Stefon Harris Quartet Plays Duke Ellington at the American Museum of Natural History in New York
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The American Museum of Natural History is a classic, grand-scale, 19th-century stone building, opposite Central Park in New York City. The Rose Center for Earth and Space is a bold new addition on the north side -- a huge glass cube, full of light and inviting to the street. On Friday evenings, the Rose Center presents Starry Nights, free jazz to listen to and tapas to nibble on. Neighborhood toddlers come in strollers, nannies in charge. Slightly older children press up against the stage or dance.
In other words, good vibes fill the air, literally, as this Starry Night is the premiere of vibraphonist Stefon Harris.
Harris' new album African Tarantella: Dances with Duke (Blue Note) features music from Duke Ellington's 1970 The New Orleans Suite and The Queen's Suite as well as Harris' own compositions. For the CD, Harris arranged the music for himself and a trio, which includes flute, clarinet, trombone, viola and cello. Both songs "Memoirs of a Frozen Summer" & "African Tarantella" were part of a commission from The Wharton Center at Michigan State University. Here at the Rose Center, he's playing all those parts himself on vibes and marimba. Mallets in the air, feet on and off the ground, Stefon dances as he plays.
Ellington's late suites are some of the most beautiful – and least played – of his music. But why return to them? In Harris’ words, "It's not just a matter of reiterating music of the past. [This music] is the foundation for all our dreams for the future. So that's why we've chosen to honor the music of Duke Ellington."
Harris' band members are as young as 19, and are gaining tremendous jazz experience with the Stefon Harris Quartet.
Stefon Harris, vibes and marimba
Marc Cary, piano
Casey Benjamin, alto sax
Earl Travis, bass
Jamire Williams, drums
"Portrait of Wellman Braud" from The New Orleans Suite, for Ellington's bass player
"Sunset and the Mockingbird" from The Queen's Suite
"Memoirs of a Frozen Summer" from Harris's suite The Gardner Meditations, named for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where Harris was artist-in-residence
"African Tarantella" by Harris
"Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" from The New Orleans Suite
Starry Nights- The next Starry Nights broadcast on WBGO and wbgo.org features Beatlejazz, a trio with pianist Dave Kikoski, at 7:30 p.m. ET on June 1.
Thanks to Starry Nights Producer Andrew Rowan.
Thanks to Karen Kennedy, manager of Stefon Harris.
Our field producer is Josh Jackson, music mixer Duke Markos with Yujin Cha, Darren Jones and David Tallacksen.
Thurston Briscoe III at WBGO Jazz 88 in Newark NJ and wbgo.org is Executive Producer.
Ginger Bruner at KUNV 91.5, your jazz spot in Southern Nevada, is Dee Dee Bridgewater's recording engineer. Producer Becca Pulliam.
Copyright 2007 NPR