Echoes of Ellington @ UT-Austin, Day #1
Welcome to Texas, y’all.
On April 15-17, The University of Texas-Austin School of Music (recently renamed the Butler School of Music in recognition of last year’s incredible donation) hosted the Echoes of Ellington conference. In attendance was a splendid mix of graduate students, Ellington scholars, performers, and super fans. Like the Ballet Russes Symposium that Drew wrote about last week (post #1 and post #2), this conference featured three keynote speakers. My flight got in late Wednesday night, so I missed the opening keynote delivered by Ellington biographer James Lincoln Collier. I understand that his remarks on “The Ellington Personality” primarily a re-presented material from his 1987 book Duke Ellington. Although this book has been criticized for its patronizing portrait of Ellington as a (non) composer, I wished I had been able to hear how/if his perspectives have changed.
The next morning, after braving heavy traffic on I-35, I arrived at music building and was promptly greeted by Professor (and one-time fellow blogger) Caroline Polk O’Meara, who, in turn, introduced me to conference coordinator Kathryn Hutchison. I also introduced myself to Professor John Howland (Rutgers University), whose work on symphonic jazz I particularly admire (and quote in the paper I was about to deliver).
Up first, however, Professor Richard Domek (University of Kentucky) presented a detailed analysis of the ways Ellington crafted the signature sound of his saxophone section starting in the mid-1950s. I then presented a portion of my chapter on three different arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue performed by Ellington throughout his career. I felt like the audience (including Howland, phew!) responded well and I received some helpful questions and comments.
With the paper done—it is always nice to present early in a conference—I was able to sit back and enjoy the remainder of that day’s papers. The full program is available here. Highlights included:
UT-Austin graduate student, Mark Lomanno’s talk on three different interpretations of Ellington’s Far East Suite (Ellington, Anthony Brown, and Tony Overwater). He argued for analyzing the refractive, as opposed to the reflective, work of the composition as a lens for re-engaging perspectives that have been passed over. For example, in the case of Brown’s interpretation, he raised the question of particular political implications of performance for Brown, his musicians, and his audience.
Marc Bolin, a well-experienced jazz musician and arranger as well as a UCLA graduate student, presented on his recent completion of Ellington’s unfinished opera Queenie Pie. He accomplished his goal of demystifying the history of the work through a description of its provenance, performance history, and copyright issues in addition to sharing a bit about his process of reconstructing the work for the Oakland Opera Theater.
Daniel Henderson (graduate student at New England Conservatory) revealed the octatonic underpinnings of Ellington’s Liberian Suite, based on an astoundingly skillful transcription of the 1947 composition’s recording. Henderson’s presentation style was captivating and informative, leading me to believe that he must also be one heck of a teacher.
The final paper of the day was a keynote address by John Howland titled: “The Symphonic Ellington and ‘A Tone Parallel to Harlem.’” As he acknowledged, it was largely based upon the final chapter of his hot-off-the-presses book Ellington Uptown: Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz (University of Michigan, 2009). With an examination of Non-Violent Integration, New World A-Comin’, and the piece in the title of his talk, Howland provided a capstone to his larger assessment of Ellington’s multi-decade development of black concert music. More on Howland and his book in a future post.
Eight papers, back to back, makes for a long day. I decided to skip out on the evening’s concert and battled traffic back up the freeway to my relative’s house for a relaxing evening with family. More tomorrow…