Duke Ellington Week Features Concerts and Lectures

Willamette University will honor Black History Month with concerts and lectures that celebrate jazz legend Duke Ellington.

Music Professor Greg Yasinitsky, coordinator of jazz studies at Washington State University, will speak about "Duke Ellington and the African-American Influence on Jazz" Thursday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 a.m. in Cone Chapel in Waller Hall on the Willamette campus. That evening at 6 p.m., Yasinitsky will speak about "Jazz, the Musical Embodiment of American Diversity" in the Hatfield Room of the Mark O. Hatfield Library. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The Willamette Master Chorus will present "Contemplating the Sacred," featuring the sacred music of Duke Ellington and jazz and gospel music from the African-American music tradition. The concerts are Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m. in Smith Auditorium.

General admission is $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Willamette students are admitted for $5. Purchase tickets at or Weathers Music (cash or check only) at 2825 Commercial St. SE, (503) 362-8708. Tickets may be purchased at the door if available. Call (503) 370-6929 for information.

In 1965 Duke Ellington brought his jazz orchestra into San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, where he premiered his First Sacred Concert. During the next nine years, Ellington performed his sacred concerts in churches and synagogues around the world. At the time many churchgoers complained about the inappropriateness of jazz in the chapel, to say nothing of tap dancers, but what was once considered divisive music now feels, in our own religiously disjointed era, universal. "The Mass is people talking to God," Ellington said. "The sacred concert we perform is people talking to people about God. There is a difference."

There is no way to actually re-create an Ellington sacred concert; the music was written for Ellington's orchestra, a unique group of virtuosic improvisers who could play with a single spirit as well as individuality. The Willamette Master Chorus, under the direction of Conductor Paul Klemme, will blend with the Willamette Singers into one vibrant musical body that fears no rhythm. They will perform selections from Ellington's sacred music, accompanied by the Willamette University Big Band.

Marilyn Keller, Portland's premier gospel and jazz singer, will be guest vocalist. Keller's talent crosses many musical genres, including gospel, jazz, pop, R&B, blues and even classical music. She currently performs as featured vocalist for the Black Swan Classic Jazz Band and Don Latarski and Rue de Blues, and leads the Gospel Jazz Service in Portland for up to 1,000 worshippers at the Augustana Lutheran Church.

As a special treat, tap dancers Danny Wold and Jane Moorhead will share their talents.

Duke Ellington Week is sponsored by the Willamette Master Chorus, with support from the Willamette Music Department, the Willamette Events Board and the Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series. The concerts are supported in part by the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax Funds.