Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was one of the greatest Jazz royals of all time. Emerging amidst a bevy of honorifically titled musicians such as “Count” Basie, “Earl” Hines, “Baron” Mingus and of course Nat “King” Cole, his swing big band dominated the field for 50 years before his death in 1974.
This musical legacy lives on in the wonderful show, The Savoy Ellingtons,which crammed the house recently at the beautiful Rialto. Headlining the evening were two of his children, Edward Kennedy II and April, both charismatic and handsomely attired singers. Their voicings were backed by the local Blok Note Big Band (17 musicians) ,which is popular at corporate events.
The show began with “Stomping at the Savoy,” a signature Duke orchestration to set the mood. Other great interpreters of the era were honoured as April invoked “Lady” Ella FitzGerald with “ I’m Travelling Light” and “Queen” Peggy Lee’s “Fever.”
Brother Ed captured “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra with “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” They both harmonized with “Lady” Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.”
The second half led with two other signature Duke pieces, “Taking the A Train” and the call to arms “If It Don’t Swing, It Don’t Mean A Thing.” Hear, hear for that sentiment delivered by a classy tuxedoed band in this currant decade of angry staccato rants lacking melody delivered by “singers” clad in torn clothes. Respect must be paid to the music, sez I.
A highlight was the sibling’s mother, “Lady” Alicia, falteringly led to centre stage, where she suddenly became energized as she exploded with “Orange Colored Sky.” Wham, Bam, Alagazam indeed!
The Quebec audience especially enjoyed April’s spirited “Besame Mucho,” which had been popularized world wide by St. Sauveur born Alys Robi.
Throughout the show, a terrific Lindy hop duo (Randy and Miriam) sprung up to swing and shake in tune before the platform and, with “Besame,” on stage (adding a tango edge to the jive).
This show occurred on the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Savoy Ellington show. Spotted in the crowd was South Shore writer LaFlorya Gauthier, a friend of the late great Paul Robeson as well as of the Ellington siblings. Also present was U.S. consul Andrew Parker.
It is amazing and refreshing that the Rialto continues to attract large crowds with its busy schedule of nostalgia tinged shows.