The 1960s were, for Ellington, a period when he produced some of his finest recorded work (certainly on a par with the stuff from the late 1950s) most notably The Popular Duke Ellington (recorded a year after the first Sacred Concert album, with both albums produced by RCA's legendary A&R man, Brad McCuen) where he introduces a new audience to his most popular compositions, such as Take the 'A' Train (written by Billy Strayhorn of course), Mood Indigo, I Got It Bad, Solitude, Black and Tan Fantasy, and the almost evangelical Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me, (written by Ellington in 1940 as Concerto for Cootie), a piece that has a lot in common with his beautiful melody Come Sunday (written for his extended work Black, Brown & Beige in 1943), which later became a corner stone of his first Sacred Concert. To me this suggest that just about everything Ellington (a devout Christian) wrote from the 1940s onwards was spiritually headed toward his series of Sacred Concerts. Sadly, Ellington's Sacred Concerts have come in for quite a bit of criticism over the years, most notably that they lack cohesive musical form, which is like saying Faure couldn't write a requiem. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When we listen to Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (recorded at the New York Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church) we hear Ellington at his best, where he uses the whole Ellington bag of compositional signatures (including a hint of Delius here and there) centred around the individual voices of his musicians, creating the Ellington 'family' sound that takes us into his world and, by degrees, his Christianity that, like a simple, familiar hymn, can move us beyond the musical form and into a higher realm. Just listen to track 2, side 1, Tell Me It's The Truth, sung by Esther Marrow, followed by Come Sunday, to get the idea.
This is not just music, but worship.
True, I caught the Dupage College Jazz Ensemble's presentation last night. Mind Blowing.
Digital perusal score available from SchirmerOnDemand
1. In the Beginning God
2. Will You Be There?
3. Ain’t But the One
4. Tell Me It’s the Truth
5. Heaven6. Something ’Bout Believing
7. Praise God
8. Father Forgive
9. The Lord’s Prayer
10. The Shepherd
11. David Danced
12. Almighty God
13. Come Sunday
14. My Love
17. Praise God and Dance
18. Praise God and Dance (encore)