Rodney Whitaker

All Too Soon: The Music of Duke Ellington

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Charles L. Latimer, I Dig Jazz

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If you attend a Rodney Whitaker concert, bank on getting a history lesson on whatever jazz music the bassist's group performs, and as a bonus some comic relief. For 25 years, he's taught jazz at Michigan State University. No surprise, he uses the bandstand to educate audiences, and his kidding them before introducing tunes is a piece of his musical personality. He's quick to jokingly warn an audience of his plans to pursue standup comedy when he retires. Saturday evening at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, the comedic moments of his 90-minute set didn't go over well, which he took in stride. However, the Duke Ellington compositions his septet worked Whitaker's "All Too Soon The Music of Duke Ellington" was a combination of fire and raw sophistication. Whitaker's septet is made up of some of his former and current students such as pianist Corey Kendric, drummer Michael Reed, and baritone saxophonist Len'I Glenn McKinney. The centerpiece was vocalist Rockelle Fortin, Whitaker's daughter. She's performed with his various groups since her teen years and has become a world-class vocalist. Her gracefulness, her stage know-how, and her ability to wrap her voice around you like warm scarves beg comparison to the Detroit jazz vocalist Shahida Nurullah. Fortin sang so beautifully on "Mood Indigo" and on "Perdido," you would've sworn the spirit of Duke Ellington gave her permission to treat his songs as she saw fit. The multi-layered manner Whitaker structured the concert was brilliant, featuring the septet, for example, on three selections. Then showcasing just vocals and saxophone on "Mood Indigo," and just the rhythm section on "Just Squeeze Me." Whitaker only soloed a few times. He's at the elder statesmen leg of his career, comfortable putting most of the workload on the young musicians he's nurtured musically, and they handled Ellington's gems like seasoned swingers.








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