Sample New Tracks Here:
It Don’t Mean A Thing
Very few bands start with a boost from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2011, Dr. Laura Nash, a music professor at Fairfield University, obtained a grant to present an educational workshop for teachers from kindergarten through high school on the life and work of master jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Brian Torff, bassist, composer, and Professor of Music at Fairfield University, formed a seven-piece band for the workshop and began putting Ellington’s music in a new light. “You can’t recreate Duke’s incredible music, but you can build on it in new ways, just as he always did,” said Torff. New Duke was born.
Torff scored Ellington pieces utilizing modern rhythms — funk, hip-hop, ska, reggae, rock, world beat, and other African influences. The band repeated the NEH workshop in 2014, adding vocalist Darryl Tookes, and began delving deeper into daring musical mash-ups. The sax, brass, rhythm, and vocal sound combined Duke Ellington with Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, The Doors, Stevie Wonder; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Pharrell Williams, and Cream. “I grew up in the late ’60s and early ’70s period of jazz-rock horn bands, and there was so much wonderful experimentation going on then,” said Torff. “My love for rock and jazz lead me into the three Bs of music: The Beatles, James Brown, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.”
New Duke is comprised of stellar New York-area musicians and educators: Darryl Tookes, vocals; Jamie Finegan, trumpet and flugelhorn; Rick Sadlon, alto sax and flute; Steve Moran, tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes and clarinet; John Fumasoli, trombone; Dave Childs, piano and keyboards; Brian Torff, bass and harmonica; and Greg Burrows, drums. The band has been performing Torff ’s original compositions that draw on his blues, jazz, and rock roots. New Duke has performed at summer jazz festivals, in concerts, educational workshops, Music for Youth, and has appeared twice for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant at Fairfield University. One student wrote of a New Duke concert, “One of New Duke’s biggest assets is how it brings together a passion for music of previous generations with those who listen to more contemporary music by establishing a common ground. This is an impressive and noteworthy feat.”
New Duke will continue to bridge musical styles and seek that common ground.