Speaking from Harrow at home in north-west London this morning, Gary Crosby OBE, artistic director of Tomorrow's Warriors and double bassist in the Platinum Jubilee concert later this week of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra Peter Edwards-arranged performance of Duke Ellington's The Queen's Suite, just at the weekend in Manchester was playing the music of Charles Mingus at Band on the Wall with his own sextet. He said ''the band sounded good'' and that ''Manchester is my favourite city''. Band on the Wall has been refurbished so ''it's a nice concert space and has more of an arts centre feeling.''
Ahead to the concert, Peter Edwards, above photo: marlbank, is arranger and Nu Civilisation Orchestra bandleader for The Queen's Suite, the work that Duke Ellington wrote largely with Billy Strayhorn recording it in 1959 but only posthumously released in 1976.
Recorded especially for Her Majesty the Queen who was presented with the only extant copy of the recording in its entirety during Duke's lifetime it comprises 'Sunset and the Mocking Bird,' 'Lightning Bugs and Frogs,' 'Le Sucrier Velours,' 'Northern Lights', 'The Single Petal of a Rose' and 'Apes and Peacocks.'
Gary himself has met the Queen, dedicatee of the Suite, because he was presented with the Queen's Medal for Music in 2019, the first jazz musician to receive the accolade. He says that the experience was ''surreal'' – ''the Queen made me feel comfortable and had researched the music I play''. Her Majesty regretted not continuing with her piano studies. ''Imagine the Queen of England wishing that she had kept up piano!''
London-born, now aged 67, of Jamaican descent, nephew of the great jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin, back in the day Gary was a Rasta. Gary mentions tantalisingly a future project that interests him ''when the Duke met the Count, Count as in Ossie'' not Basie.
Gary says that the quality he admires in Peter Edwards is that ''he is never ruffled by musicians'' and that ''he leads from the front''. With suitably Ellingtonian words he says that he ''loves him madly'' riffing on the expression ''love you madly'' that Ellington made a standard and a phrase held dear by fans globally since.
Turning from Mingus Moves after the Manchester trip to Ellington Gary says that the ''music is challenging'' and that there is a rehearsal tomorrow. When he was younger he says that he didn't appreciate Ellington as much as he does now and gets the ''Afro-centricity'' of the writing. In the 1970s Gary was more into Coltrane and ''Elvin Jones, the 6/8 Afro thing.''
Warming to the theme he says how much he also likes New Orleans Suite (Atlantic, 1970) and puts the music on when cooking food. But it's easy to burn everything he notes, a factor given how much he is into the music while listening and not really thinking about what's cooking.
He also explains how much he has got into Joe Benjamin lately. Bassist Benjamin was on the mighty All Star Road Band, a 1957 recording that only came out in the 1980s less than a decade after Ellington's passing in 1974.
Turning to some of the specifics of the personnel in the Nu Civilisation Orchestra for this week's concert, Peter Edwards will be playing solo piano on 'The Single Petal of a Rose'; Rod Youngs, known for his work with the Jazz Jamaica All-Stars and back in the day Gil Scott-Heron, is a Washingtonian himself, hailing like Ellington from Washington D. C., will be on drums; Denys Baptiste is on tenor saxophone ''for a bit of solidity of history,'' Gary says, and that in the selecting the orchestra is drawing from a large pool of players. SG
Gary Crosby, top. HM the Queen and Duke Ellington, above. Photos: press
Nu Civilisation Orchestra: The Queen’s Suite is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, on Friday. Tickets