When Harry Met Addie (1999)
for off-stage mezzo soprano and big band
The title of this piece contains two specific references: one to the singer Adelaide Hall and the other to baritone saxophonist Harry Carney.
I worked with Adelaide Hall on one memorable occasion in the Leicester Haymarket Studio Theatre in the late 1980's playing bass, arranging the music and directing a medium sized band composed of my students, some jazz colleagues from Leicester and featuring pianist Mick Pyne. Adelaide and I became good friends and I would visit her at her home in London whenever I could. She had, of course, been Duke Ellington's singer from 1927 onwards and was, in all probability, the first jazz singer to use scat' vocalisation, most famously in Creole Love Call. The legend is that Ellington was playing the piece through when Adelaide, in her dressing room, improvised a vocal line answering the theme played by a trio of clarinets. Whether this is true or not Ellington did incorporate this effect into the piece itself.
As my piece was commissioned for a concert curated by the baritone saxophonist/ bass clarinettist John Surman I thought to include also a reference to Harry Carney, Ellington's long serving (and long-suffering) baritone saxophonist whom I had seen perform with the Ellington band at Sheffield City Hall in the 1960's. There are brief quotations from Creole Love Call itself and the piece gradually becomes a (fully-notated) duet for the singer and the baritone which eventually merges into an improvised solo for alto saxophone. The voice and baritone are reunited in the closing bars.
When Harry Met Addie is dedicated to the memory of Adelaide Hall.