*For over 30 years, Duke Ellington’s daughter and son – April Ellington and Edward Ellington Jr. – have been performing across the United States and around the world as their own music group called The Savoy Ellingtons. Now you can catch them at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill on October 8 & 9, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Buy tickets here).
The brother/sister team told the EUR in a recent phone interview that audiences can expect a glorious mix of music.
“We take everyone on a musical journey,” Edward said. “With stops to visit with Duke Ellington, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. We don’t want to give the whole show away but that will give you a bit of what to expect. It’s high energy and there are some very poignant moments with visiting the past with the update of the presence.”
The duo will also pay tribute to their treasured dad, who commanded the stage from the 1920s until his death at the age of 75 in 1974. As a composer, pianist, and orchestra leader, Ellington’s classic and cherished music included “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” ” In A Sentimental Mood,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Solitude,” “Satin Doll,” and “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.”
“Being ‘heirs to the jazz throne,’ the impact, the responsibility, and the heavy place that is, (we) did not want to ride on anyone’s coattails,” said April. “(However), every show that we have performed live all around the globe for over thirty plus years, we’ve always done a tribute to our dad. Paid homage and we will continue to do that until the rest of time.”
While Duke Ellington is an American treasure for his contributions to jazz, he was not that fond of the word “jazz.”
“It was a term that Ellington (as April and Edward refer to their dad) didn’t necessarily agree with because he felt it was a characterization of being locked into a box, in a category,” said April. “He felt that the music he performed was American music. Europe has classical music and now America has jazz. It’s the one and only true artform that the United States of America can claim. He always felt it was American music.”
The Savoy Ellingtons are excited that another another musical genius, H.B. Barnum, will join them at the Vibrato Grill as their musical director and conductor. As a member of a short-lived doo-wop group in 1955, Barnum’s singing career took a backseat as he soared as a producer and arranger.
Barnum has worked with artists such as Count Basie, Etta James, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, The Temptations, Frank Sinatra, Lou Rawls, The Supremes, B.B. King, The Jackson 5, and even Puff Daddy. He is still actively working today in a variety of musical areas.
April described Barnum as, “Our lifelong friend and godfather. He’s legendary.”
Edward added, “He is also the founder of H.B. Barnum’s Life Choir (a Los Angeles based gospel group that feeds the homeless mostly during holidays). It’s a wonderful reunion for us.”
Being the descendants of jazz royalty, working with Barnum, and now the twosome brings their music to the Vibrato Grill, which is owned by even yet another musical powerhouse – Herb Alpert.
“He is one of the world-renowned trumpet players,” Edward said. “He is the founder of A&M Records and to have the opportunity to partner with his establishment to breakout this new show we’re doing, is very exciting. And we have family ties with the Alpert family and ours. So, it’s full circle.”
Performing at the Vibrato Grill, marks a special occasion of sorts for The Savoy Ellingtons. Although they have played all over the world and at too numerous to count jazz festivals, for almost five years, they have not played at public venues. They performed at private events, corporate events, and fundraisers. But now they’re ready to show folks what they’ve got.
“While we have a great following globally, we are in the process of a strategic masterplan with respect to the direction of our career over the next year and a half,” April said. “So, this is performing at Vibrato Grill and doing some live performances. We have some very exciting things coming up in the near future. You know how it is in the music business you can’t give all of the details away.”
The name “The Savoy Ellingtons” not only pays homage to their father, but also to the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The iconic club was home to established and up-and coming jazz artists from 1926 to 1958.
“’The Ellingtons’ was the beginning of our brand,” Edward said. “And there was a promoter promoting a jazz show because we were doing public events at that time and ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ (1934 jazz standard by Edgar Sampson) was our theme song. And then the next (city we went to), we were being billed as ‘The Savoy Ellingtons.’ So, it stuck, and people loved it.”
The Savoy Ellingtons point out how important it is that they continue to honor and recognize jazz.
“I’m very grateful to my father, my mother and to our forefathers and foremothers who laid the foundation for all of us to have urban music, Motown, R&B, across the board,” April said. “Without the founders of American music, mainly, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong – there would be nothing because they are the pioneers. They fought and paved the way.”
The Savoy Ellingtons definitely make their father proud. In addition to their music, they also have a book and documentary in the works. Stay tuned for that.
And, do not forget, you can catch The Savoy Ellingtons at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill on October 8 & 9, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Buy tickets here).