The Troy Street Observer

Mar 19, 1981: A Festive Tribute to Duke

The big hit of the Boston Globe Jazz Festival of 1981 was the home-grown “Tribute to the Duke,” produced by Herb Pomeroy and Tony Cennamo. Amidst all the national talent on display during the festival that year—Lionel Hampton, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods, and many others—none cast a longer shadow than the Bostonians on their home ground.

The evening’s emcee at the Berklee Performance Center was pianist Sabby Lewis, who played an Ellington medley with bassist John Neves and drummer Fred Buda. The rest of the evening’s music featured the Pomeroy Orchestra. Pomeroy revered Ellington, and played with the Ellington Orchestra. He was also known for teaching Ellington at Berklee. Duke once quipped that he ought to drop in on Herb’s class to find out what he was doing; he eventually did and there’s a picture of it here. On this night Pomeroy’s Orchestra played Ellington favorites such as “Kinda Dukish,” “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” and “Chelsea Bridge.” Soloists singled out in newspaper reviews the next day included Phil Wilson, Jimmy Mosher, and Jimmy Derba. Mae Arnette joined the band to sing “I Let a Song Go out of My Heart” and “I Got It Bad.”

There were longer pieces as well, one being a Pomeroy favorite, the “Tone Parallel To Harlem.” The evening’s most ambitious offering was “The Road of the Phoebe Snow,” an Ellington medley first assembled for the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, with dancers Leon Collins and Adrienne Hawkins joining the band this night.

Perhaps there are tapes of this concert somewhere in the Berklee library. Locating them now would be timely, given the Herb Pomeroy tribute at MIT next month.
Can’t find any publicly available examples of Herb Pomeroy playing Duke Ellington, but here is the Ellington Orchestra itself, with two of the pieces presented at the BPC that night. First is “I Got It Bad” from Ellington at Newport in 1956, with its Johnny Hodges solo, and second is “Tone Parallel To Harlem.”

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