BPACC Showcase flows in with tribute to Ellington
Special to The Commercial Appeal
Saturday night will swing in Bartlett: Grammy-nominated pianist/composer Donald Brown and popular local vocalist Joyce Cobb are the featured performers at the Bartlett Summer Symphony Pops Concert’s “Symphonic All-Duke Ellington Night” at the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center.
The tribute to Ellington, with the orchestra led by University of Memphis’ Dr. Jack Cooper, kicks off the BPACC Showcase Series and honors one of America’s most influential composers.
“I think of Duke as the premiere jazz composer of the 20th century,” Brown said. “Every major pianist that followed him — from Thelonious Monk to Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, James Williams and myself — was influenced by him.”
Brown is an associate professor of music at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, teaching jazz composition and piano. His international reputation was earned playing with
top jazz names, including as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Brown has been lauded for his Grammy-nominated composition “The Insane Asylum,” heard on Wynton Marsalis’ album “J Mood.”
“As a composer, Duke was such a big influence on me and the way I write things,” Brown says. “So much of his influence comes in the way he structured his melodies and harmonic progressions.”
Brown’s career was shaped when he attended then-Memphis State University in the early 1970s.
“Meeting James Williams in 1972 was really huge in terms of someone who nurtured me and got me towards what jazz is about,” Brown said. “James took me to jazz clubs and through him I got to hear Phineas Newborn play many nights and got to know him fairly well.”
Brown encountered other jazz powerhouses with strong Memphis connections such as George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern, Bill Easley and Earl Thomas.
“As a young musician it was really eye opening, a real awakening being exposed to such musicians at a young age,” he says.
Pianist/composer Donald Brown, who joins Joyce Cobb Saturday night, calls Duke Ellington a major influence.