Secret Ellington On Disc


In 1958, Duke Ellington, with the aid of Billy Strayhorn, wrote 22 songs for a Broadway musical entitled Saturday Laughter with lyricist Herb Martin. Unfortunately, the show—set in South Africa and featuring an all-black cast—was never produced on the big stage and the songs languished in obscurity for over 40 years ... until now. Originally prepared for an April 2000 concert presented by the Duke Ellington Society at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan—in which all 22 songs were arranged and performed—12 of them have now been recorded by an all-star lineup on the album Secret Ellington for True Life Entertainment.

For the project, veteran jazz producer Todd Barkan brought together a revolving ensemble featuring 20 top jazz vocalists and instrumentalists to perform new arrangements of these 12 songs (on 14 tracks total – two of the strongest melodies received two different treatments).

The diverse and expressive vocalists are: Freddy Cole, Jeffery Smith, Judi Silvano, Karen Oberlin and Ian Shaw. The lineup of musicians on the disc includes: saxophonists Joe Lovano, Eric Alexander, Grover Washington Jr. and Bob Kindred; flutist Lou Marini; vibraphonist Joe Locke; pianists Arturo O’Farrill and James Pearson; guitarist Joe Beck; bassists George Mraz, Chip Jackson and Michael Pope; and drummers Steve Berrios, Mark Fletcher and Keith Carlock.

The original compositions only previously existed in poorly recorded demo tapes and sketchy, often inaccurate, lead sheets (Ellington never orchestrated them for his orchestra), so the arrangements were written by participating musicians: seven by Beck, one by Shaw, two by Pearson and four by O’Farrill (who provided the arrangements for the 2000 concert). Ellington authority Luther Henderson also served as musical consultant.

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    Mark Colby (1949–2020)

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    Bassist Christian McBride (left), saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Brad Mehldau reconvened in the studio after more than two decades for RoundAgain.

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    Saxophonist Kamasi Washington performs during the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

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    Joey DeFrancesco, widely celebrated as an organist, also sings and plays trumpet and tenor saxophone.

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    Gary Peacock (1935-2020)