Performance Sunday, March 23, 2014 | 3 PM

Ellington's Sacred Music

Selections from Duke Ellington's Sacred Music

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Shining the spotlight on Duke Ellington's sacred works, some of the most ambitious and heartfelt music of his storied career, this program features legendary works performed by hundreds of student singers and instrumentalists from New York City and some of today's brightest jazz soloists.


  • David Berger, Music Director
  • Nicole Cabell, Soprano
  • Lalah Hathaway, Alto
  • Rufus Bonds, Jr., Baritone
  • Jimmy Heath, Tenor Saxophone
  • Sean Jones, Trumpet
  • Jason Samuels Smith, Tap Dancer
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra
  • Vincent Gardner, Director and Trombone
  • Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music
  • Forest Hills High School
  • Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
  • Songs of Solomon
  • Talent Unlimited High School
  • Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts
  • Damien Sneed, Choral Preparation
  • Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Advisor


  • "In The Beginning God"
  • "Ain't But The One"
  • "Will You Be There?"
  • "99%"
  • "Praise God"
  • "Tell Me It's The Truth"
  • "Twenty-Third Psalm"
  • "Heaven"
  • "Come Sunday"
  • "David Danced"
  • "Almighty God Has Those Angels"
  • "The Shepherd"
  • "It's Freedom"
  • "Reflections in D"
  • "Don't Get Down On Your Knees To Pray"
  • "Father Forgive"
  • "Praise God And Dance"
  • "Dance Finale"


  • David Berger

    Jazz composer, arranger, and conductor David Berger is recognized internationally as a leading authority on the music of Duke Ellington and the swing era. Conductor and arranger for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra from its inception in 1988 through 1994, Mr. Berger has transcribed more than 750 full scores of classic recordings, including more than 500 works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in addition to hundreds of other classic jazz recordings. Mr. Berger maintains a close working relationship with Wynton Marsalis and continues to transcribe and arrange for, and on occasion conduct, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Mr. Berger has written music for symphony orchestras, television, Broadway shows, and films and has composed and arranged for Duke Ellington, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Quincy Jones, WDR Big Band, and Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. He has also arranged for dozens of singers, including Jon and Aria Hendricks, Betty Carter, Freda Payne, Jessye Norman, Natalie Cole, Freddie Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Madeleine Peyroux, Milt Grayson, Phoebe Snow, Susan Graham, Maurice Hines, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cecile McLorin Salvant, and Champian Fulton.

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  • Nicole Cabell

    Nicole Cabell, 2005 winner of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, is one of today's most sought-after lyric sopranos. Ms. Cabell's current season includes role debuts as Violetta in La traviata with Michigan Opera Theatre and as Medora in Il corsaro with Washington Concert Opera. She also reprises the role of her triumphant San Francisco Opera debut, Giulietta in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, with Lyric Opera of Kansas City. In concert, Ms. Cabell makes her Paris debut in Poulenc's Stabat Mater and appears several times in Spain, first with the Orquesta de Galicia in a program of Barber and Mahler, then on tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit in Poulenc's Gloria. In London, she performs with the RPO in the same Poulenc piece as well as with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, first in Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with Keith Lockhart and later in Elgar's The Apostles with Sir Andrew Davis. Further concert appearances include performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink at Tanglewood, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Jaap van Zweden in Vail, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop, as well as a program of Brahms and Barber in Nashville with Giancarlo Guerrero. Ms. Cabell's future projects include her debut with Opera national de Paris and returns to Cincinnati Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

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  • Lalah Hathaway

    Born to R&B/soul music royalty, most people know Lalah Hathaway simply as the daughter of late soul-music legend Donny Hathaway. But there is more to her than that. The three-time Grammy Award nominee and recent Grammy Award winner is a trained pianist and vocalist and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and her career has spanned more than two decades. Now, 23 years after the release of her first album, her career continues to thrive. Her work includes multiple solo releases and guest collaborations as well as a steady stream of live performances. Ms. Hathaway has recorded and toured with several legendary acts, including George Benson, Joe Sample, the late George Duke, Take 6, Marcus Miller, Rahsaan Patterson, Mary J. Blige, The Winans, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn, Carl Thomas, Angie Stone, Robert Glasper, Donald Lawrence, Eric Roberson, Grover Washington, Esperanza Spalding, and Prince.

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  • Rufus Bonds Jr.

    The components of the phenomenal success of NAACP Theatre Award-winning actor-singer-writer-director Rufus Bonds Jr. are his natural talents, a strong work ethic and discipline, and the drive and vision to push himself to steadily more significant challenges. This summer, Mr. Bonds will perform the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess in London. He is recognized for his commitment to the touched-by-history characters he portrays, from regional and off-Broadway roles in She Stoops to Conquer, Big River, and Romance in Hard Times to national tours of Miss Saigon, The Lion King, and The Color Purple, to Broadway glory in Rent, Once on This Island, and Parade-for which he was nominated for the prestigious Drama Desk Award and recently won the 2013 Ovation Award for reprising his role. As a playwright, Mr. Bonds's The Sisters of Rosewall High, a story of two sisters journeying toward forgiveness and finding love at the end of the road, received the prestigious honor of being selected as a 2011 semifinalist for best new work by the Eugene O'Neill Festival.

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  • Jimmy Heath

    Starting on alto saxophone (and acquiring the nickname "Little Bird" due to the influence Charlie "Yardbird" Parker had on his style), Jimmy Heath's first professional jobs came in 1945-1946 in the Midwest territory band led by Nat Towles, out of Omaha, Nebraska. Returning to Philadelphia, he briefly led his own big band with a saxophone section that included John Coltrane and Benny Golson. In the early 1950s, Mr. Heath switched to tenor saxophone, playing with Miles Davis in 1953 and 1959. In the 1960s, he began making his own recordings as a leader and frequently teamed up with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer. By that time, he had honed his talent as a composer and arranger, creating such widely performed compositions as "Gingerbread Boy" and "C. T. A." He has made more than 100 recordings and composed more than 100 original works. Also an active educator, he holds honorary degrees from Sojourner-Douglass College and The Juilliard School, and continues to conduct workshops and clinics throughout the US and the world. Since the mid-1970s, Mr. Heath has frequently teamed up with his brothers Percy and Albert "Tootie" as the Heath Brothers Band, and he has performed with other jazz greats, such as Slide Hampton and Wynton Marsalis.

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  • Sean Jones

    Trumpet player Sean Jones's career has so far included everything from lead trumpet in Wynton Marsalis's Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a position he held for more than half a decade, to touring Europe with Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, and Wayne Shorter with a project that celebrated the legacy of the legendary Miles Davis. The Grammy Award-nominated player, composer, and educator is currently touring the US with his quartet (featuring pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Obed Calvaire), and teaching at Duquesne University, as well as serving as artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra and Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. Widely known for playing from his heart before his head, Mr. Jones is particularly adept at conveying complex emotional depths through his playing and composing. Mr. Jones and his ensembles' blazing interactions reveal what any jazz fan knows is the greatest love of all, that between an artist and his music.

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  • Jason Samuels Smith

    Jason Samuels Smith is an established leader for the art form of tap dance. He has won a Dance Magazine, Emmy, and American Choreography awards, as well as grants and residencies supporting the development of his work. His choreography and film credits include work on Black Nativity, Secret Talents of the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Tap Heat, Outkast's Idlewild, and Debbie Allen's Cool Women. His stage credits include Broadway's Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, Imagine Tap!, and Soul Possessed. He continues to tour worldwide with his professional tap company India Jazz Suites, with Pandit Chitresh Das and JaJa Productions Band, among others. As a humanitarian, he has supported Dancers Responding to AIDS, Tied to Greatness, Career Transitions for Dancers, and Tap Into a Cure, and he helped develop Tap Dreams, offering global exchange opportunities for international tap dancers. He also designed and developed a professional tap shoe. Mr. Samuels Smith aims to promote respect for tap dance and continue to create opportunities for upcoming generations as he travels as an ambassador for tap around the world.

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  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra

    The Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra consists of 20 talented and dedicated high school students from the Tri-State Area. Members have the opportunity to enhance their music education with the finest professional training and performance opportunities. The JLCYO rehearses weekly in the state-of-the-art Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and during these rehearsals, students learn big-band repertoire and performance techniques from JLCYO's director, Vincent Gardner, as well as members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center's managing and artistic director.

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  • Vincent Gardner

    Vincent Gardner, born in Chicago, Illinois, is a trombonist and composer. Mr. Gardner has released four albums as a bandleader on the SteepleChase label. He performs with his own groups frequently, in addition to being the lead trombonist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He also performs with his brother, trumpet player Derrick Gardner, and his ensemble, The Jazz Prophets. Mr. Gardner attended Florida A&M University, studying classical trombone and music education. He later transferred to the University of North Florida, where he completed a bachelor of music degree in jazz trombone performance. He then moved to Brooklyn to pursue his musical career, subsequently performing with several notable ensembles and musicians, including the Count Basie Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Illinois Jacquet, the Saturday Night Live Band, Lauryn Hill, Matchbox 20, and Clark Terry. During the 2003-2004 academic year, Mr. Gardner became the visiting instructor of jazz trombone at Michigan State University. He has since taught at Florida State University, The New School, and The Juilliard School. In 2000, Mr. Gardner joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with which he continues to perform. In 2009, he was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center to compose the Jesse B. Semple Suite, which features his original music intertwined with short stories of Langston Hughes featuring the character Jesse B. Semple.

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  • Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music
    Lisa Gwasda, Choral Director

    Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music is a New York City public school and a magnet school for music, founded in 2003 through collaboration with Lehman College, City University of New York. Choral Director Lisa Gwasda began the vocal program, which has since expanded and celebrated many accomplishments. Under her direction, the school's Stage Choir has celebrated being named New York City's best high school chorus by the New York Daily News, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Hard Rock Cafe, and it has earned consistent "superior" ratings at national music festivals. The choir was selected to perform alongside Grammy Award-winner Melissa Manchester at the Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Station, and it has served as the back-up chorus for Broadway recording artist Linda Eder during her most recent tour. The ensemble was featured at Broadway's At this Stage  educational forum, which led to a performance for the Broadway cast of Motown: The Musical. Many of the choir's singers are selected to perform with New York's all-state choirs, Essential Voices USA, The Jazz Drama Program, and other prestigious performing groups throughout the country.

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  • Forest Hills High School | Ryan King and Robert Koch, Choral Directors

    Forest Hills High School was dedicated in 1937. In June 1998, President Bill Clinton cited FHHS's "academic and extra-curricular excellence"; it became one of only 124 "Blue Ribbon" schools nationwide. In the fall of 2012, U.S. News & World Report recognized Forest Hills as the number one neighborhood high school in New York City, and in the 2013-2014 school year, FHHS earned its fifth consecutive "A" on its school report card. Commonly known as Rock 'n' Roll High, Forest Hills has also been a home for such musical icons as Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Tatiana Troyanos, Ronnie Earl, The Ramones, Leslie West, and Burt Bacharach. The Performing Arts Academy was introduced six years ago to continue the legacy of outstanding graduating musicians, stressing the need for equally high academic success, citizenship, leadership, and personal integrity. The vocal program within the Performing Arts Academy begins with two freshman pedagogy classes, a women's chorus, and the concert choir performing today. The concert choir has strong working relationships with the National Chorale, Lincoln Center, and Queens College (CUNY).

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  • Frank Sinatra School of the Arts | Heidi Best, Choral Director

    The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts is a public school founded by singer Tony Bennett. Under the direction of Heidi Best, the FSSA Concert Choir has proudly shared the stage with Mr. Bennett and has performed in many venues around New York City, including Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History. The group also has performed for the Governor's Arts Awards, Americans for the Arts ceremonies, the Dave Matthews Band's Central Park Concert, morning news programs, and The Tyra Banks Show. Several FSSA students have performed in the NYSSMA All-State Choir, have been finalists in several young artists competitions, and have participated in the New York City Opera Acting for Singers seminar. Many FSSA singers participate in The Collegiate Chorale's Side-by-Side program, performing large choral masterworks with internationally renowned singers, conductors, and orchestras on domestic and international stages.

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  • Songs of Solomon | Chantel Wright, Choral Director

    Songs of Solomon: An Inspirational Ensemble, founded in 2001 by veteran conductor Chantel Wright, remains true to its mission to serve the world community through its music. Professor Wright is a firm believer that arts education stimulates children spiritually and intellectually, and builds the family through its commitment to a child's development. Songs of Solomon's membership bridges all ethnicities from the tri-state area, being a safe haven in which all young people can flourish. For the past four years, 100% of its members have entered college and 50% are now pursing advanced degrees in the arts. Songs of Solomon has performed with Earth, Wind & Fire; Carole King, Sir Elton John, and Aretha Franklin, and recently participated in the National High School Choral Festival at Carnegie Hall. The ensemble's repertoire spans opera to contemporary gospel. It has won numerous competitions in the metropolitan area, and continues to serve in churches, corporate settings, and major performance venues.

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  • Talent Unlimited High School
    Jayne Skoog and Christian Smythe, Choral Directors

    Talent Unlimited High School is a public school specializing in the performing arts. The TUHS Concert Choir has performed in many venues around New York City, including One Police Plaza, the Daily News Building, and Tweed Courthouse. It has also performed on Good Day New York, at the Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Station, and in the New York State Capitol in Albany. Several TUHS students have performed in New York's all-state choir, and the Concert Choir has participated in the New York City Opera Acting for Singers Seminar. Many TUHS singers participate in the Collegiate Chorale's Side-by-Side Education Program, performing large choral masterworks with internationally renowned singers, conductors, and orchestras on domestic and international stages.

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  • Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts
    Kim Walton, Choral Director

    Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts is committed to combining the pursuit of education with character building and preparing students to function in the global market. Wadleigh has served students in the Harlem community for more than 100.  Kim Walton joined the Wadleigh faculty in 2008 as the director of choirs, and under her leadership, the Wadleigh choirs have performed at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, Colgate-Palmolive Building, Riverside Church, First Corinthian Baptist Church, and the National Chorale Festival. Wadleigh students have been selected to participate in Rosie O'Donnell's Theater Kids, Songs of Solomon, New York City's all-city chorus, and the New York City Summer Arts Institute. Students at Wadleigh graduate with the academic skills and the artistic proficiency necessary to excel at top four-year universities and conservatories. The vocal music program maintains active partnerships with Apollo Theater, New York Festival of Song, the Metropolitan Opera, the National Chorale, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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  • Damien Sneed

    A sought after pianist, organist, vocal coach, conductor, composer, arranger, lecturer, and producer, Damien Sneed is a native of Augusta, Georgia, and has studied at some of the country's finest conservatories and universities, including Howard University, the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music. Mr. Sneed's professional affiliations have included with the City University of New York as a professor of music, The Juilliard School as a staff accompanist, New Brunswick Theological Seminary as an instructor, Yamaha as an endorsed Influential Artist, and more. He has the ability to shift between different musical genres and styles, from classical to jazz, gospel to opera to Broadway, and more. He served as musical director for the fourth season of the hit gospel singing competition television show Sunday Best on BET. Mr. Sneed has performed at Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, The Barbican (London), and many other venues around the world. He has also accompanied Jessye Norman and conducted Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for the Abyssinian Mass tour, featuring his choral group, Chorale Le Chateau. Mr. Sneed also recently recorded a CD of his spiritual arrangements with Lawrence Brownlee entitled Spiritual Sketches.

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  • Wynton Marsalis

    Jazz musician, trumpet player, composer, bandleader, arts advocate, and educator Wynton Marsalis has helped propel jazz to the forefront of American culture. In April 1997, he became the first jazz artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center. He has served as that world-renowned arts organization's artistic director as well as music director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (formerly known as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) since its inception in 1987. Born in 1961 in New Orleans, Mr. Marsalis began studying the trumpet seriously at age 12. In 1979, he entered The Juilliard School to study classical trumpet, but soon had the opportunity to sit in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and pursue his true love, jazz. In 1980, he joined Blakey's band, and in the years to follow was invited to perform with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Clark Terry, and Sonny Rollins, among countless other jazz legends. Mr. Marsalis made his recording debut as a leader in 1982 and has since produced a catalogue of more than 40 recordings for Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical labels, winning nine Grammy Awards. Mr. Marsalis has received honorary degrees from 29 of the nation's leading academic institutions and has written six books.

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At a Glance

Tying together elements of jazz and classical music with African American spirituals and gospel music, Ellington's sacred music crossed the lines dividing secular and religious genres while punctuating the ever-expanding role of jazz in America and throughout the world. Some of the most ambitious and heartfelt work of his legendary career, this music was first heard during three historic concerts in the 1960s and 1970s and will now be performed by hundreds of student singers and instrumentalists from New York City in collaboration with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra as well as some of today's brightest jazz soloists. In addition to preparing for this concert, the student musicians have explored jazz composition and improvisation over the past seven months, guided by some of the world class performers with whom they now share the Carnegie Hall stage.
Program Notes
Ellington's Sacred Music is generously underwritten by Martha and Bob Lipp.
Lead support for Ellington's Sacred Music is provided by The Irene Diamond Fund.
Additional support is provided, in part, by an endowment grant from The Irene Diamond Fund.