Concert pianist presents music of Duke Ellington

February 02, 2006|By KRISTIN WILSON

Pianist Leon Bates has performed on renowned musical stages, but he still enjoys performing before a university audience with plenty of impressionable ears.

That's why the seasoned pianist will be heading to Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., on Tuesday, Feb. 7, to perform a concert featuring the music of Duke Ellington.

Playing at a university setting "gives you an opportunity to advance some strong feelings about music, about the piano," said Bates in a phone interview. "Students are prone to asking lots of questions. It forces you to constantly think about why you do what you do and how you do it."


Professors at the university also are excited to introduce students and community members to the music of an American legend.

"We recognize (Ellington) primarily as a big-band and jazz composer. But he took himself seriously as a major composer as well," said Andrew Rosenfeld, associate professor of music at Mount St. Mary's.

Bates arranged an all-Ellington concert in 1999 to commemorate the composer's 100th birthday. He continues to perform the program to spread interest in classical music.

"(Ellington's) music is an indelible part of the language. Not only in American music, but across the world," Bates said. "I feel that for me to play this particular program is really a departure from what a classical pianist usually does," he added. He feels, however, that Ellington's compositions "transcend" the big-band category.

Bates' concert highlights music across Ellington's career. He explores Ellington's early ragtime influences and music of the swing band and jazz eras. The second half of the concert includes samples of Ellington's later work, including "Satin Doll" and "Don't Get Around Much Any More."

"It's with a lot of delight that I play this music," Bates said. "It's a tribute to a very individual and expressive person - someone who had a lot of things to say in music, as a pianist, certainly as a composer."

Interest in Ellington and his lesser known works is steadily increasing, Rosenfeld added.

"There's sort of a renewed interest in Ellington," he said. "His contributions to American music have recently started to be recognized and taken seriously. I think that has a lot to do with changing attitudes about minority contributions."

Barry Long, an instructor of music at Mount St. Mary's, said he's interested to hear how Bates discusses the racial environment Ellington worked in and what would have been expected of him as a black composer of the early 20th century.

"That's a great thing for our students to hear ... not just the musical aspects, but the societal and cultural aspect" of Ellington's life, Long says.

If you go...

WHAT: Pianist Leon Bates performs the music of Duke Ellington.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7.

WHERE: Knott Auditorium, Mount St. Mary's University, Emmitsburg, Md.

COST: $20 for adults; $10 for senior citizens and college students with school ID; free for ages 18 and younger. Tickets are sold at the door only.

DIRECTIONS: From Hagerstown, take Md. 64 east. Turn right onto Foxville Road to continue driving east on Md. 77. Merge onto U.S. 15 north. Turn left off U.S. 15 onto Annandale Road. At the four-way intersection, turn left. At the three-way intersection, turn right. Auditorium will be on the left.

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