Dresden, Germany

Old Dresden! Really old and beautiful, like a pretty silver haired lady having tea and a touch of vodka and bourbon. She’s seen a lot and still she smiles quietly.

Oh, they like our music, our poems and jazz, too.

They do 14 days of jazz every year. This is my second time here, and this time it’s with NDR. I’m exploring a bit of the big band universe. This was our fourth night, and it was wonderful to share some music and feelings and heart with this audience of long time jazz listeners, who truly love subtleties and delicacies, of tones and chords and rhythms and feelings. At sound check, we saw the big black & white stills… photos of the greats, past and present, peeking out at us from behind their instruments. Faces glistening of sweat… enough to.. “ok I’m going home now!”

So, we all took a deep breath… pretty sure that we would have some Ellington lovers, and that would be a good start. Getting on and off stage for sound check and performance is a little difficult these days. I’m using a crutch a lot. This venue was a serious challenge to just get on stage, and make it to my center position. It’s 8 O’clock and time to hit it. There’s screaming applause and people on their feet immediately, as NDR takes the stage. WOW! That’s a shot in the arm! There’s a real love for this organization of jazzers that’s been around since 1946. I’ve been getting some great spill over/trickle down effect from being with them, from doing Ellington! My god!

They do pay special attention and applaud loudly as I hobble across stage with a crutch and on Joe Turano’s arm. I’m calling, “Taxi! Harlem! Cabby! Harlem!” I tell ‘em, come on, everybody! Drop me off in Harlem. They get it.

By half time, they’ve heard some fabulous soloing and ensemble playing of new Ellington. New Ellington, still Ellington. I struggle back down the ramp to my dressing room, and get ready for a second half. Here we go! Nothing like a hot sparkling version of “Cotton Tail,” for welcoming the audience back to their seats, and getting their ears open again. The second half is a little more risky, featuring a seldom heard Brubeck song, a non Ellington composition, called “The Duke,” and what a lovely tribute it is to someone who must have been a hero of Dave Brubeck’s… Nice little circular admiration society, as you guys know how much I love Brubeck. They liked it, just the way we all hoped they would appreciate it. With this second half, we’ll include a couple of nice high wire moves on “Nothing but the Blues,” and “Satin Doll.” This ought to be a first timing experience for the audience on both of these classic Ellington compositions. This is our fourth night, and so far the response has been wonderful!

What has happened here is… Joe Turano and Jorg Keller and I began with a big broad list of tunes that we thought are important to cover, which we thought we could find some fresh arranging, soloing, and singing. AND THEN we let the kids out for recess and joined them. We let out some ideas and asked Jorg if “this” or “that” could work. Jorg has an amazing ability to understand the gist of an idea, and then expand on it, and bring it to life, in a way that makes a whole and wonderful new canvas, on which to paint. It’s like Joe and I would suggest some flowers and Jorg would return with a garden all laid out. I keep discovering new stuff inside these Jorg Keller arrangements every day, and I’m certain that will continue to happen inside this book of Ellington arrangements that we’re doing.

We ended up doing three encores for this jazz audience, and we all left the stage feeling good.

The hotel does a wonderful late night jazz session that I felt conspicuous about not attending, but it was time for me to lay down and be still and give thanks. So farewell to madam Dresden, with her beautiful silver hair. Auf wiedersehen. Thank you, Jazztage Festival.

-Al Jarreau

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