“This is one of the most exciting weeks of the year for me, all jazz lovers and for Duke Ellington aficionados,” said granddaughter Mercedes Ellington, founder and president of the Duke Ellington Center For The Arts, in a press statement. "The mission of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts [is] to support the inspiration of all people to become ambassadors for peace and harmony through the magic of the arts—one note at a time.”
The inaugural ceremony for the Duke Ellington Beyond Category Award will kick off the week April 24 at 7:30 PM. A black-tie cocktail reception and dance, including "The Dance Times Square Jitterbuggers," choreographed by Melanie LaPatin, will highlight the ceremony. Donald Saddler, choreographer, dancer and theatre director, will be honored with the inaugural award given to an individual "who has demonstrated impact beyond category" dealing with arts education. The event will be held at Dance Times Square Studio (156 West 44th Street), and tickets are $125.
On April 25 at 7:30 PM there will be a 30-year anniversary reunion of the Broadway cast of Sophisticated Ladies. The reunion performance of the 1981 Broadway production of the Ellington-themed musical will be presented at Birdland (315 West 44th Street) and will feature Duke Ellington’s music, with his son Mercer Ellington heading the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Original cast members performing include Mercedes Ellington, Ty Stephens, Adrian Bailey, P.J. Benjamin, Hinton Battle, Val Pettiford, Terri Klausner, Wynonna Smith, Ken Hanson, Priscilla Baskerville, Michael Lichtefeld, Faruma (“Woody”) Williams, Paula-Lynn Wagner and Bruce Heath. Frank Owens will head the on-stage orchestra. The cover charge is $40 and reservations are required; call (212) 581-3080.
The Ellington Birthday Eve Countdown Concert will be held April 28 and will be hosted by Swing 46 Jazz & Supper Club (349 West 46th Street). The Blue Millennium Orchestra will play in honor of Ellington’s 112th birthday. The Orchestra features original Ellington alumni Patience Higgins and James Zollar on reeds and trumpet. Christopher Cherney, director of music education at The Duke Ellington Center, will direct the ensemble from piano. The performance will begin at 9 PM and will culminate with a New-Year’s-Eve-style countdown to midnight when all attending musicians will be asked to get out their instruments to play "Take The A Train." The cover charge is $20.
For Elligton's birthday, on April 29 at 1 PM, there will be a Duke Ellington Day Celebration Concert. The free outdoor concert will be held in front of the Duke Ellington Memorial Statue at the northeast corner of Central Park (110th Street & Fifth Avenue). Several school jazz bands, including The Middle School Jazz Academy of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the PS 345 Concert Band in Brooklyn, as well as Christopher Cherney’s Blue Millennium Orchestra, will perform. Guest artists will include Darby Dizard and the Dance Times Square Jitterbuggers. To conclude the week, on April 30 at 5 PM, a concert will take place in The Woolworth Chapel at Woodlawn, and feature live music, song and dance. Ellington was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx after his death on May 24, 1974. Mercedes Ellington will honor his memory and host the concert. Admission is $20 and reservations are required; to make reservations, contact Woodlawn at (718) 920-1470.
Ellington was honored posthumously in 1999 with a Pulitzer Prize.