Born: June 30, 1949 | Died: January 25, 2011 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Rarely does the phone ring at 3 a.m. with good news. But nearly 37 years ago, when Barrie Lee Hall Jr.’s mother-in-law woke him because there was “some ‘Duke’ on the phone,” the early-morning call launched a career.
The “Duke” on the phone was Duke Ellington.
Hall was an aspiring trumpet player at Texas Southern University. Hours before, he had met Ellington at the Shamrock Hilton show in Houston, where a friend had even bragged about Hall’s musical accomplishments.
“Duke says, ‘Oh, yeah? How come he’s not playing in my band?’ and he takes my number down,’ ” Hall said, remembering a conversation from 1972 with the band leader and pianist.
“I thought he was patronizing me,” Hall said.
The 3 a.m. phone call was an invitation to Columbus, Ohio, for a gig.
That gig never materialized, but after a year of keeping in touch with Ellington and the band, Hall finally got another phone call.
This time, he was asked to come down to the Shamrock Hilton Hotel, where Ellington and his band were performing.
Hall was told to wear a white shirt, black pants and a bow tie. He was handed the band jacket and sent on stage to play tunes such as Take the A Train and Mood Indigo without so much as a single rehearsal.
“I’m 23 years old, and down there to the right is Duke Ellington,” Hall said. “You want to make a mark and play well.”
Hall made enough of a mark to get a full-time gig. For a year, he was traveling the globe and performing with Ellington before the jazz legend died in 1974.
Even after Ellington’s death, Hall, now 59, has continued to perform with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and is now the only member of the group who played with the pianist and band leader.
Hall recently has begun trying to preserve some of the style of Ellington’s performances. One of Hall’s main projects is to commit to paper the notes, directions and intentions of Ellington’s Third Sacred Concert, one of three religious works Ellington composed in the last decade of his life.
“A whole lot of it is locked up in my memory,” said Hall, who is also listening to old recordings of Ellington’s work and talking with vocalists and instrumentalists who worked with Ellington.
“If you don’t do it, it is forever lost,” he added.
Hall’s work on the Third Sacred Concert will be on display Saturday and Sunday in performances at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church with the Houston Chamber Choir and members of the Houston Ebony Opera Guild.
“When you have the person who actually worked with Ellington and performed the music with Ellington, I think he can bring a sense of authenticity to it,” said Jan Taylor, artistic director for choral activities for the opera guild.
The idea for the concerts came from Robert Simpson, founder and artistic director of the Houston Chamber Choir.
Simpson was interested in leading the choir in a major jazz work and had heard of Ellington’s sacred concerts.
But Simpson did not want to go it alone.
“I’m a classically trained white guy, so I knew I was going to need some collaborators to make this happen in a way that we would be proud of,” he said.
Simpson started out by calling the Ellington orchestra management in New York and was quickly routed to Hall in Houston.
Hall had performed with Ellington in 1973 when the Third Sacred Concert was premiered in Westminster Abbey in London. Hall had the scores and had embarked on his project to preserve them.
Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts are large-scale works that often incorporated choirs, jazz ensemble and sometimes dancers. The entire concerts are rarely performed. More often, selections from them are excerpted on programs.
This is the first time that Taylor, who is also the director of choral music at Prairie View A&M University, has been involved in reproducing the whole sacred concert.
“I think in the full concert you get a better understanding of what it is that Ellington was trying to do,” said Taylor, an alto who will sing as part of the concert.
The sacred concert will sound familiar for anyone who knows Ellington’s style, Taylor said. The colors of the instrumentation are similar; the virtuosic writing for singers and instrumentalists remains the same.
But the music is sacred with social commentary overtones in songs such as Freedom, which may be something new for Ellington fans, Taylor said.
“It represents not only an evolution for him in terms of his religious belief but also his music,” Taylor said.
Source: Tara Dooley
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Orchestrator/Arranger for the Television production of "The Duke Ellington Special" on PBS. Trumpet and voice duet of the song "Creole Love Call" with Lee playing trumpet and opera star Kathleen Battle singing. Additional Projects/ Arrangements for Gregory Hines, Maurice Hines, Vivian Reed, Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Judith Jamison, Maureen McGovern,.
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