Billy Strayhorn Festival at Music Institute of Chicago Review – Celebrating 10 Years at Nichols Concert Hall


Give yourself a treat and play “Take the A-Train” while you read this.  Here’s the link to Duke Ellington’s personal interpretation of his very personal theme song:


The story of Billy Strayhorn and his musical collaboration with Duke Ellington begins with this iconic song.   After they met in Pittsburgh where he heard some of Billy’s work, Ellington invited him to his apartment in Harlem.  Thanks goodness there were no Google maps in those days because the directions the Duke scribbled down morphed into “Take the A-Train,” Ellington’s distinctive signature and a beloved jazz standard.  Now listen to Dave Brubeck’s version at: .


On Saturday night, October 27, the Terrell Stafford Quintet treated the audience at the Music Institute of Chicago in Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston to a live rendition of Stafford’s CD “This Side of Strayhorn.” The quintet also featured Tim Warfield Jr., saxophone; Bruce Barth, piano; Peter Washington, bass; and Dana Hall, drums.


The quintet’s skill and dedication to the music captivated the audience. And what an audience it was—jazz lovers, jazz professionals, even a jazz relative, niece Alyce Claerbaut––were there to there to revel in Strayhorn’s music and memory.


“This Side of Strayhorn” explores many sides of Strayhorn and includes two Strayhorn/Ellington collaborations, “Smada,” and “Day Dream.”


My personal favorite, “Lana Turner” is flirtatious and fun.  No wonder Strayhorn played one last prank with it: he spelled her name backwards in the title line for one manuscript.


If you missed the concert or missed your opportunity to buy the CD, “This Side of Strayhorn”, here’s the link

I would have loved to have heard “Take the A-Train” at each of the performances during this festival.


Saturday, November 17, 7:30p.m. WarnerNuzova

World-renowned American cellist Wendy Warner and eminent Russian pianist Irina Nuzova have earned critical acclaim for their riveting performances as the duo WarnerNuzova. The two performers’ contrasting cultures and traditions are at the core of the energy and insight of their interpretations.


Saturday, December 8, 9 a.m. Family Concert:The Nutcracker

Families begin this morning of music with the Music Institute's Instrument Petting Zoo, followed by a 10 a.m. performance of “Duke it Out” – Ellington/Strayhorn vs. Tchaikovsky. Music and dance take the stage as resident ensembles Axiom Brass and Quintet Attacca perform classical and jazz versions of the popular Nutcracker Suite. The Ellington/Strayhorn arrangements are by Jim Stephenson. This performance is presented in conjunction with Dance ChicagoAdmission is only $10 per family.


Sunday, January 13, 5 p.m. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Concert

The Music Institute’s annual concert features the Brotherhood Chorale of the Apostolic Church of God. Free admission!


Saturday, February 16, 7:30 p.m Pacifica Quartet

Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often-daring repertoire choices, the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. Recently named quartet-in-residence at Indiana University and Ensemble of the Year by Musical America, Pacifica received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.


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