The Duke Ellington Legacy set one goal for themselves as a big band and that is to preserve the ideals of the late, great jazz pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington, who in the 21st century has a name for his catalog of music - Ellingtonia. Founded by Duke’s grandson, guitarist, and fellow jazz enthusiast Edward Kennedy Ellington II, the music of the Duke Ellington Legacy sounds as classic as the day Duke Ellington (born Edward Kennedy Ellington) gave his music birth while still sounding like a contemporary jazz band. The band’s debut CD Thank You Uncle Edward, captures the cheerfulness, the bluesy moods, and the love-in-the-air stylizing of Duke Ellington’s music. The story behind the "Uncle Edward" part in the title is that Duke felt he was too young to be called a grandfather, so Ellington II was compelled to call him his uncle.
The album has a ballroom elegance that you can imagine modern dancers feeling inclined to grab onto and respond to the movements in the melodies with their bodies. Members of Duke’s band recall him saying, "When you write, write something that sounds good," and the Duke Ellington Legacy by far have. The album enables young fans to become acquainted with the organic percolations and statuesque nature of Duke Ellington’s music, and allows jazz fans to visit the soul and warmth that Duke passed onto musicians who have followed in his light.
Produced by Gaye Ellington, the band’s debut album Thank You Uncle Edward rocks out with cool jazz stylistics fumigating the horn sections performed by trumpeter Mark McGowan, baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist Joe Temperley, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and bandleader/tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew. The vocals of Nancy Reed are absolutely sumptuous. Her slow riding chords fill you up like Billie Holiday’s voice, and her shaking-scat croons show a sweet appreciation for the dynamics that scat and jazz share. The piano playing of Norman Simmons illuminates the melodies with beautifully-lit sparks as the low registers of the rhythm guitar played by Edward Kennedy Ellington II provides a warm bedding for the percolating horns and piano components. The rhythm section of bassist Tom DiCarlo, drummer Paul Wells, percussionist Sheila Earley, and the bongo overdubs performed by Randy Crofton keep the listener’s feet patting profusely to the dance steps and the track "Cottontail" is a fine example of the band’s rhythm parts working to move the listener’s feet. Reed’s vocals on "Cottontail’ are exquisitely delightful and catches the bouncing grooves which magnify the tune’s appeal a hundred-fold.
Ellington II’s reason for asking saxophonist Virginia Mayhew to be the bandleader is apparent through her instinctive spirals and drones on tracks like "Moon Mist" and "Pretty Woman." Her finger-work and delivery sound like a musician who was weaned on Duke Ellington’s musicology. The Lain-zest sprinkled in the rhythmic movements of "It’s A Sentimental Mood" and "Caravan" binds attractive samba steps to the melody as the glittering piano keys and simmering horns join in the action. The smooth soul feel of "Come Sunday" and "Day Dream" have lovely lulling streams, while the upbeat tempos of "Toe Tickler" "Perdido" and "Mainstem" would entice even the shyest person in the world to go on the dance floor and move to the music. The Duke Ellington Legacy band enable Ellingtonians to remember the jazz music of Duke Ellington and allows the younger generations to become familiar with his work and method of playing, which made room for every instrument in the ensemble to be heard. Each player has a solo some place, so no one person hogs up the spotlight. Everyone has their chance.
Edward Kennedy Ellington II tells in a press release that the purpose of the album is to "further jazz of all types and bring the music to people who have always enjoyed jazz, as well as students and new listeners." The album has soul, jazz and jive, three components that when the Duke Ellington Legacy bring them together, it makes for one fine album that transcends time and music tastes. Duke encouraged his musicians to make music that sounds good, and thereby taste good to the listener. The Duke Ellington Legacy follow that mantra.