JJ 09/82: ‘Duke’, a portrait & Duke Ellington Sacred Concert

Forty years ago Peter Vacher saw what should have been an elevated affair ruined by the demands of showbiz and TV technology. First published in Jazz Journal September 1982

Duke Ellington

‘Duke’ was really a kind of jazz review. Presenter Derek Jewell chose to top and tail each musical item with his own spoken commentary, often mixing in extracts from interview tapes, and at times this narrative almost overwhelmed the music. The show nonetheless celebrated Duke skilfully and with artistry.

The musicians were carefully chosen: trumpeter Colin Smith trium­phantly carried off a heavy responsiblity while Tony Coe proved superbly adept in ensemble and solo, giving the evening its highpoints with two breathtaking solos on Sentimental Mood and Warm Valley. Vocalists Adelaide Hall, Elaine Delmar and Earl Okin illuminated their material too.

St Paul’s was thronged by 3000 people for the Sacred Concert, which was hosted by Rod Steiger, narrated by Douglas Fair­banks and featured Tony Bennett, Jacques Loussier, Wayne Sleep and Phyllis Hyman among others. A splendid big band was organised with Stan Tracey at the piano and the accomplished drumming of Alan Jackson as an important element.

Sadly the cathedral’s ghastly acoustics defeated the band’s main endeavours: of the soloists, only John Surman boomed through. And this despite horrendous amplification for the TV coverage. Therein lay the concert’s ruin, with the combined evils of showbiz and Channel 4 considerations over­taking its solemn and serious purposes. Sound failed and lights went down, a floor manager waved his arms and the ghost of Ellington got up and crept away. Most of the rest of us did the same.

‘Duke’ – a portrait of Duke Ellington at Pizza On The Park, London. Duke Ellington Sacred Concert, St Paul’s Cathedral.