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Russo's Ellington

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William Russo was 29 years old in 1958 when Verve Records asked him to arrange Duke Ellington's stage musical Jump for Joy for a recording that would feature alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Russo had Ellington's blessing for the project, but no access to the original music for the 1941 show, which he had never seen. All he had to work with was the piano score for some of the songs and--oh, yeah--the advice of Billy Strayhorn. Russo says Ellington sent his now-famous collaborator over to help; Strayhorn talked about the show, which "took an ironic view of race relations," and acted as a consultant in a "nonspecific" way. The resulting recording substituted saxophone for voice and added strings and new material, rewriting the master without blinking. "I was young and full of hubris," Russo says now, "and I think I slightly underestimated Ellington, as everybody did then." Audiences can compare the Ellington and Russo versions when Russo leads the Chicago Jazz Ensemble (which he founded) in performances of both on a single bill this week. Vocalist Vikki Stokes will sing the Ellington; a quartet of classical string players, "coaxed into it" by Russo, will join the ensemble for his arrangement. Critics who heard the program in a Chicago performance last week were jumping to rave. It's at 8 on Saturday, September 21, at Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois in Lake Forest; and at 7 on Wednesday, September 25, at Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W. Campbell in Arlington Heights. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors, $15 for students. Call 312-344-6245.

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