Prom 27: Ella and Dizzy – A Centenary Tribute – Dianne Reeves, James Morrison, John Mauceri

“Celebrate the centenary of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves and trumpeter James Morrison perform their greatest hits, from the Great American Songbook to Gillespie’s bebop beats.” [BBC Proms website]

Manhattan Rhapsody [ed. John Mauceri]
A Damsel in Distress – A Foggy Day (in London Town) [arr. Vince Mendoza]
Cherokee [arr. James Morrison]
Round Midnight [arr. Joe Chindamo]
Girl Crazy – Embraceable You [arr. Billy Childs]
Harlem [arr. Luther Henderson]
Jungle Drums [arr. Morton Gould]
Lady Be Good – Fascinatin’ Rhythm [arr. Childs]
Gillespie / Pozo / Fuller
Manteca [arr. Graeme Lyall]
Ellington / Tizol
Caravan [arr. Gould]
Reeves / Midon
Tango du Jour [arr. Gil Goldstein]
A Night in Tunisia [arr. Sean O’Boyle]
Lullaby of Birdland [arr. Childs]

Dianne Reeves (singer) & James Morrison (trumpet)
Victor Sangiorgio (piano)
James Morrison Trio [William Morrison (guitar), Patrick Danao (drum-kit) & Harry Morrison (bass)]
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Mauceri

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 August, 2017
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

John Mauceri conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute starring singer Dianne Reeves and trumpeter James Morrison at the 2017 BBC PromsPhotograph: Mark Allan/BBCHonouring ‘jazz greats’ has become something of a staple over recent Proms seasons, often with little reason other than to fill-out the schedule, though when it comes to Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, whose centenaries fall in April and October, there was an imperative to mark the occasions in style. Thus it was that Dianne Reeves and James Morrison, who both worked closely with Fitzgerald and Gillespie, and can claim direct succession with authority, joined the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Mauceri for this centenary tribute.

Mauceri (in only his second Proms appearance in twenty-nine years) is well-versed in this music as scholar and conductor; his new edition of George Gershwin’s Manhattan Rhapsody, original version (as it appeared in the 1931 film Delicious) of what became the Second Rhapsody, made for a fitting curtain-raiser – its breezy eloquence well-suited to Victor Sangiorgio, whose low-key appearances here were undoubted enhancements. Reeves then took the stage for a smooth while insinuating take on Gershwin’s late standard ‘A Foggy Day (in London Town)’, before Morrison upped the ante when turning Ray Noble’s forceful ‘Cherokee’ into a bristling toccata workout. The moody soulfulness of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ responded in equal degree to Morrison’s restrained intensity, as did Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’ to Reeves’s nailing of its high notes and dextrous playing from her regular pianist Peter Martin. Mauceri then put the BBC Concert Orchestra through its collective paces with Duke Ellington’s Harlem – the most enduring of his essays in symphonic jazz, given with just the right combination of discipline and panache.

Singer Dianne Reeves performs with the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor John Mauceri at the 2017 BBC PromsPhotograph: Mark Allan/BBCNeither was the orchestra found wanting in the Latino sultriness of Ernesto Lecuona’s Jungle Drums, spearheaded by the tom-tom assaults of Alasdair Malloy, Stephen Whibley and Julian Poole. Reeves and Morrison together negotiated the shifting time-signatures of Gershwin’s ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ with aplomb, while Morrison and his Trio surged through Manteca – Gillespie’s explosive collaboration with Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller. The BBCCO provided respite with the sombre and ominous motion of Caravan, penned by Ellington and Juan Tizol, before Reeves was joined by Sangiorgio for ‘Tango du Jour’ – the singer’s collaboration with Raúl Midon in this affectionate yet high-octane tribute to the tango artists of her youth, fairly taking off in the closing samba. Morrison retook the stage with his heady take on A Night in Tunisia, one of Gillespie’s early successes which remained one of his musical calling-cards, before singer, trumpeter and pianist shared equal billing for Lullaby of Birdland – George Shearing’s highly affecting tribute to the legendary jazz club which mad for a suitable finale.

Trumpeter James Morrison performs with the James Morrison Trio and the BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor John Mauceri at the 2017 BBC PromsPhotograph: Mark Allan/BBCMention of Shearing is a reminder that his centenary falls in 1919 and would be well worth a similar commemoration at one of these concerts. For now, however, all those taking part duly reassembled for an encore in the guise of ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’, Ellington’s 1931 evergreen which gave rise to Reeves’s best scat-singing of the night, as well as summoning a truly stentorian response from Morrison: arousing conclusion to an evening in which the essential purpose of these tributes was successfully and engagingly reaffirmed.

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