At Takoma Park Center last night people peered through the chain link fence into the tennis court, their faces expressing wonderment that a big band was producing the familiar strains of Ellington.
Kicking off with "Take the A-train," Rick Henderson's orchestra moved through a nicely balanced selection from the Duke's repertoire. The 18 local musicians proved they have learned that book well and can render it with tight section work, affection and swing.
"Mood Indigo" featured the trumpet of Roy McCoy, who used the mute to good effect, achieving a dry sound that echoed within itself. Thomas Williams lustily recreated the tenor sax part of the late Ben Webster on "Cotton Tail," a number that also incorporated some good trumpet work by Hal Posey. "Happy Go Lucky Local" found the orchestra barreling down the line, powered by the driving percussion of Bertell Knox and urged along by the shrieking train whistle of Jim Howard on trumpet.
Several pieces showcased the alto sax of the leader, a former member of the Ellington orchestra. On "Daydream" he paid his respects to Johnny Hodges and "It Don't Mean a Thing brought out his hoppish impulses.
Vocalist Angela Wyatt can be lush and gentle as on "Solitude" or can belt it out as with "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."
The week-end tribute to Duke Elington, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Musicians Performance Trust Fund will be repeated tonight at Langdon Park East and at Sylvan Theater on Thursday and Friday. The free concerts are at 8 p.m.