By: Ronnie Ruff
Interview by Joel Markowitz
Ellington:The Life and Music of the Duke — Metro Stage
It’s a hot summer night in DC the original home of Duke Ellington and Carolyn Griffin, artistic director of Metro Stage is glancing nervously around the Metro Stage lobby at the arriving theatre goers. They are there to see Ellington:The Life and Music of the Duke and it is a mixed crowd of young and old, people of all colors and gender. The Duke was and is loved by everyone and after this night at Metro Stage I can report to the readers of DC Theatre Reviews that Carolyn Griffin had little reason to be nervous because this show is stupendous! Jimi Ray Malary has a voice not unlike butter dripping off a hot biscuit that sucks you in and consumes you. You want to hear just one more, and another, until the lights finally go down for the last time. Accompanying Mr. Malary is a fantastic band made up of Yusef Chisholm on bass, Gregory Holloway on drums, William Knowles on piano(musical director) and Ron Oshima on sax.
A story told in verse and song, a young man decides at a young age to set himself apart from others around him. He takes on the nickname “Duke” to lift that persona to another level and to his dying day never relinquished that place of reverence. One of our national treasures, the Duke is responsible for such songs as Take The “A” Train and Bli-Blip. This show chronicles his life and times and while many think of the Duke as mysterious he left a very open look at his life and feelings through his songbook.
Mr. Malary is amazing, he simply shined. And the band, oh my! As the first number sets the rhythm for the evening each tap of the cymbals sends a wash of glimmering sound across the entire room. Drum, bass, sax and piano solos showcase tasty grooves that have feet tapping in every row. Especially enjoyable was a gripping version of It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) and a down right infectious version of Love You Madly that I was humming as I returned to my place hours later.
Even though its July there is quite a bit of theatre left in DC but Ellington:The Life and Music of the Duke is one show you need to add to your list of things that are a must see. A show that seems to be over way too soon, The Duke is a toe tapping pleasure that gives Washingtonians a peak at the history of one of their own at his best. I don’t think there is anything better you could do on a hot July night in DC than to head down to Metro Stage and let the guys in Duke’s band light up your evening.