Upon entering Armstrong’s Fine Arts Auditorium, the ambient dim lighting and palpable excitement was overwhelming. The cause for the crowd’s anticipation was the imminent Duke Ellington birthday tribute concert, presented by Armstrong and performed by Savannah’s own Jazz Orchestra April 21.
As the attendees shifted restlessly in their seats awaiting the performance, one thing became clear: all in attendance recognized the greatness of the American composer, pianist and big-band leader’s talent, even after his death. The quiet appreciation for this legend was undeniable, and many of the audience members were more mature — 40 and above, past the age of the average Armstrong student.
Kicking the concert off, the orchestra performed “Take the ‘A’ Train,” composed by Billy Strayhorn, whom Ellington was known to work closely with in his heyday. As they moved on through “Ko-Ko,” arranged by Duke Ellington himself, the crowd’s overt eagerness grew.
Suddenly, the director announced one of the evening’s feature performers, Mitch Butler. A native of Raleigh, N.C., and current resident of Columbia, S.C., Butler has made a name for himself as a great purveyor of jazz sound.