Chicago Jazz Ensemble
Duke Ellington Sacred Concert

Harris Theatre, Chicago, IL
December 14, 2007

Chicago Jazz Ensemble

Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr.

Duke Ellington has long been considered one of America's greatest jazz composers, yet what he considered his most IMPORTANT work was his Sacred Concerts written between 1965 and 1973. This piece of work is so unlike the typical Ellington traditional Jazz composition. Nevertheless, maestro John Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble undertook the challenge of staging a relative small portion of Ellington's Sacred Concerts that required the masterful coordination of the Columbia College Gospel Choir, Columbia's 3CJV choir ensemble, soloists Robert Sims, Maggie Brown ,Stephanie Dixon, CJE's Bobbi Wilsyn and tap dancer Brill Barrett. Not only did such an aggregation require the mammoth stage of the Harris Theater, it also required the ingenuity and expertise of "consummate musician, conductor, composer and educator" John Faddis to seamlessly pull this task off without a noticible glitch.

It was a sight to behold to see Faddis coordinating the orchestration of the band, choir, ensemble, dancer and vocalists. He seems to just do this effortlessly without breaking a sweat. He was assisted by Chip Johnson who conducted the Choir and Mimi Rohlfing , who performed the same duties with the choir ensemble.

Speaking of Faddis, it was a special treat when he picked up his trumpet and hit those OH...SO... high notes that only Faddis is capable of producing. He's often busy directing when he's before the CJE, but he afforded the audience his gift, that's usually missing when he's conducting.Evident by the rousing ovation he received on these occasions,it was obvious that the crowd assembled enjoyed each note.

Special kudos must be given to vocalists Bobbi Wilsyn and Maggie Brown. Both ladies were at their best with Wilsyn's rendition of "Tell Me It's The Truth" simply spellbinding. Wilsyn's vocal range is magnificent and on this piece she did not disappoint the audience. Not to be upstaged, Maggie Brown contrasted Wilsyn's high decibels with her controlled alto sound and expressions on a very unique version of the "Lord's Prayer" and "Come Sunday". As different as the ladies are, they have the commonality of extraordinary voices and the ability to deliver their message to the audience conviencingly and with the greatest of ease.

Baritone Robert Sims' strong delivery and stage presence was especially noted on"Father Forgive". His ability to maintain notes for long periods of time and remain within the context of the song was commendable. This young man possesses a very beautiful instrument.

Tap dancer Brill Barrett demonstrated uncanny skill as he danced the finale"Praise God and Dance". As all components of the magnificent 2 hour concert joined together on the final number, Barrett seemed to put a exclamation point of the night with his riveting tapping.

Yes, somewhere in the Heavens Duke Ellington was smiling as he witnessed this Sacred Concert come to fusion under the able direction of John Faddis. This was truly a special night.One can only hope that it will become an annual affair. This work surely deserves repeating.

For more work of the CJE, please refer to their website: www.chicagojazzensemble.com This group has an aggressive winter schedule and can be seen throughout the midwest.

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Contact Brad Walseth and JazzChicago.net at bwalseth60@aol.com

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