Roddy Ellias and Nancy Walker collaborated beautifully ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Roddy Ellias and Nancy Walker collaborated beautifully ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
with Nancy Walker, Roddy Ellias, Kieran Overs, and Michel Delage
Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge
Friday, May 29, 2015

Jazz composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote such a huge range and number of compositions that a tribute to them doesn't have to stick to the obvious. And on the first evening of a two-night run at Brookstreet, Toronto pianist Nancy Walker and Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias chose some less well-known numbers like “My Little Brown Book”, “Day Dream”, and “Rain Check” to complement the classics like “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”.

Walker and Ellias hadn't played a full show together before this, but, with occasional quick conferring between songs, they collaborated beautifully, easily switching roles between lead and accompaniment or both working to display the melody in different ways. Almost all these pieces were originally performed by Ellington's big band, and in several songs such as “Purple Gazelle”, Ellias' archtop electric had a similar flowing feel to a tenor saxophone solo.

This was the third show in the monthly jazz tribute series at Brookstreet organized by Ottawa drummer Michel Delage, and Delage and veteran Toronto bassist Kieran Overs provided swinging and nuanced rhythms behind Walker and Ellias, occasionally stepping out for short solos reflecting the melody and feel of the songs, and trading fours with the guitar or piano.

My favourite piece of the night was the quartet's extended and soulful rendition of the beautiful song “Come Sunday”, from Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige suite. Starting out sparsely with Ellias and Walker underlining each other's playing, their rendition ended up sounding almost orchestral, before slowly fading out.

The Options Jazz Lounge was noticeably quiet and almost full during Friday's show, with many in the audience clearly there to listen, and applauding enthusiastically after solos and songs.

The quartet returns tonight (Saturday) for a second show. When interviewed Walker about the shows, she said they had more than enough material to fill an evening, and several of the pieces she said were on the set list didn't make an appearance Friday.

The next show in the Brookstreet tribute series will be on July 10 and 11 with Toronto alto saxophonist Allison Au and pianist Todd Pentland.

    – Alayne McGregor

Related stories:

All photos Copyright ©Brett Delmage, 2015