Monday, 24 April 2017


Duke Ellington and Grieg to be saluted at Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra's debut gig
by George Varga

Jazz giant Duke Ellington performs in this undated photo. His music will be saluted at Saturday's concert by the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony. (Photo by Herman Leonard / Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery)

Just call it a night of many firsts: There will be multiple debuts when the San Diego Symphony hosts Saturday’s Big Band Bash concert with the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra.
It will be the first performance by the orchestra, an 18-piece big band led by trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos. He’s the oh-so-savvy curator of the three-year-old Jazz @ The Jacobs concert series.
It will be also the first joint performance by the newly formed big band and the symphony. They are teaming up on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s elegantly swinging 1960 adaptation of Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” one of two best-known works by the famed Norwegian composer.
And it will be the realization of a goal Castellanos has had for many years.

“Mixing jazz and a symphony orchestra has always been a dream of mine,” said the trumpeter, band leader and music educator.
On Wednesday night, he will receive the Jazz Journalists Association’s national Jazz Hero awards, one of 26 being given out this year, in an 8 p.m. ceremony at Balboa Park’s Panama 66, where he leads the weekly Young Lions jam session. The city of San Diego has declared Wednesday Gilbert Castellanos Jazz Hero Day.
“One of the first ideas I approached the San Diego Symphony with was doing Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ ‘Sketches of Spain’ with the orchestra,” he continued. “That was a dream of mine, even before I got involved with the symphony.”
For now, at least, “Sketches of Spain” is on the back burner.

But Castellanos is understandably delighted to be teaming with the orchestra. It will be an unprecedented collaboration for both.
The concert will open with the big band, which features such top musicians as El Cajon piano wizard Joshua White, Los Angeles saxophonist Justo Almario, Golden Hill bassist Rob Thorsen and San Diego trumpeters Curtis Taylor and Derek Cannon. As an added enticement, charismatic Los Angeles singer Barbara Morrison will also be showcased.
“I picked all my favorite players!” said Castellanos, 44, who has been a member of the Grammy-nominated Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra since 1999. “The most exciting thing is knowing you have a very high caliber band and that the sky is the limit.”
Then comes the concert’s second half with the San Diego Symphony. Thomas Wilkins will conduct.
“I have arranged Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ so that it will be a mixture of the orchestra and the big band. This is probably the first time it’s ever been performed this way,” Castellanos said, speaking recently from Oakland, where he was teaching a series of master classes.

Gilbert Castellanos is the curator of the San Diego Symphony's Jazz @ The Jacobs concert series and the leader of the new Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra. (Photo by Joe Moore)
A long musical journey
In 1874, Grieg was asked to compose the music to Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play “Peer Gynt,” a five-act allegorical drama about a Nordic anti-hero seeking redemption. He readily agreed to the request from Ibsen, a good friend, but struggled for more than a year to complete the music.
As Grieg put it at the time: “It is a terribly unmanageable subject.”
The play premiered in 1876, in what is now Oslo. Grieg expanded and re-orchestrated the score in 1885 and again in 1902. It was comprised of nearly two dozen pieces that, together, clocked in at 90 minutes.
Fast forward to 1960 and the album “Swinging Suites by Edward E. and Edward G” by Ellington and his star-studded orchestra. The album featured Strayhorn-led arrangements of five movements from Grieg’s work, along with “Suite Thursday,” four original compositions inspired by John Steinbeck’s 1954 novel, “Sweet Thursday.”
The result is slightly over 16 minutes of richly textured music. It is performed by such illustrious Ellington band members as trombonist Juan Tizol and saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney.
Alas, the Grieg Foundation in Norway reacted with immediate hostility to the jazzy adaptation, which they charged sullied Grieg’s legacy. Consequently, not only was the Ellington album banned outright for 10 years throughout Scandinavia, so were any live performances and radio broadcasts of it.
Critics in the U.S., meanwhile, generally panned Grieg’s work as being lightweight and unworthy of an artist of Ellington’s stature. More favorable reappraisals came with the passing of time, although it appears Ellington and his band never performed the Grieg suite in its entirety live even once.
A rare performance
That makes Saturday’s concert of “The Peer Gynt Suite” by the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony all the more welcome.
But it is a task easier discussed than done. Accordingly, Castellanos is quick to sing the praises of the symphony’s Associate Director of Artistic Planning, Megan Swan.
“She’s really my right-hand person,” he said. “Megan’s been a big help to me organizing all this. And, with ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ she really helped me cut and paste parts for the orchestra and make sense of it. She’s an incredible asset and she’s been super supportive of Jazz @ The Jacobs. And she’s a trumpet player, with a degree in music from USC, which is another reason we get along so well!”
Swan, who plays both classical and jazz, is equally enthused.
“Gil and I had a great time talking through what the whole experience could be with this concert,” she said. “We also really looked at how putting jazz and the orchestra in one concert could have a couple of different spins to it.
“Both of us quickly came to the conclusion not to portray differences between the two, or give any sort of reason why one person could like one part of the concert — or one ensemble’s playing — better than the other. The goal is to really show that these are two ensembles that are passionately digging into the musical essence of everything they play.”
Saturday’s performance of the “Peer Gynt Suite” will drop “Solveig’s Song,” one of the five Grieg pieces on the Ellington album. It will also change the sequence of the other four pieces, three of which will be played alternately by the orchestra and the big band.
And, in an intriguing shift, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” — the second of the five “Peer Gynt” selections on the album — will conclude the concert. It is this piece that will truly integrate the big band and the orchestra, thanks to Castellanos’ new arrangement.
“It was very important to both Gil and me to see if we could have both ensembles play together,” Swan said.
“This way, it won’t be one playing and then the other — and a checkerboard of the two arrangements, but an integration of how these two artists heard the same musical scenes. This way, you’ll hear a true collaboration of these jazz players improvising in the style of Ellington, but with the soundtrack of Grieg’s original score.”
Will concerts by the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra become an annual affair?
“That’s a good question,” Castellanos said. “It will be determined, really, by the San Diego Symphony.”
He laughed.
“So I’m hoping our ‘audition’ Saturday night at Jacobs Music Center will go well and that we’ll get more work out of it. I want to keep it alive and going. I’d like the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra to do one concert per season. This will be a new chapter, not only for me, but the San Diego jazz community. And it’s an opportunity to represent this community on a national level.”
Big Band Bash, with the Jazz @ The Jacobs Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Thomas Wilkins
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., downtown
Tickets: $30-$100
Phone: (619) 235-0804

Friday, 14 April 2017

Berklee Square

Here is more detail about Herb Pomeroy's involvement with teaching Ellington's music at Berklee. The source for this extract is Ellington's New England by Tom Reney.

The trumpeter and educator Herb Pomeroy, who spent several years on the road with Lionel Hampton and Stan Kenton before embarking on a 40-year-long teaching career at the Berklee College of Music, experienced Ellington from two perspectives. In the late '50's, Pomeroy established a seminar on Ellington at Berklee, the only course of its kind in the country at the time. Duke's unconventional composing and arranging styles, described by Pomeroy as "trial and error, seat-of-the-pants," baffled other musicians for years, perhaps even Ellington himself, who was notoriously tongue-in-cheek. "On one of the early occasions when we met," he recalls, "Duke said, 'Herb, I understand you're teaching a course on me up there in Boston. Maybe I should come up and take it in order to find out what I'm doing."

Pomeroy also played with the Ellington orchestra on numerous occasions, spelling the veteran trumpeter Cootie Williams. His first time with the band was unforgettable.

"We were playing the Starlight Lounge in Peabody, and I'm playing Cootie's book. You know, even with Duke it wasn't all concert halls and festivals. He had to have a book for country club dances and proms, and as I was looking through Cootie's book I noticed some music by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,"Tijuana Taxi," as I recall. I thought, 'My God, the great Cootie Williams has to play this stuff.' I'm expecting a night of "Cottontail" and "Harlem Air Shaft." Well, after awhile, Duke introduced me as a new member of the band, saying 'Ladies and Gentleman, Herb Pomeroy wants you to know that he loves you madly, and he would like to play "Tijuana Taxi" for you.' Well, I was so taken aback that I got out my plunger and played something-- whatever it was, it wasn't very sincere. But I got through it. And then Duke thanked the audience for their kind applause and reminded them that 'Herb Pomeroy still loves you madly, and now he would like to play "Tijuana Taxi" for you once more.'   You know, it was Duke's way of saying, 'Welcome to the band, Herb!'"

Pomeroy survived this innocuous hazing ritual and remained wide-eyed in his appreciation of Ellington. "I was like a kid in a candy store every time I played on that band," he says. "I was checking out everything. The band itself was like a vibrant human animal.

Among the dates Pomeroy played with Ellington was one of the series of summer concerts presented by Elma Lewis in Franklin Park during her annual Marcus Garvey Festival. This was a highly favored venue of the Ellingtonians, who enjoyed the relaxed, down home air of the event and the opportunity it afforded for reunions with old friends and family. In Music Is My Mistress, Ellington described Lewis, who was one of the invitees to Duke's 70th birthday party at the Nixon White House, as "the symbol of Marcus Garvey come alive and blazing into the future of the arts. Her cultural center in Roxbury is above and beyond abnormal expectancy." He happily recalled the orchestra's "wonderful reception...and the soul supper afterwards."

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Missing Klink

I've written before about the recordings Duke Ellington made at the Gotham Studios.

Recently an LP on the Gotham label was put up for sale on Ebay. Unlike the $1,000 'Christmas album', this album consists entirely of Ellington recordings. Courtesy of the redoubtable discographical website, the details of the recording sessions are as follows...

The album was sold for $131.50

What is of particular interest about this copy of the record may be evinced from the vendor's description:

This vintage record was part of the " AL KLINK "(please Google this famous Glenn Miller & Jazz Tenor Sax's artist)Collection of Vintage LP records,mostly Jazz, I bought at a Long Island,New York House/Yard Sale about 15 years ago.I will be listing this Collection on ebay this week. This record,no jacket,is titled: " DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA WITH FRED ROBBINS - GOTHAM RECORDING CORPORATION - 2 WEST 46TH ST., NEW YORK - ("OUTSIDE START" APPEARS ON BOTH SIDES?).There are a few scattered smudge,dings & scuff markings on both sides.Record not warped.No chips or cracks. Condition is fair.I did not play record.*** PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT A RECORD COLLECTOR. I AM LISTING RECORD AS I OBSERVE IT.**** - Please e-mail any questions during auction.Record being offered " as is". 

Strange to think it was owned by the man whose legendary battle of the tenor saxes with Tex Beneke on Glenn Miller's In the Mood has been re-created note-for-note by generations of ghost bands.

Famously, Al Klink said, "Miller should have lived and the music should have died". Legions of blue-rinsed bobby soxers would beg to differ...

Another item up for sale from the tenorist's collection with an Ellington connection is this recording of The Minor Goes Muggin' on which Duke guested with the Dorsey band.

And, for the historical record, here are the other items...

To conclude the entertainment, whilst not the famous solo of the record (Miller's music did contain some improvisational elements!), Al Klink may be seen briefly doing battle in this version of Tar Paper Stomp from Miller's first motion picture, Sun Valley Serenade...

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Timon Space

Free Folger Friday: The Bard and The Duke will take place on Friday, June 9 at 6:00pm. Hear and discuss this jazzy take on Shakespeare's tragic tale as Dr. Maurice Jackson of Georgetown University delves into Duke Ellington's album Timon of Athens: Incidental Music for Shakespeare's Play.

Details here.

Free Folger Friday The Bard and The Duke: details here.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Duke Goes To College

From Michael Good's blog, Songs and Schemas...

Herb Pomeroy, director of jazz bands at MIT from 1963 to 1985, was known for his performance and teaching of the music of Duke Ellington. But in his early twenties, he preferred other bands more, like Count Basie and Woody Herman. There’s a great three and a half minutes in the first of his three interviews in the Music at MIT Oral History Project when Herb recalls first discovering the greatness of Duke Ellington’s music. The interview was conducted by Forrest Larson on December 14, 1999 in the MIT Lewis Music Library. Fred Harris, the current MIT jazz director, was also present.
Herb: I had no idea what Duke Ellington was all about at this point. I dismissed Ellington. I had Count Basie records, Stan Kenton records – God help me. The furthest thing in the world from jazz: Caucasian Wagnerian crap, OK, and you can print that if you want! And other bands, Woody Herman’s band, Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Let’s say those three: Basie, Herman, and Gillespie. All of which were very valid, but none of which that had the profundity of Ellington – and I didn’t know this.
Basie could swing magnificently. Dizzy’s band, every time you heard it all these new creative bebop licks and harmonies and arrangements. Woody’s band, sort of a combination of the two.
And I can remember the instance that a light went off in my head. I knew that Ellington – by the time I got to be about 21 or 22, I knew that it was over my head – something there. Too many people who I respect say “listen to this.” And I went to hear a battle of bands with Ellington and Basie down in Rhode Island. There’s a ballroom just outside of Providence called Pawtuxet on the Rhodes – I think it still exists. But back in the ballroom days, 30s, 40s, and 50s, it was big.
I think I went primarily to hear Basie’s band. And on this night, all of a sudden, I was 23 at the time, something went off in my head. “Oh – there’s something more here than there is here.” Basie, I was loving and enjoying it for the excitement, the swing, the fire, and all that, the rhythm section. But then I started to see. And that for me was kind of one of these changes, like from the swing period to the be-bop period change that I went through in the mid-40s.
Fred: I’m sorry, can you recall what it might have been – orchestration, the saxophone section, I mean… ?
Herb: To say now – now let’s see, what was that? That was 46 years ago – to say now I don’t think would be an honest memory of what did happen in that very moment. It would be what I’ve come to know since then, and I started to talk about that. I want to say it had to do with that coming out of the Ellington band was the sum total of 15 or 16 human beings, each being themselves. But I came to know that later. So I’d like to think that I reacted that way then. I probably was not consciously reacting that way.
You know, I refer to in my teaching that most of the other bands were sort of push-button bands. The leader said, “Do this, and do it to this level of competency, and you’ll get a week’s pay.” And that’s an awful, terrible way of simplifying it. With Duke’s band he just says, “OK, play.”
Forrest: Yeah, they’re all soloists.
Herb: Exactly. Even within the ensemble they were improvising – not as far as the pitches, but their feeling, their sound. I mean, with Ellington, within the sax section, there’s not five saxophones trying to blend with the lead player. It’s five individuals totally being themselves as far as expression. To the point that, by certain standards of accurate section or the entrance playing, it was bad.
The sum total of five people is so much greater than the sum total of five
saxophonists. And I don’t think I realized that. I think that just
something – I was age 23, I was beginning to open up to there’s more to what my previous eight years of semi-professionalism had been leading me to.

And from Casa Valdez Studios, this...

The teacher who had the biggest influence on me during my time at Berklee was Heb Pomeroy. I was quite fortunate to play in his Concert Jazz Orchestra for three years, as well as a few semesters in his Line-Writing band and his small combo. Herb was a true master composer, arranger, educator, improvisor and band leader. His influence of how modern Jazz harmony, composition and arranging can not be overstated. For instance, for many years the Altered Dominant scale was called the Pomeroy scale. Unfortunately I never took any of Herb's composition and arranging classes, which I have always regretted. Herb taught an arranging class called Line Writing, a Duke Ellington arranging class and a Jazz composition class. He never published any books.  An All About Jazz article on Herb says this:
During Pomeroy's long tenure at Berklee, many people asked him to write a book. His detailed answer was “I could, but I find that this [Line Writing] course changes a little bit every semester as I try to fine-tune it with new rules and principles to match relevant musical needs." Pomeroy was an excellent musician, not only as a trumpeter, but as an educator. His teaching was the music itself, not any particular personal beliefs or stylistic preferences. By not writing a book, he demonstrated the ultimate trust for the future of jazz education, and music as an ever-changing, dynamic art form.
In an interview with Forest Larsen from 1999 Herb talked about some of the things he learned while studying at Schillinger House (which later became Berklee College of Music):

 "Well this fellow, Richard Bobbitt, who was the dean, he had studied with Stefan Wolpe. I hope my memory is accurate. Bobbitt learned from studying with Wolpe about voicing not through choosing notes because they are the root, the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th, the 9th, but making most – I don’t want to say all – most of the vertical structures structures that are created because of the intervallic relationship between the notes, not because they are a function… So, certain intervals – you know, there are consonances, there are dissonances. If we want to get richer, or we want to get darker, or we want to get brighter, the choice of interval between notes is more important than the function that the note is in the chord.

Which will also – I sort of based a whole course on this later on, when I started to teach – also will take away from the obviousness of the chords that have the root in the bass, from the chords that have the 3 – 7 tritone that announce “I am this chord” and there’s very little you can do about it. Instead of taking the notes because they are these very important – vitally important in certain areas of sound. But if you’re looking to broaden, whether you’re a classical composer or a jazz composer – this approach to intervallic choice of notes rather than function choice of notes I got originally from Bobbitt… I learned a great deal from this man about this, the intervallic approach to vertical writing as opposed to the function.

Even then I was saying to myself, “This is going to be valuable.” I tell you, so many students that I had at Berklee, and I don’t mean to wave the flag here, have come back to me – two, five, ten years after, not while they’re taking the course, after they’ve absorbed it – and said that this course was one of the most opening things that they studied in a school or classroom situation…

Most jazz ensembles – whether they be three or four horns and a rhythm section or a whole band – the instrumental sound is pretty similar. I don’t mean the harmonic sound. I don’t mean the style of the player’s vibrato. The purely instrumental sound when you hear whether it’s 4 horns in like an octet or you hear the 12, 13 horns of a full jazz orchestra – the instrumental sound, the layered effect of color of trumpets, color of trombones, color of saxes in this function kind of harmony that we’re talking about – is the same. Whether you listen to Basie of ’35, or you listen to Woody of ’54, or you kind of listen to Mel and Thad of ’85 – whichever of these bands. Nothing to do with rhythmic style, harmonic style, era – was it swing, was it bebop, was it whatever. This layered, as I call the layer-lit colors, each layer really separated from each other, not entwined like this getting a richer sound instrumentally, is the same.

Whereas if you use this non-function, this intervallic work, and put the instruments together so you rub color against color – put a reed between two brass, rather than put four brass and then four trombones and then five saxes, or maybe one or two overlapping – but I can hear a typical big band and it almost sounds like there are just the three primary colors, so to speak. I don’t hear any sense of rainbow effect going on there. So these are some of the things that I learned from these teachers which were not jazz tools, but they were music tools.

I knew then, and in hindsight I even thanked them even more. Because so many students – I mean, I’ve had many people who are professional writers in their home lands, directors of radio / TV studio bands, conductors of symphony groups who wanted to get into the jazz thing, leaders of big bands all over Europe, who came and studied at Berklee and would take this course. And I could watch, I could see in their faces while I was saying these things, I could see these looks, this opening. That was very gratifying, to know that you had…

I did not invent this, I merely organized the thinking. People say “oh, you created it.” No! Maybe that mathematical mind from back in my teens and all that allowed me to organize. When you teach as long as I did, and stand in front of the thousands and thousands, literally, hours I have stood in front of bands and rehearsed them, and developed an eye-ear relationship. I do not have a God-given eye-ear relationship; I have a developed eye-ear – see the score and hear it in my head. The number of hours that I was able to do that – and I feel very blessed with my own professional band, with the Berklee band, and with the MIT band, and then clinics all around the country and the world and all that – I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it’s thousands of hours that I’ve stood there and heard it and seen it. It’s allowed me to perceive things about scoring techniques for jazz orchestras that I don’t think many people have had the opportunity to know.

The only person that I’ve been able to have a close association with who – we’ve talked about it some, but I just knew it from observing him – was Bob Brookmeyer. I think Brook has this same sort of ability, and he’s a marvelous writer.

I don’t know what kind of thoughts and things Gil Evans had in his head. I don’t know about Duke – I tried to find out from Duke, I played with the band and would question him. (Laughing) He’d be terrible – I’d say, if we were in a room and it was casual, I’d say “Duke, come here – on this tune, in the first two measures you do this”, and I’d play on the piano, “but I can’t figure out what you do in the next two measures.” And he’d say, “Oh, you’re doing it better than I could do it anyway” and just walk away. He wouldn’t show me anything!"

I recently got my hands on a document called The Pocket Herb, which is basically outline notes from Herb's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Composition courses. For someone totally unfamiliar with Pomeroy's curriculum there may be many things that are unintelligible, but I think that any experienced arranger will find much of value in the document. For anyone who actually took these courses these notes will be pure gold.  

The Pocket Herb- notes from Herb Pomeroy's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Comp courses 

Notes for Pomeroy's Line Writing and Ellington classes 

Abbreviations used in Pocket Herb:
A Alto Sax
AV Adjacent Voice Violation
AVOID Avoid Notes
B Baritone Sax
BNV Blue Note Voicings
C Consonant
CD Combination Dimished
Ch T or CT Chord Tone
D Dissonant
DBL Double
H Harmonized (as Opposed to writing melodic lines in each part)
HP Herb Pomeroy
LIL Low Interval Limits
NIS Not in Scale
P Perfect
PC Primary Climax
PD Prime Dissonance / Planned Dissonance
SC Secondary Climax
T Tenor Sax 


David Carlos Valdez said...
Abbreviations in Pocket Herb

A Alto Sax
AV Adjacent Voice Violation
AVOID Avoid Notes
B Baritone Sax
BNV Blue Note Voicings
C Consonant
CD Combination Dimished
Ch T or CT Chord Tone
D Dissonant
DBL Double
H Harmonized (as Opposed to writing melodic lines in each part)
HP Herb Pomeroy
LIL Low Interval Limits
NIS Not in Scale
P Perfect
PC Primary Climax
PD Prime Dissonance / Planned Dissonance
SC Secondary Climax
T Tenor Sax
Learn more about Herb Pomeroy here.