PREVIEW: 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire 25-27 May)

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Ellington Orchestra, directed by Jeremy Price
Picture supplied by RBC
Speakers, players and even AGMers converge on Birmingham City University (BCU) next week for three days of the Duke. Peter Bacon previews:

The words “conference” and “study group” are likely to have the spirits plummeting for all but the academically-minded. But preface them with the name Duke Ellington and suddenly the appeal can be imagined by many; there is a prospective tapping of the foot, the possibility of a smile on the face, that warm glow that comes with anticipation of a thoroughly rewarding good time.

The International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference - this is the 25th such gathering - is happening in Birmingham over the weekend of 25-27 May 2018. There will be themed sessions with panels of speakers, as well as performances of Ellington’s music and the conference will also take in The Duke Ellington Society UK’s AGM.

Giving the keynote addresses are Dr Harvey G Cohen of King’s College London, and Dr Katherine Williams of Plymouth University, and panels will include papers on everything from Ellington’s bassists to synaesthesia, taking in Monk and Duke, civil rights, collective composition and Ellington’s lost symphony along the way.

Among the contributors are Jack Chambers of the University of Toronto, Patrick Olsen of the University of Cambridge and Matthias Heyman of the University of Antwerp, as well as musician/scholar Frank Griffith and broadcaster Alyn Shipton (Royal Acdemy of Music) (both occasional LJN contributors).

Providing the music will be the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s marvellous young and vibrant Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of the RBC’s head of jazz, artistic director of the Eastside Jazz Club and the conference’s co-organiser, Jeremy Price.

Price said: “Duke Ellington in many respects set out the blue print for jazz composition and is still the model band leader to anyone wanting to lead diverse creative talents in their own ensemble.

“He is the boss you would love to be and the boss you would love to have; enabling creativity of all around him through benevolent trust and shining example. These are just some of the reasons why he is so deserving of much scholarly attention and why academics and aficionados alike keep returning to this rich seam of fascinating jazz activity for their inspiration.

“This conference will also stand out for integrating abundant live performances, with our Ellington Orchestra doing several shows in our very own Eastside Jazz Club.”


The conference’s other main mover is the Jazz Studies research cluster at BCU, led by Professors Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton, and Dr Nicolas Pillai (who has also contributed to this site). Although only five years old, the cluster boasts more than 40 members, including 10 jazz researchers from across Birmingham School of Media and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, eight doctoral students and leaders of the regional jazz community, as well as additional academic partners at University of Warwick, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Music and the Performing Arts Graz (Austria).

Dr Pillai said: “This conference is a milestone for Birmingham City University in many ways. Not only is it the first academic jazz conference to be hosted in the fabulous new Conservatoire building but it has also been a wonderful opportunity for us to build collaborative links with The Duke Ellington Society UK.

“We are very lucky in Birmingham not only to have the hugely respected Jazz Department within the Conservatoire, led by Jeremy Price, but also a world-leading team of jazz researchers based in Birmingham School of Media. Events like this allow us to create exciting new connections between practice and research.

“I am looking forward to panels which will give us new insights into not just Ellington the man, but also models of collaborative creativity within his orchestra which have larger socio-cultural implications for us today. Ellington’s music was ultimately about connection and this conference will create a space for international scholars from various disciplines to discuss not just the historical but also the relevance of Ellington in the 21st century.”

LINK: Full information as well as tickets for the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference

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