Songbook Sundays: In an Ellington Mood

Ellington credited friend Edgar McEntree who noted his aristocratic manners for the moniker Duke. “I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke.”

Nicolas King

This afternoon’s genial jazz gathering begins with Nicolas King’s swinging rendition of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Ellington,/Johnny Hodges/Harry James/L. Don George). The closest thing we have to manifesting Brat Pack performance, King’s “I neva went in for afterglow” arrives with finger snapping ease.

Host Deborah Winer welcomes us to a show of Duke Ellington’s “happier standards whose magic conjures elegant rooms with sharp looking people with something to say. His message is jazz heals the world.”

La Tanya Hall

La Tanya Hall’s facility with slip/sliding octaves, her vibrato tails and classy delivery offers a warm “Drop Me Off in Harlem” (Ellington/Nick Kenny) and a beautiful, longlined  “Azure” (Ellington/Irving Mills). The cottony version of “Caravan” (Ellington/Juan Tizol/Irving Mills) has many of us dancing in our seats. A note spun up fluidly returns like a boomerang. Hall has wonderful control and sophisticated presence.

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born to a middle class, church-going family in Washington, D.C., Winer tells us. Apparently a good artist, he turned down a scholarship to Pratt in order to pursue music. Arriving in New York, the Duke and his group almost immediately became the house band at The Cotton Club which famously offered the best of Black entertainment to a White audience. A springboard into popularity, the club presented a weekly broadcast that made him “a celebrity overnight.”

Ashley Pezzotti

Vocalist Ashley Pezzotti sings “Prelude to a Kiss” (Ellington/Irving Gordon/ Irving Mills) with eyes closed, microphone close. Molasses phrasing has a feel for the era. “Kiss” emerges in five syllables. On piano, Richard Cummings is as elegant as they come. Pezzotti’s “Just Squeeze Me” (Ellington/Lee Gaines) shows fine, rounded scat, but the artist misses a perfect opportunity to flirt with her audience. On sax, Chris Lewis is up to his ears mellow. Watch his eyebrows. Bassist Kenny Davis is fleet-fingered. Right leg, keeping time, “It Don’t Mean a Thing -If it Ain’t Got That Swing” (Ellington/Irving Mills) is musically on target with “doo-wops” down, but again self-contained.

“Ellington used his celebrity to push back against racial injustice. He used his own money to rent a train car so his band wouldn’t have trouble finding suitable accommodations…the musician found time to write 3,000 songs.” (Winer)

The instrumental “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” (Ellington/ Irving Mills/Henry Nemo/John Redmond) is bouncy and textured. Sax whirls, slides and doubles up on notes. The room smiles as one.

King returns to sing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Ellington/Bob Russell).The artist plays with phrasing here, repeats, emphasizes. Scat is cheery, sure, and seemingly effortless. Piano goes off the beaten path maintaining borders. Bass and drums converse. The iconic “Sophisticated Lady” (Ellington/Mitchell Parish/Irving Mills) is performed with insouciance. King kneads lyrics, holding notes at the back of his throat.

The show ends with a familiar “Take the A Train” (Ellington/Billy Strayhorn/Joya Sherrill), three voices, three scatters, and a cool, lead sax highlight.

A lovely way to spend some time and perhaps learn a little something.

Songbook Sundays: In an Ellington Mood
Host Deborah Grace Winer
Vocalists: La Tanya Hall, Nicolas King, Ashley Pezzotti
Kenny Davis-bass, Tony Clinton-drums, Chris Lewis-tenor Sax
Richard Cummings-MD/piano

Top photo: Opening left to right: Deborah Winer, Ashley Pezzotti, La Tanya Hall, Nicolas King
Photos by Paul Fisher

Dizzy’s Club Sept 11, 2022 
Jazz at Lincoln Center
NEXT: A pre-holiday Irving Berlin show November 20, 2022

Tickets for Songbook Sundays are $40, with student tickets available at $20. There is a $21 food/drink minimum.   

About Alix Cohen (1350 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.