“An Evening With Duke Ellington”
What is it about walking into a jazz club that elicits an immediate sense of cool?
Harlow’s transformed its nightclub into a swanky jazz club on Saturday night for “An Evening With Duke Ellington.”
Onstage was The Vivian Lee Quintet paying tribute to the great jazz musician by playing several of his classic songs.
The quintet is composed of lead vocalist Vivian Lee, Ron Foggia on piano, Paul Klempau on bass, Jeff Minneweather on snare drum and joining them for this special night on saxophone was Joe Berry.
The snare drummer beat the drum in triple time. The saxophonist made the instrument talk — mastering scales and riffs. The bass player plucked the strings with precision. The pianist tickled those keys.
And at the center of it all was the elegantly attired Lady of the quintet. Whoever said classical jazz was out of style…lied. The night was a toe-tapping, finger-snapping good time. Cool was officially in the building.
“Long before James Brown christened himself the hardest working man in showbiz, there was Duke Ellington,” Lee said. “ He worked 20-hour days and played 52 weeks a year.
“No one had a band or sound like Duke Ellington. It will never grow old,” she added.
The quintet brought several of Duke Ellington’s jazz standards to life, including “Sophisticated Lady,” “Do Nothing till You hear from Me,” “Caravan,” “How High the Moon,” “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” and “C Jam Blues.”
Lee’s vocals were silky smooth on each song. The musicians played various styles ranging from bluesy and sassy up-tempo songs featuring light scatting to songs with Latin flair sung with hypnotic notes.
“How High the Moon,” paid tribute to the sound of swing music. “Satin doll” – a signature tune – and its infectious melody made audience members sing along.
During the song “In a Sentimental Mood,” Lee took a break. The musicians were able to showcase their talents on this instrumental.
The romantic song compelled couples to dance. Yes, unlike the nightclubs of popular culture, the lost art of couples dance was invoked.
“In A Mellow Tone” made audience members shout with approval, saying “Yeah!” and “Walk that bass” — the sort of cool, hip lingo only a jazz club could permit.
The signature piece, “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” started with a lone bass-driven intro and then suddenly a dramatic drum snare powerfully burst into the well-known song. The piano player’s fingers flew over the keys. This time, several couples danced to the swing song. However, much to the audience’s dismay, this was the last song.
The crowd pleaded with the band for an encore. The band was given permission to go over its allotted stage time to indulge the enthusiastic audience. For the encore, the quintet played “Take 5” by Dave Bruebeck.
Lou Aparicio and Patty, a romantic pair, were thrilled about attending a night of jazz music. The couple frequently danced during the evening,
“It was a chance to listen to some good, old-time jazz,” said jazz club aficionado and dance connoisseur Lou Aparicio. “It’s a nice nightclub for entertainment—for Sacramento’s elite.”
“I was really amazed at the setting and the service here was superb,” said Patty, who declined to give her last name.
The dancing couple frequents the well-known clubs in town and even recommended several to attend—including The Backdoor, which Aparicio described as a “Frank Sinatra type of club.”
I spoke briefly with Lee about what inspired her to perform this special jazz collection.
“Good music inspires me,” she said.
“Scott (Brill-Lehn) asked me to come and do ‘An Evening Of Duke Ellington,’” Lee said. “I’ve done Billie Holiday before, and the next best thing was Duke Ellington,” she added.
It was the best indeed. The night ended with attendees singing the words or humming the melody to their favorite Duke Ellington song. His musical legacy lives on in the heart of jazz lovers.