Saturday, May 9, 2015

Brian Torff Presents His Jazz-Rock Project "New Duke": Mash-Ups of Future Past

Jazz-rock was a musical style that came to prominence in the late nineteen-sixties. In an era of fusion and syncretism, it signaled a musical marriage of sophisticated jazz harmony and improvisation combining tight horn sections with the electric energy of a rock and funk rhythm section. Landmark vinyl from Blood, Sweat and Tears, Tower of Power, Electric Flag and (early) Chicago brought new design and vision, bringing the past color of jazz to a new generation.  Time faded the style and by the mid-70's the thrill was gone.

Bassist, composer and arranger Brian Torff was inspired by this sound. "I was born in Chicago and it was the 3 B's, The Beatles, James Brown and BS&T that really inspired me. I always associated great music- jazz, rock, or soul, with punchy horn sections," said Torff. He moved on to a performing career working with George Shearing (with whom he toured my native Brazil as a duo in the late 70s and I had the chance to attend their concerts at the Cecilia Meirelles Hall in Rio de Janeiro), Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, Stephane Grappelli, Cleo Laine, Frank Sinatra and Brazilian piano master Manfredo Fest (they released a wondrous DVD, titled "Some Call It Jazz.") He has been a professor of music at Fairfield University in Connecticut since 1993. That is where his band, New Duke began.

"My associate, Dr. Laura Nash received a 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to present a workshop on the life and work of Duke Ellington," said Torff, "and we wanted to put together a band that would do new things with his music."  The concept grew into a mash-up where Torff composed and arranged music that mixed Ellington with Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Cream, and Pharrell Williams.

"It is a mash-up concept with jazz-rock roots but with a unique twist,” said Torff. New Duke performs original tunes such as the "Mandela Freedom Suite", "Mississippi Saxophone" and "Last Record Man." The band consists of Darryl Tookes, vocals, Jamie Finegan, trumpet, Rick Sadlon, alto sax and flute, Steve Moran, tenor and baritone sax, John Fumasoli, trombone, Dave Childs, keyboards, Torff, bass, vocals, harmonica, and musical director, and Don Mulvaney, drums.  They have performed in jazz festivals, concerts, conferences and in school-workshops.

New Duke recently released two videos that demonstrate this diverse concept:
Rockin' in Rhythm fuses Ellington's classic tune with 50's rock lyrics from Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner, Elvis Presley and a dash of Louis Prima.

The Torff original, Workin' On a Bassline is a rocking soul-funk tune that tells a story of his mentor, jazz bassist Milt Hinton and his ascent from Mississippi to fame.

New Duke plans to tour and record while stretching musical genres. In Brian Torff's view- "These adjacent and diverse styles talk to each other when you put them together and New Duke wants to explore that."

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