Duke Ellington’s contribution to twentieth-century music cannot be overstated. Between his prolific output as a composer, his keen sense of arranging specifically for intended persons, and his charisma as a bandleader, Ellington has influenced generations of people around the world. Though his best-known titles are revisited the most, the majority of Ellington’s expansive body of work remains unheard. Candice Hoyes, in her debut album, On a Turquoise Cloud, seeks to rectify this by unearthing lesser-known Ellington compositions and arrangements written for classically-trained vocalists in jazz, such as Alice Babs and Kay Davis.

Gathering these particular works from the National Archives at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., Hoyes recorded them with an octet, although her performance of these works at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh (CAM Raleigh) was scaled down to a quartet: Lynn Grissett on trumpet, Chris Pattishall on piano, Christian Dashiell on bass, and Larry Draughn on drums. The intimacy of the scaled-down instrumentation did not detract from the strength of the compositions (another testament to Ellington’s genius), and the ensemble moved fluidly through each one. Sensitive to the tradition without feeling confined, the quartet supported Hoyes with great distinction. The evening was presented at CAM Raleigh by North Carolina Opera.

The night began with “Brown Penny,” featuring Hoyes’ silky delivery and stage presence answered occasionally by Grissett. The ensemble’s stylistic approach to this song was reminiscent of the early-swing era. In between pieces, Hoyes gave some background on the next, and often told stories about discovering the music and relating it to events in her life. While some performers tend to get carried away during these segments, Hoyes remained on-topic and concise. Next was one of two vocalise pieces in which Hoyes began to stretch out within her range.

“On A Turquoise Cloud” consisted of a lush chord progression over which Hoyes soared. The interplay between the musicians (not only here, but throughout the night) truly complemented Hoyes and her delivery. “Creole Love Call” was also one of two songs for which Hoyes added her own lyrics. In her introduction of the song, Hoyes made note of the piece being Ellington’s first hit. In this song especially, Draughn’s touch was impeccable, giving him full command of the dynamics. Up next was a song entitled “Heaven,” in which Hoyes’ sweet soprano was on fine display. Following this piece, Hoyes took a break while Pattishall shared some additional background on the musicians performing. Afterwards, they launched into an instrumental feature entitled “The Feeling of Jazz,” which displayed their expertise as both individuals and a cohesive unit.

Returning for the second half of the program, Hoyes began with a second vocalise piece, entitled “Transblucency.” Grissett provided a harmonized second voice under Hoyes that blurred the line between the two, effectively matching to become one voice. Next was Ellington’s arrangement of a Swedish folk song, sung by Alice Babs and entitled “Far Away Star.” This piece was a distinct shift from the rest of the program in its pointed and near-abrasive nature; it was an excellent example of Ellington’s range as an arranger. “Single Petal of a Rose” was a tender piano/vocal feature dedicated to her child, with lyrics contributed by Hoyes. She struggled slightly with the intervallic leaps in the melody, however, she recovered strongly with the concluding piece of the program. “Come Sunday,” an Ellington composition inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., closed the night out in a relaxed way, making room for each member of the ensemble to make a statement. Receiving a standing ovation, the ensemble bowed before making their exit backstage.

Thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, Hoyes’ set of rare Ellington songs is a must-hear performance. The program will be repeated Saturday night, at 8:00 pm. For details, see the sidebar.

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce Brandon Lane to our readers. He is a graduate student in jazz at NCCU.