Monday, September 26, 2011
Today, in Defending Christian Faith at Denver Seminary, I played two pieces of classic jazz: "Sophisticated Lady," by Duke Ellington and sung by Rosemary Clooney, and "Passion Flower," an instrumental, featuring Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone. These were from "Blue Rose." We reflected on aspects of this music and how it pertained to the virtues required for Christian apologetics. What great fun that was! And our new classrooms have stereo speakers.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
This long CD (over 71 minutes) is taken from Duke's capacious "vault" of recordings not released during his lifetime (d. 1974). The band would gather between gigs to rehearse new material and rework old material before taking it on the road. Duke was the producer, unlike his "official recordings." And unlike some of the other vault recordings, this has a polished and finished feel to it, rivaling that of "Such Sweet Thunder."
The first suite was composed for a film about the painting of Degas, which was never completed. However, we are graced to have the music. It is multi-layered but unified in expression. Both the ensemble work and the solos are impeccably executed. This clocks in at over twenty-minutes and is a delight.
"The River," originally composed for a ballet, is the second suite is longer and much more modernist or even avant-guarde. It texture approaches chamber music at times and takes some wise chances with melody, meter, and harmony. It can swing, but not always. The "Whirlpool" movement is quite adventuresome. It startled and amazed me the first time I heard it, and continues to do so. I risk sacrilege here, but it reminds one a bit of some of Frank Zappa's best instrumental work.
A world with Duke Ellington cannot be absurd. This is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for defeating nihilism. This work is objectively beautiful; created by a great soul. Therefore there is meaning and goodness in the world. Thank God.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
A few days ago, I walked into a Starbucks that I seldom set foot in. I heard a piano, jazz piano. Nearly instantly, I knew it was Thelonious Monk. However, having not listened to Monk lately and having inundated myself in the richness of Duke Ellington, I heard for myself something I had only read about before: There is Duke in Monk. Now I know. Despite their vast differences, there is Duke in Monk.
Jazz is endlessly fascinating.