Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore | May 12, 2018

Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore
Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore. The performance is part of the 2018 Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Attending the Duke Ellington Orchestra performance at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

I have a rather embarrassing revelation.

I have never attended any garden concerts in Singapore prior to yesterday, the reason being, I’ve never truly acclimatised to our astonishing weather.

Yeah. Despite being born and bred in Singapore, and having to train under our tropical sun in school and NS, I’m drenched within minutes of being in the open. So that I don’t go about terrifying people by looking like the SG version of the swamp thing, I avoid outdoor gatherings as much as possible.

When that’s impossible, I switch to minimising “exposure” time. You might have noticed I’m generally very minimal about performances in my Singapore events posts i.e. I’m don’t stay stationary for long. Actually, don’t I mainly post about events that happen after dark?

Yeah …

Despite these, I immediately decided to attend the Duke Ellington Orchestra performance at the Botanic Gardens the moment I read about it being one of the closing performances of Singapore International Festival of Arts 2018 (SIFA2018). I was so excited, I didn’t even finish reading the online synopsis, I surfed to the section on time and venue, read that it was open-air at the Botanic Gardens, and concluded I would go regardless of the venue conditions.

Yup, that’s how much I love the music of the Duke of Jazz. To share a little, Ellington was my formal introduction to big band jazz music. In 1990, my Electone teacher gave me an intermediate level score for Take the A Train and I’ve been a fan ever since; till today, I’m still learning and playing and arranging Ellington songs.

Swamp thing or not, humid tropical furnace or not, no way was I going to miss this SIFA 2018 closing show. I’d be there with ponchos and umbrellas even if it’s pouring.

Before the Performance

Some early evening shots of the Botanic Gardens, before I talk about the concert.

Singapore Botanic Gardens Eco Lake Area.
Passing through the Eco Lake area at 5 pm. The performance was at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage i.e. roughly the heart of the Gardens. Without surprise, I was drenched before I was even out of this area.
Singapore Botanic Gardens greenery and shrubs.
Okay, okay. This shot has nothing to do with the performance. Posting this to show how it’s Far Cry 3 all over our Botanic Gardens. Only thing that’s missing is a tiger.
Singapore Botanic Gardens Palm Valley Lawn
Crowd at the Palm Valley Lawn. Looks like there are many Duke Ellington fans in Singapore!
Singapore Botanic Gardens Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage
The stage at 5.40 pm. Final checks were ongoing.

By the way, in an unexpected turn of events, the weather became noticeably cooler minutes after I secured my “vantage” spot. In fact, there were even streaks of lightning in the distant north towards the end of the performance, although the rain never did come. Looking back, it appears even the weather was cooperating with this swinging performance.

And at 6 Pm …

The Duke Ellington Orchestra enters! They opened with what is hands down, the most beloved Duke Ellington song.

After getting the audience all excited about the quickest way to Harlem, the Orchestra followed with Cotton Tail. (If I remember correctly) After which the signature piano opening for Satin Doll rolled in.

The ever exotic Caravan was the fifth number. This began with a rousing jungle drums solo.

A few words about the orchestra. These guys were amazing, beginning with how they performed the opening pieces in suit and tie. (They soon gave up though. LOL).

For me, it was also a great kick to see what I used to call the “stand up and strut your solo” act. You know, the way featured players calmly step out from the orchestra to take centre stage. Needless to say, all of these soloists were superb with their style and technique too. It even became a little depressing for me after a while. I doubt I could ever emulate their articulations on music keyboards.

The Rest of the Duke Ellington Orchestra Performance

Truth be told, when I first read about the performance, I thought 75 minutes was kind of short. Correspondingly, I expected A Train, Satin Doll, Caravan etc. to be performed, but chances are lesser famous compositions would be left out.

Oh no. Not the case at all.

The orchestra truly squeezed every second from the schedule. Performing all the renowned compositions like Prelude to a Kiss and In a Sentimental Mood, and a couple of lesser-known ones too.

Best of all, the orchestra also featured local talents Nick Zavior and Alemay Fernandez as guest vocalists. Alemay, in particular, had half the audience up and dancing with her energetic rendition of It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing). That was the high point of the concert.

Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore.
I can’t remember which song this was; I was slightly giddy from a high. It’s possibly In A Sentimental Mood.
Duke Ellington Orchestra at Singapore Botanic Gardens
For those of you who have yet to attend a performance at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, the acoustics of this venue are quite amazing.
Alemay Fernandez and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
During the exuberant It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing). One of Ellington’s most boisterous, most prophetic compositions.
Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore - Mood Indigo
The final song, Mood Indigo. To be honest, I never liked this one. But from a music learning perspective, the way the thin trumpet stanzas contrasted against the soulful adlibs was enlightening.
Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore - Satin Doll Ending
A Satin Doll coda for the performance! After reading about this for years on the Internet, I finally get to experience this renowned ending in person!

Thank you Singapore International Festival of Arts 2018 and sponsors for bringing the Duke Ellington Orchestra to Singapore!

Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore
Article Name
Duke Ellington Orchestra in Singapore
A splendid performance by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Singapore Botanic Gardens, to end this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA2018).


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