Musical legends' featured in Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra performance

The Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra will be performing the music of Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson in a special performance featuring vocalist Tammy McCann and directed by Todd Stoll

The show - The Duke Meets The Queen - combines the musical talents of Ellington and Jackson, who Stoll says were close friends, even though their musical genre's seemed to be diverse - with Ellington deep rooted in jazz and blues and Jackson focused solely on gospel.

"He wrote sacred music for her, and this concert will bring together what were, on the surface, two really different artists who have a commonality of our shared humanity," Stoll says. 

The show - for which tickets are available in advance and at the door - kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at the John Legend Theater.

The first half will focus on Ellington's movements - including a musical portrait of Jackson that he wrote for her in 1970 - displays a different feel from a typical jazz band, and includes a flute, which Stoll says obviously isn't common among jazz music. 

The second half will feature Jackson's hits, including Elijah Rock and Come on in This House, which was a big hit for her. 

Chicago-based McCann - who recently performed locally at the 2023 Springfield Jazz & Blues Fest - will share her vocal talents for the show. 

"She's trained in gospel and opera, and then she went into jazz. She's been doing this Mahalia Jackson show all over the world, and we're so excited to have her here," Stoll says. "She embodies the soulfulness and spirituality Mahalia Jackson had."

With so much uncertainty and division in today's world, Stoll says the performance can be healing and a comfort.

"We want to show folks that they can all come together for fellowship around great music," he says. 

This concert kicks off more fun to come throughout the SSJO's season, says Stoll.

"We're really excited to be playing in our home at the John Legend Theater," he says. "Them we have our Christmas concert coming up on Dec. 16 at Mother Stewart's and a March 24 concert featuring music from Count Basie and Frank Sinatra.

"We're excited about the season to come, and we couldn't have been happier with the turnout for the second Jazz & Blues Fest."

Stoll emphasized the importance of jazz being recognized among the other fine arts that are thriving in Springfield. 

"Everyone here should have access to this king of world-class art," he says. "I've always said the most power the arts have is at the grassroots level. There's no reason people in a town the size of Springfield house have to travel to see thes types of shows."

He says Springfield is special to have the kind of support for the arts in such a wide variety of way, including the Springfield Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd Wright's Westcott House, the SSJO and so much more. 

"I would put ours up against the best in the country," Stoll says. "I've personally been very touched by all the support here in my hometown.

"It's one of the honors of my life to come back and play this music for people here."

Before the Nov. 4 show, Jo Jo's BBQ will be on site service food, and there will be tables and chairs set up inside the theater entrance where people can enjoy dinner together. 
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.