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Chicago Jazz Ensemble recreates Miles Davis classic 'Sketches of Spain' in Hancher April 1

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Chicago Jazz Ensemble will recreate the landmark 1960 Miles Davis/Gil Evans recording "Sketches of Spain" in a concert at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1 in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus. The concert, which will also feature other works from the band's repertory of classic jazz, is part of the Cantebury Inn and Suites Jazz Series.

The Chicago Jazz Ensemble is one of the oldest and most distinguished of America's jazz repertory ensembles -- groups that showcase the important movements and compositions of the jazz tradition. With "Sketches of Spain," the ensemble breathes new life into arrangements that marked the high point in the collaboration of trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans that began in the 1950s.

In arranging these charts for Davis, Evans combined Duke Ellington's refined approach to jazz composition with instrumental combinations learned from 20th-century masters of the classical tradition, including Edgar Varese and Alban Berg. Evans applied these approaches to classical Spanish music from the Renaissance, Baroque and modern periods, and to traditional Andalusian melodies. The resulting music -- a haunting early jazz excursion into "world music" -- is considered a landmark both of '50s jazz and of Davis' multifaceted career.

The Miles Davis trumpet solos are recreated by long-time Chicago Jazz Ensemble member Orbert Davis, a well known fixture on the Chicago jazz scene.

Movements from "Sketches of Spain" had been performed in concert before, but the Chicago Jazz Ensemble's recreation of the entire album became the world concert premiere of the score, which Miles Davis played in the studio but never live before an audience. The recreation pays full tribute to this rare jazz achievement built on a wide range of musical influences and experiences.

The Chicago Jazz Ensemble was founded in 1965 at Columbia College by Chicago native William Russo, who was for many years the chief composer/arranger of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. In its first incarnation, the ensemble performed works by Ellington, as well as Russo's jazz opera "Land of Milk and Honey" and the premiere of his "Chicago Concerto," featuring baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

With encouragement from Ellington, who provided the music and even attended a rehearsal, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble performed the composer's "Concert of Sacred Music," and the band has also performed the Ellington suites "Black, Brown and Beige," "Perfume Suite" and "Deep South Suite."

Russo, who had become the director of Columbia College's contemporary American music program in 1985, resurrected the ensemble in 1991, opening the Chicago Jazz Festival in Grant Park. Concerts followed featuring music of Ellington, Kenton and Jelly Roll Morton. The next year Russo's score for jazz orchestra "Listen Beneath" was a hit of the Joseph Holmes Ballet performances in Chicago's Civic Opera House.

In 1994 the Chicago Jazz Ensemble emerged into wide public view with its "Tell Me It's The Truth" concerts, featuring Ellington's four-movement "Toot Suite" and several Kenton-era classics in Chicago and New York. Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich has praised the Chicago Jazz Ensemble for possessing the "technical virtuosity that separates the most brilliant jazz orchestras from the rest," and Downbeat critic John McDonough called the band "this town's answer to the Lincoln Center (Jazz Orchestra)."

1995 performances of Ellington's "New Orleans Suite" and "Far East Suite" enhanced the band's reputation, and in November of that year the Chicago Jazz Ensemble made history with the live premiere of "Sketches of Spain," a performance so popular with both critics and audiences that it was repeated at the 1996 Chicago Jazz Festival.

"The Chicago Jazz Ensemble has played pieces composed later than 1960, but none as modern, as breathtakingly new as 'Sketches of Spain,'" Russo says. "Gil Evans and I share many roots, including Duke Ellington and 20th-century French masters, and it was a special pleasure to present the complete live world premiere of this piece."

A highlight of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble's 1997 season was a Chicago performance with Dave Brubeck in Orchestra Hall, and the band is now preparing a musical celebration of the 1999 Ellington centennial.

Tickets for the Chicago Jazz Ensemble are $25, $22.50 and $19.50. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, and Zone 3 tickets are available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Cantebury Inn & Suites is the corporate sponsor of the 1997-98 Jazz Series through the University of Iowa Foundation.