Ellington 100 (Strayhorn 85) [Composition No. 46]
Ellington 100 (Strayhorn 85) was written during the week of Duke Ellington's 100th birthday celebrations, in the last week of April 1999. I remember being surrounded by a sea of 'tributes' and re-creations, and thinking that very few of them seemed to be genuinely forward-looking. I wanted to see if I could write a piece which would acknowledge my great love of Ellington and his music, but in my own language and from the perspective of 1999, rather than 1939 or 1959. It seemed to present a doubly interesting challenge to do so through the medium of L.I.O., an ensemble working without conventional written music of any kind, and with only the slightest of links with the 'jazz tradition'.
The piece takes them form of 100 beats from an Ellington/Strayhorn ballad (I couldn't keep Billy out of it!), 'flattened' for 10 musicians. The flattening process involved the telescoping of all melody notes into one chord, which is superimposed over the notes of the original harmonisation; the resulting pitches are freely distributed amongst the 10 'orchestra' musicians, who sustain each cluster according to the number of beats given to the source chord in the original song (1 beat = 6 seconds). Over this floating, elegiac backdrop, 4 soloists reflect on their relationship with this material and the jazz tradition. These range from the modernist classical/free improvisation world of Rhodri Davies' harp, through the aggressively disruptive (but 'traditional') pairing of John Edwards and Steve Noble's bass & drums, to the living jazz history of Lol Coxhill, whose beautiful threnody closes the piece. In the piece's middle section a third Ellingtonian layer is provided by a conducted 'sax section', who respond intuitively with non-specific pitches to my 'conducting' of an (unheard) Strayhorn ballad melody.
This piece was first performed by L.I.O. at the Red Rose Club, London, on the 2nd May 1999.
© Simon H. Fell 1999
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