to be used in performance together with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Library series of scores already in its collection.

The orchestra comes after a Jazz Archive of books, journals and memorabilia spanning almost a century was also launched at the university earlier this summer.

The first concert will take place on Friday, November 11 in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich. Some of Ellington's earliest works will be performed in a programme titled 'From the New World to Jazz'. Tickets are available from the UEA Ticket Bookings website.