Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The joy and legacy of the Duke Ellington songbook

Duke Ellington's impact on jazz seems beyond measure, no matter how you count it. He wrote, co-wrote or took credit for writing more than 1,000 compositions over a 50-year span. According to one family bio, it was more than 3,000 songs.

Dan Miller
The numbers really don't matter as much as the imprint Duke left on the music. That's what the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto sextet celebrated in their Charlotte County Jazz Society concert appearance on Monday, January 10. They dug into the joy and legacy as they delved into a wide emotional range of material from Ellington and collaborator Billy Strayhorn, plus a few other gems from Duke's band book.

Lew Del Gatto
In addition to his fiery playing, trumpeter Miller, a walking archive of jazz details, shared many of the back stories behind the 16 favorite tunes the band performed. Co-leader Del Gatto, a 30-year alum of the NBC Saturday Night Live Band, was an excellent foil with his to-the-point, but always gorgeous and inventive, tenor sax solos.

Their all-star band was rounded out by longtime Big Apple pianist Roy Gerson, trombonist Herb Bruce, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. Bruce's wife, the fine singer Patricia Dean, better known as a drummer in some performance settings, joined for three tunes.

The mood-shifting repertoire included “In a Mellow Tone,” “Satin Doll,” Strayhorn's 1941 composition “Take the A Train,” which soon became the Duke Ellington Orchestra's theme song, and two classic compositions by Ellington trombonist Juan Tizol (“Perdido” and the blazing concert closer “Caravan”).

Roy Gerson, Patricia Dean
There were many fine moments. The ballad “Mood Indigo” showcased Gerson's inventive keyboard artistry and Bruce's beautiful tone and range on the trombone. Listen close, and you'd swear he's singing the melody through his horn.

Dean was featured on “I'm Beginning to See the Light,” which Ellington co-wrote with Johnny Hodges and Harry James. Then she kicked off the first of three fine Ellington songbook medleys. It began with Dean in the spotlight on “I Got it Bad (and That Ain't Good),” then Gerson was featured on “Sophisticated Lady” and Miller closed it out with his solo on Strayhorn's Persian-tinged “Isfahan” from Duke's Far East Suite.

Dan Miller, Herb Bruce
Brandon Robertson
The second set opened with a romp through Duke's train-themed “Happy Go Lucky Local” that featured a bit of boogie-woogie piano from Gerson. Dean returned for a sultry vocal take on “Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me.” The evening's second clever medley featured Del Gatto on Strayhorn's ballad “Day Dream,” Robertson's riveting arco (bowed) solo bass melody on “In a Sentimental Mood,” and Bruce's solo take on “In My Solitude.” There may be no finer trombonist in the region, perhaps the land, than this veteran of the Nashville Brass and the Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band. Some may be better known, but not better.
Tony Vigilante

The sextet closed things out with two exhilarating arrangements: “Just Squeeze Me” and the aforementioned “Caravan.” That Tizol-penned classic showcased Philadelphia-native Vigilante's drum skills. He blends a hard-swinging groove with subtle accents and tasty surprises.

The concert was the second CCCJS event at the Military Heritage Museum's Gulf Theater in Punta Gorda because of the closure of the Charlotte County Cultural Center in early November. Miller noted the change. “The acoustics here are amazing,” he told the crowd of about 170. “You really struck gold with this new venue.” The only amplification used on stage was for vocals, announcements and a some of Bruce's trombone solos – more out of habit than necessity.

Gerson, Dean, Del Gatto, Robertson, Vigilante, Miller, Bruce

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