, May 1999
Baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist Joe Temperley will travel to Russia, China and all over Europe this summer as a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. But he's also been able to focus a bit of attention on projects of his own. The man who replaced Harry Carney in the Mercer Ellington Orchestra in 1974 and a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra since its inception in 1990, Scotland native Temperley released the album Double Duke (Naxos Jazz) on May 11. The date finds him with some of his Lincoln Center cohorts: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Herlin Riley. The nine-track album comprises four Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn covers, curious takes on tune such as "Try A Little Tenderness" and "Danny Boy" and several other tasty cuts.
We caught up with Temperley at his New York home the afternoon before a date with the orchestra at Alice Tully Hall.
Did you ever expect this sort of treatment of Ellington on his centennial?
It's been beyond my expectations. I thought that when I was with the Ellington band that that was it, and then I did [the Broadway show] Sophisticated Ladies, which was a wonderful experience. But this has topped everything. And there's a whole lot more to come that I'm looking forward to, like the summer tour and the fall tour, then there's the small group tour in November and the Sacred Concerts at the end of the year. So it's really something to look forward to.
And in the midst of all this Ellington activity, you have the new album.
It's with some of the guys from the Lincoln Center band. I'm really very excited about it. I've even heard one of the songs on WBGO already.
One of the elements of the album that I'm really impressed with are the back to back ballads, "Try A Little Tenderness" and "Elsa." It really slows down to a beautiful slow tempo.
Thank you. I didn't know what to play on the ballads. I didn't want to play another Ellington tune, because I've recorded so many Ellington ballads. I finally came up with this tune.
Where did you learn how to interpret ballads?
Playing a ballad is just like singing a song. My whole approach to playing is very vocal. I can't play anything that I can't sing.
"Danny Boy" was an interesting selection.
Oh yeah. I don't know. That was Wycliff's idea. He's one of a kind. They threw away the mold when they made Wycliff, because he comes up with his own stuff all the time. He doesn't play exactly like Tricky Sam [Nanton], but he's close. He's another person who's extremely vocal.
How did you decide which Ellington tunes to put on the album?
It just went like clockwork. We said, "Let's play 'Black And Tan Fantasy,'" and we played it. The same with "Creole Love Call." I wanted to do "Rain Check" with Wycliff, even though I had recorded it before. We were going to do "Rubber Bottom," but I started to play "Cottontail" while Wycliff was playing "Rubber Bottom." So we decided to put them together, since they're both based on the changes to "I Got Rhythm," and we called it "Double Duke."
How did you get hooked up with the Naxos label?
When I was in Australia with the band, I played a solo, I think on "Sophisticated Lady." Mike Nock happened to be at the concert. He's the A&R man for the label, and he asked me to do the record. It just fell into place. It was the first time I had met him.
Stanley Dance wrote your liner notes.
It was sad about his passing, but I'm so thrilled that the last thing Stanley did in print was write the liner noted to my record. I knew him for a long time. He was a beautiful man, and he used to always come to our Lincoln Center concerts when we were in Southern California.
Between all of this activity with Lincoln Center, what else have you been able to do?
It takes up most of my time. But I'm going to play a couple of festivals in Scotland in August. I also have another album, called With Every Breath, that was released on Hep records out of Edinburgh. I play a few ballads on there too. It's in the shops now, and has been for the last few months.