The View from the Pew: Will Todd's Mass in Blue & Ellington's Sacred Concert

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NYJO trustee Ted Rockley gives ‘The View from the Pew’ at a recent NYJO concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square

The View from the Pew: Will Todd's Mass in Blue & Ellington's Sacred Concert

On Tuesday 8 July NYJO teamed up with The London Chorus, Pete Churchill, Julia Forbes L’Estrange and tap-dancer, Junior Laniyan, for an extraordinary concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square London.

Presenting Will Todd’s Mass in Blue and a selection from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts was never going to be a ‘regular’ gig, and this historic landmark Church was full to capacity.

The Mass in Blue is a setting of the latin text, with all the usual movements Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei etc in a jazz idiom. The Ellington pieces were settings of contemporary text orchestrated in unmistakable Ellington style.

This demanded something that is rarely asked for by a Choral conductor in an English church setting, groove!

And groove it did, thanks to NYJO. The Mass in Blue conducted by Ronald Corp relied heavily on NYJO’s rhythm section and brass to supply the emotion, intensity and rhythmic security for the choir and soloist, soprano Julia Forbes L’Estrange’s wilder flights of blues laden coloratura in Todd’s work.

And in the Ellington, under Mark Armstrong’s direction and with the addition of Pete Churchill’s baritone voice rapping in response to the choir’s shouts, the Duke’s intentions suited NYJO perfectly.

The choir were evidently loving it. How many times would they get to perform with such a band? And how many times does any choir or Jazz orchestra get to perform with a tap dancer, tapping down the aisle, jumping on the stage and absolutely tearing up ‘David Danced Before The Lord’?

Then after the absolutely glorious last movement, ‘Praise God and Dance’, with a tenor solo from Riley Stone-Lonergan and then raising the game even higher, Tom Dennis’ trumpet solo taking us with ever building intensity to the climax, the audience stood, clapped and roared their approval.

Was this an epiphany? For many there that night, maybe it was.

Among the unusual features of this concert, certainly for NYJO was the role of the percussionist.

Max Mills NYJO’s percussionist explains;

Usually, on NYJO gigs, I’m playing vibraphone, congas, and other bits of auxiliary percussion, but to have to play timpani and tam tam in a jazz context was quite different. Unusual, interesting and exciting too. The music itself wasn’t too challenging for the percussion. It contained the occasional roll and articulate passages usually in unison with the trombones.

Another unusual aspect was that the Timpani and tam tam were the other end of the stage to the kit drums, with the band inbetween.

The church acoustics were quite difficult for NYJO drummer David Dyson, trying to get the articulation across the large boomy space, however for me and the timpani, these acoustics were great and I really hope we get a chance to do this again!

The View from the Pew: Will Todd's Mass in Blue & Ellington's Sacred Concert

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