Symphony, local musicians pay tribute to N.C. jazz connection

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 10:22 AM

The audience at Sunday’s Durham Symphony concert will get an experience that is eclectic, ecumenical, and, to use Duke Ellington’s phrase, “beyond category.” Listeners will get their ears expanded with a new piece from the symphony’s composer of the year Steven Bryant, hear some arrangements of pieces from jazz musicians with North Carolina connections, and go to church.

The concert is a collaboration of many local musicians. William Henry Curry, musical director and conductor of the symphony, asked local musicians to take a look at the music of North Carolina musicians. He gave them a list of 12 compositions or arrangements by John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Billy Strayhorn and other musicians and asked them to pick something to perform. “I’ve learned enough working with artists to turn them loose on what they love,” Curry said. A grant from the North Carolina Arts Council allowed the symphony to hire more guest artists for the concert, he said.
The orchestra and guest artists rehearsed some of what they love this week. The session opened with saxophonist Brian Horton’s arrangement of Benny Golson’s tune “I Remember Clifford,” sung by vocalist and North Carolina Central University teacher Lenora Helm Hammonds. Horton wrote the arrangement for orchestra and jazz trio, and also solos on the arrangement.
Hammonds helped make the Curry-Horton connection. “When the maestro called me to perform,” she told him Horton had an arrangement of the song, and Curry commissioned him to write the arrangement, Hammons said. “I feel kind of special,” she said. Horton also arranged a Coltrane-inspired version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” for orchestra, trio and Hammonds on vocals. Horton also solos on soprano saxophone.
Other vocalists performing are Lois Deloatch, who chose Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and Anthony Newley’s “Feeling Good,” which Simone made a hit.
Rounding out the vocalists is Rozlyn Sorrell, who sings on Curry’s composition for orchestra, “Mardi Gras 2006.” This composition has pastoral melodies from folk music and spirituals, and sections where the rhythm swings with prominent brass parts. The lyric expresses a sense of hope: “Lord, I want to be in that number / When the trumpet sounds its chord,” Sorrell sings.
John Brown’s trio (Brown on bass, Ryan Hanseler on piano, and Orlandus Perry on drums), in addition to playing various arrangements, does Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” minus orchestra. Listen to how they add drama to this piece by holding back on the dynamics until Perry hits the drums with the sticks.
Gregg Gelb will perform alto saxophone on Jimmy Carroll’s arrangement of the song “Just Friends,” originally arranged for saxophonist Charlie Parker, who recorded and sometimes performed with strings. Everyone and the orchestra will perform the finale, an arrangement of the spiritual “I’ll Fly Away.”
The orchestra also will perform arrangements of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and an arrangement of Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
One mission of Curry’s is to perform music by new or local composers. He calls Durham composer Bryant “a wildly gifted composer. He’s doing really well in the wind ensemble world. He’s getting so many commissions he can’t keep up,” Curry said. “Loose Id” is for orchestra, and in layman’s terms, the best way to describe it is to imagine Stan Kenton’s bands pumped up a few more notches. The piece has a different type of notation, which has presented the symphony a chance to grow artistically, Curry said.
Programming the Bryant piece with jazz standards fits with Curry’s philosophy of concert collaborations like this one. Audiences should hear something familiar but also hear “something they should know. So this program has plenty of familiar music … then we’re going to tear down the walls with ‘Loose Id,’ ” then go back to “Porgy and Bess,” he said.    

Go and Do

WHAT: Durham Symphony Orchestra’s salute to jazz from North Carolina
WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.
WHERE: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St.
ADMISSION: General admission tickets are $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 919-560-3030 or visit
ALSO: Steven Bryant will give a pre-concert talk at 2:30 about his composition for orchestra, “Loose Id.”