All’s Wells for Duke Ellington conference

All’s Wells for Duke Ellington conference

ENTHUSIASTS from 10 countries will descend on Woking this month to celebrate the music of jazz legend Duke Ellington.

Afficionados including ­academics, professors of music, authors, musicologists as well as just straightforward fans will gather at the HG Wells Centre for a conference that includes several performances, which are open to the public.

Woking has ended up as the latest host to the delegates, thanks to Ellington fanatic Geoff Smith, who lives in the town.

“There have been 20 Duke Ellington conferences staged around America and Europe since the first one in Washington DC, his birthplace, but the last one was in London in 2008,” he explains.

“Another was planned for Brooklyn in New York but it never happened and then it was suggested we host it in London again – but we struggled to find a suitable venue.

“Then I had a eureka moment where I sat up and thought we’ve got far better facilities in Woking to do this.

“We’re easily ­accessible from London and the airports.”

Geoff, a committee member of the Duke Ellington ­Society UK, added: “It will be a great event.

“The enthusiasts all have a love of his music and a conviction that he’s arguably the most influential composer on any form of music of the 20th century in terms of the other genres of music around the world.

“But there will be plenty on offer for people who don’t ­necessarily want to delve too deeply into ­Ellington’s background and just want to hear good music.”

Geoff, who lives in Julian Close, has also adapted an iconic ­image from the Ellington back catalogue to plug
the event – and put Woking on the Ellington map.

He has taken the record label from the famous 1933 composition Drop Me Off In Harlem and adapted it to read Drop Me Off At Woking.

“It was recorded when he was still in his jazz dance band mode at the Cotton Club in New York,” Geoff says.

“I thought a reasonable ­attention-grabber would be to alter the original record label to ­emphasise just how easy it is to get to Woking from Waterloo or Heathrow.”

Ellington 2012 will run from Wednesday, May 23 until Sunday, May 27 with most events at the HG Wells Centre.

They include a concert by acclaimed pianist Darius Brubeck, son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who will play an Ellington programme with his quartet, based on the ‘Ellington Night’ set performed by Dave Brubeck at the famous  Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 at the HG Wells Centre on Saturday, May 26.

Dave, who is now 91, has recorded an interview with Darius at his home especially for the Woking event.

Among the other events, ­Woking musician and music ­lecturer Phil Singleton will present his own composition commemorating Duke in Woking and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on Friday, May 25.

Other free events include The Age Of Ellington, an introduction to the records from the 1920s to the 1970s on May 23, and a Sunday Jazz Brunch jam session at The Lightbox on May 27.

Tickets and details are available from the HG Wells Centre or go to

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About the Author: Barry Rutter