Thursday, August 20, 2009

dare to compare

The Impressions in Jazz Orchestra, with whom I've been drumming since early 2006, plays a wide variety of music under the "jazz" umbrella. And some of that is the wonderful music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

At a concert earlier this year one tune we played was the beautiful "Isfahan", written by Strayhorn. The lead was originally done of course by the amazing Johnny Hodges, but we had our very own Sandy Gordon for this, who is quite well versed in this genre, and he did a fabulous job.

But it's not just about getting the lead, with all its bent notes and huge expressivity, but also in the backing parts. The trombones have some short figures that need to be both soft and precise, like someone playing the chords on a keyboard. And there's the gorgeous ensemble work in the bridge that needs to flow and swell. And then there's the drums, just swishing quietly on the brushes through the whole thing. ;)

And as we played this tune to a rapt audience, that feeling came over me, the one that pretty well all musicians hope to get every now and then - that we're doing it right, doing it justice, and I'm almost having an out-of-body experience. (This is one of the reasons I love playing drums - that I get to be in the middle of this sort of thing but not have a part, at least in ballads, as demanding as most of the other players, which allows me to listen and enjoy what's going on.) So we sailed through this beautiful tune, and as it ended I thought "damn, we did it", and the audience seemed to agree.

I knew we had recorded this concert (and there are audio clips on the IJO site), so I asked orchestra leader Adrian Cho for an mp3 of this one. I've uploaded it so you can hear it, as well as two versions by Ellington (both on YouTube) for comparison. I think we came pretty darn close... (our version) (Ellington studio version) (Ellington live version)

Let me know if you agree! I know I'm highly biased, but I'm also critical when we do not capture the magic. With this one I think we did.

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