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Well-known Huntington keyboardist to bring jazz into worship

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 09:14 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Mark Smith loves playing jazz and big band and with equal gusto loves when sacred musical scenes unfold inside the church.

Come Sunday, Smith, the well-known Huntington keyboardist who teaches at Marshall University and travels with the Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., big band, will bring some of those soul-stirring jazz sounds into worship.

Smith, who is also the musical director at Trinity Episcopal Church, 520 11th St., has called in his fellow Murphy bandmates to join him in a rare public performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert compositions.

This concert is free (with donations accepted at the door).

Smith said he's really excited to share the music, and to share it with his bandmates and his church.

Ellington, who called these sacred concerts, "the most important thing I have ever done," wrote and performed three Sacred Concerts in 1965, 1968 and 1973 in the last decade of his life.

Characterized by critic Gary Giddins as "Ellington bringing the Cotton Club revue to the church," the music with such titles as "Come Sunday" is sacred and full of joy.

"It is really a fun and high energy concert," Smith said. "David danced before the Lord and everybody goes nuts and the band goes crazy. It's just a fun time for everybody, and it's only the third time in this area that it has ever been done."

Smith, who rallied the Marshall troops (Marshall University's Choral Union, Chamber Choir and Jazz Ensemble 12.0) to present the piece in April of 2010, originally got the music together to pay homage to the late nationally traveling big band leader Mel Gillespie.

"We did it several years ago when Mel died and we did it as a tribute to him, and so we decided to do it again and so I got the guys from Landau's band since I play with them to come in," Smith said. "When I pitched it to the band, all but one had said they had never done it before so they were hip on the idea of doing it because and especially since it is an actual arrangement of his stuff. A couple of Swedish guys did the arrangement. They went through the Ellington library and just had the lead sheets and the melody lines. Every time Ellington did one of these concerts he would pass out the lead sheets and melody lines and it was a free for all."

Smith said they'll have a full blown big band bringing it on Sunday with three trumpets and trombones, six saxophones, a full rhythm section along with 20 singers and a couple soloists.

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