Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts

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In the last decade of his life, Duke Ellington wrote three Sacred Concerts:

  • 1965 - A Concert of Sacred Music
  • 1968 - Second Sacred Concert
  • 1973 - Third Sacred Concert

Ellington called these concerts "the most important thing I have ever done". He said many times that he was not trying to compose a "mass." (liturgy). Critic Gary Giddins has characterized these concerts as Ellington bringing the Cotton Club revue to the church.[1]

Concert of Sacred Music[edit]

A Concert of Sacred Music
Live album by Duke Ellington
Released 1966
Recorded December 26, 1965
Genre Jazz
Label RCA
Duke Ellington chronology
Ella at Duke's Place
(1965)
A Concert of Sacred Music
(1965)
The Stockholm Concert, 1966
(1966)

As early as October 1962, the Reverend John S. Yaryan approached Ellington about performing at the new Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The cathedral was due to open in three to four years and all sorts of cultural events were to occur there in its first year. It was not until two years later that things such as the date and program were finalized.

The concert premiered on September 16, 1965, and was recorded for Public Television. The performance was released on CD as A Concert of Sacred Music Live from Grace Cathedral and on DVD as Love You Madly/A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral. The official album on RCA, A Concert of Sacred Music, was recorded at two concerts at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York on December 26, 1965. Additional material from these concerts, not found on the original album, can be found on the 24-CD box set The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973). This concert is the only one to have compositions not specifically written for it. "New World A-Commin" and "Come Sunday" from Black Brown and Beige and "Heritage (My Mother, My Father)" from the show My People were performed in it. The song "In the Beginning God" was awarded a Grammy Award in 1967.

Reception[edit]

The Allmusic review by Richard S. Ginell awarded the album five stars and stated "the concert taps into Ellington's roots in showbiz and African-American culture as well as his evidently deep religious faith, throwing it all together in the spirit of universality and sealing everything with the stamps of his musical signatures".[2]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[2]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Duke Ellington
  1. "In the Beginning God" - 19:36
  2. "Will You Be There?" - 1:23
  3. "Ninety Nine Percent" - 2:23
  4. "Ain't But the One" - 3:31
  5. "New World a'Coming" - 9:56
  6. "In the Beginning, God II" - 4:31
  7. "Heritage" - 3:42
  8. "The Lord's Prayer" - 3:16
  9. "Come Sunday" - 5:30
  10. "David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might" - 9:00
  11. "The Lord's Prayer II" - 4:56
    • Recorded at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on December 26, 1965.

Personnel[edit]

Second Sacred Concert[edit]

Second Sacred Concert
Studio album by Duke Ellington
Released 1968
Recorded January 22 & February 19, 1968
Genre Jazz
Label Prestige
Duke Ellington chronology
Yale Concert
(1968)
Second Sacred Concert
(1968)
Studio Sessions New York, 1968
(1968)

Ellington's Second Sacred Concert premiered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on January 19, 1968 but no recording of this actual performance has surfaced. The Second Sacred Concert was then recorded on January 22 and February 19, 1968 at Fine Studio in New York and originally issued as a double LP on Prestige Records and reissued on one CD, minus the tracks, "Don't Get Down On Your Knees To Pray Until You Have Forgiven Everyone" and "Father Forgive".[3] All the tracks can be found in the 24-CD box set The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973).

This concert is the first time Swedish singer Alice Babs recorded with the Ellington Orchestra. In the concert she sang "Heaven" and the wordless vocal, "T.G.T.T. (Too Good to Title)". Cootie Williams has a "growl" trumpet feature on "The Shepherd (Who Watches Over the Night Flock)". This piece is dedicated to Rev. John Garcia Gensel, Lutheran pastor to the jazz community. The climactic ending is "Praise God and Dance", which comes from Psalm 150.

Reception[edit]

The Allmusic review by Richard S. Ginell awarded the album 4 stars and stated "the material is fresh, not a patchwork of old and new like the first concert — and in an attempt to be as ecumenical as possible, Ellington reaches for novel techniques and sounds beyond his usual big band spectrum".[2]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[2]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Duke Ellington
  1. "Praise God" - 3:09
  2. "Supreme Being" - 11:45
  3. "Heaven" - 4:55
  4. "Something 'Bout Believing" - 8:12
  5. "Almighty God" - 6:32
  6. "The Shepherd (Who Watches over the Flock)" - 7:10
  7. "It's Freedom" - 13:00
  8. "Meditation" - 3:10
  9. "The Biggest and Busiest Intersection" - 3:57
  10. "T.G.T.T. (Too Good to Title)" - 2:25
  11. "Don't Get Down On Your Knees To Pray Until You Have Forgiven Everyone" - 5:13 Omitted from CD reissue
  12. "Father Forgive" - 2:49 Omitted from CD reissue
  13. "Praise God And Dance" - 10:49
    • Recorded at Fine Studio in New York on January 22 (tracks 3, 5, 7, 10 & 13) and February 19 (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 & 12), 1968.

Personnel[edit]

Third Sacred Concert[edit]

Third Sacred Concert
Live album by Duke Ellington
Released 1975
Recorded 24 October 1973
Genre Jazz
Label RCA
Duke Ellington chronology
It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing
(1973)
Third Sacred Concert
(1973)
Eastbourne Performance
(1973)

The Third Sacred Concert was built around the skills of Alice Babs, Harry Carney, and Ellington himself on the piano. It was premiered at Westminster Abbey in London, United Kingdom on October 24, 1973 and released on LP in 1975 but has only been issued on CD as part of the 24 disc The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973) collection.[4]

At this point in his life, Ellington knew he was dying. Author Janna Tull Steed has written that of all the concerts that Ellington is addressing God facing his mortality.[5] Alice Babs sings Is God a Three Letter Word for Love? and My Love. Tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby is featured on The Brotherhood, which is a tribute to The United Nations.

Reception[edit]

The Allmusic review by Richard S. Ginell awarded the album 3 stars and stated "the weakest of the sacred concerts. It lacks the showbiz kick and exuberance of the first concert and even more eclectic impulses of the second, now burdened with a subdued solemnity and the sense that the ailing Ellington knew his time was drawing to a close (he would be dead exactly six months later)".[2]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[2]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Duke Ellington
  1. Introduction By Sir Colin Crowe - 1:28
  2. Duke Ellington's Introduction - 1:26
  3. "The Lord's Prayer: My Love" - 7:49
  4. "Is God A Three-Letter Word For Love? (Part I)" - 4:27
  5. "Is God A Three-Letter Word For Love? (Part II)" - 3:46
  6. "The Brotherhood" - 5:46
  7. "Hallelujah" - 3:32
  8. "Every Man Prays In His Own Language" - 11:10
  9. "Ain't Nobody Nowhere Nothin' Without God" - 4:20
  10. "The Majesty Of God" - 7:27
    • Recorded at Westminster Abbey, London on October 24, 1973.

Personnel[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Giddins, Gary Visions of Jazz: The First Century (ISBN 0195076753) page 491
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ginell, R. S. Allmusic Review accessed June 8, 2010
  3. ^ A Duke Ellington Panorama accessed May 17, 2010
  4. ^ http://earshot.org/Events/sacred.html
  5. ^ Steed page 148

References[edit]