National Honors and Acclaim for Wooster Professor of Music Jeffrey Lindberg
Chosen to direct Duke Ellington opera and provide entertainment for Kennedy Center Honors
WOOSTER, Ohio — Duke Ellington’s little known and rarely performed opera, Queenie Pie, is back on stage, and Jeffrey Lindberg has been selected to conduct performances of the production by two prestigious opera companies early next year.
Lindberg, professor of music at The College of Wooster and director of the Wooster Symphony Orchestra and The College of Wooster Jazz Ensemble as well as the Chicago Jazz Orchestra (CJO), is an Ellington devotee and a natural choice to serve as conductor.
The one-act, 60-minute opera, which blends big-band sound with elements of opera and musical theater, features 16 compositions, some of which have become jazz standards. The show will be presented three times by the Long Beach Opera at the end of January and four times by the Chicago Opera Theater in late February and early March.
“It’s an honor to be selected by the Chicago Opera Theater and the Long Beach Opera,” says Lindberg, who has conducted five College of Wooster theatre/music productions, including The Threepenny Opera, A Little Night Music, and Man of La Mancha, as well as a number of semi-staged collaborations between the Wooster Symphony Orchestra and the Akron Lyric Opera Theatre (La Bohème, Carmen, The Magic Flute, and others).
Ellington began to work on Queenie Pie in 1962, but it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1974. Since then, several completed versions have emerged, including ones that made it to the stage in Oakland, Calif., (2008) and the University of Texas-Austin (2009).
In addition to Lindberg’s work with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, his expertise in the area of classic jazz research and transcription likely influenced the decision to hire him for these productions. Since 2009, Belwin Jazz (Alfred Music) has published 16 of Lindberg’s transcriptions, including last spring’s publication of “Cashmere Cutie” by Billy Strayhorn.
Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra, which will be the pit orchestra for the Chicago production, features five saxophones, four trumpets, and three trombones, along with a piano, bass, and drums. The orchestra was selected after representatives from the Chicago Opera Theater heard the CJO perform in Evanston last spring, and were impressed by the ensemble’s familiarity and comfort with Ellington’s music. Musicians from the Los Angeles area will comprise the orchestra in the Long Beach Opera’s production.
“It’s a great opportunity,” says Lindberg. “Both the Chicago Opera Theater and the Long Beach Opera are excellent organizations.”
Being chosen to conduct Ellington’s opera in two cities is just one of several recent highlights for Lindberg, whose career accomplishments have made him a national figure in the world of jazz. In August, Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra released a new CD featuring rising jazz singer Cyrille Aimée. The CD, titled “Burstin’ Out!” (Origin Records), has done just that, rising to No. 12 on the National Jazz playlist and No. 2 worldwide on the iTunes list for digital downloads in the Jazz category.
“Our last CD was in 2005 with Clark Terry,” says Lindberg. “When I heard Cyrille perform in New York several years ago, I thought it would be great to record with her. She had done a couple of CDs on her own, but was not under contract, so I asked if she would be interested, and she accepted our invitation.”
The new CD consists of a variety of works and a number of different instrumentations, according to Lindberg — some big band, others more non-traditional, including those with strings and different woodwinds. All are Jazz standards, including works by Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The CD is available on Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere.
Capping off Lindberg’s recent string of noteworthy successes was an invitation to perform at the Kennedy Center following the annual Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Awards ceremony on Dec. 8. This marked the 25th consecutive year that Lindberg and the CJO performed at the gala event.
In previous years, many of the celebrities stopped by to join the orchestra for some impromptu entertainment. Three years ago, Matthew Morrison of the hit show Glee shared his vocal talent. Other past participants included soprano Kathleen Battle and comedian Sid Caesar, who also sang; dancer Gregory Hines, who played the drums; and singer Stevie Wonder, who played piano alongside of Herbie Hancock in a tribute to Jazz great Joe Williams.
Lindberg and the late trumpeter Steve Jensen started the Chicago Jazz Orchestra in 1978 as the Jazz Members Big Band. (The group changed its name to CJO in 1999). Lindberg had just graduated with a master’s degree in music education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was teaching high school band and jazz band and directing a local youth symphony.
Thirty-five years later, Lindberg continues to commute to the Windy City for rehearsals and performances on a regular basis. “It’s a demanding routine,” says Lindberg, “but I feel very fortunate that The College of Wooster not only allows, but also encourages me to do what I love: teach, perform, and transcribe music that is important to our culture.”