A majestic occasion as Ellington’s Queen’s Suite is reborn in Marlborough
You could call it a right royal occasion, a moment when music, genius and majesty merged, appropriately to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee – in the borough of Marlborough that owes its creation to King John.
And for the adoring fans of the late Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington it was a princely moment to be present when the six movements of his Queen’s Suite, written in tribute to her, truly came home.
Indeed, jazz now has its own history and is looking after it, according to Pete Long, immaculate clarinettist and director of Echoes of Ellington, the 16-strong band that performed the suite Ellington wrote in Queen Elizabeth II’s honour.
That was after his only meeting with the Queen, in Leeds in 1958, when struck by her beauty – and hearing that her late father was an Ellington fan – he wrote and recorded but one copy on vinyl, which he sent to Buckingham Palace.
That inspired Nick Fogg, creator of the Marlborough Jazz Festival, whose wife Edwina is Marlborough’s jubilee mayor, to organise its first public performance in Britain to be the opening highlight of this year’s festival.
“Jazz is now looking after its own history,” Pete Long explained as he prepared for Friday’s concert in the Priory Park marquee. “It is aware it has a repertoire in the same way that classical music does.
“And it is perfectly valid to have something cutting edge and right on today as part of the jazz experience and to have an Ellington show like ours where we’re celebrating music written 60, 70 years ago.
“Thirty years ago that didn’t happen. Jazz was all meant to be still forging ahead. But because there has been so much forging by so many geniuses, it would be folly to ignore all the past work and the greatness of Duke Ellington.”
Yet the Queen’s suite – one movement called Apes and Peacocks is based on the Biblical story of the Queen of Sheba – has its own unique distinction.
“It is very much more on the symphonic end of Ellington,” he pointed out. “It’s unusual in that none of the pieces is what you would call a full-blooded swinger.
“They are very beautiful, very lyrical tonal portraits of various elegant Ellingtonian views of the very aspects of the nature of majesty presented by a very sophisticated man who was a very sophisticated flanner.
That had an importance too in that it served as a role model for America’s black population during the racial troubles of the 1960s. “They looked at the Duke and said, ‘He’s one of ours, he’s not fighting or shouting. He is just being elegant and beautiful,” added Pete.
“That helped raise their status. Ellington did an awful lot of work to ensure that but in a kind of holistic manner.”
That was one half of the concert, the second reminding the audience of royalty of Ellington’s rhythm and rocking riffs as the young and brilliantly talented Echoes of Ellington band let rip with old smoochie and swinging favourites.
From the 1936 version of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue to The Tattooed Bride of 1948, from Don’t Mean a Thing, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore to Rockin’ in Rhythm and a touch of C Jam Blues old and new Ellington was reborn full of foot-tapping fire and supreme elegance.
The audience applauded and shouted with joy, though nobody braved the dance floor to enjoy the enchantment of what Ellington always described as American music.
And it will go on like that for a long time to come.
The concert was sponsored by solicitors Awdry, Bailey and Douglas.