05 September 2019, The Tablet

It don’t mean a thing…

It don’t mean a thing…

Prom 54: Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert
Royal Albert Hall, London

“Praise the Lord with cymbals and dances,” Psalm 150 exhorts. It’s a command one musician took literally, filling cathedrals and churches across two continents with the fizz and crackle of cymbals and even the scuffle and click of a tap dancer’s shoes, with an entire big band and choir thrown in for good measure.

Jazz legend Duke Ellington is synonymous with the secular, with the slink and shimmy of solo piano improvisation, the crooning sensuality of his songs and all-out dazzle of his stage shows. But underpinning all of this, growing in influence as Ellington’s career progressed and gradually infiltrating even his stage projects, were the hymns sung to the young Ellington by his mother. So when two ministers from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral approached Ellington to compose a full-length sacred work, Ellington agreed.

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