The Duke’s Men: Detroit Jazz Artists Explore the Music of Duke Ellington’s Band


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This Sunday at the Scarab Club, jazz ensemble the Detroit Jazz Septet will play the work of the legendary bandleader and composer Duke Ellington’s band. Co-led by drummer RJ Spangler and bassist John Barron, the DJ7 also features Michael Zaporski, James O’Donnell, Tbone Paxton, Goode Wyche III, and Jim Holden. Listen to CultureShift’s Amanda LeClaire talk with Spangler about how Ellington balanced touring, composing, and recording with his incredible band. 


“Big band leader Duke Ellington kept busy recording smaller groups culled from the ranks of his band, sometimes referred to as “The Duke’s Men.” Ellington often featured stalwarts like alto sax master Johnny Hodges, tenor sax titan Paul Gonsalves, and trumpet virtuoso Clark Terry, while Duke’s great collaborator Billy Strayhorn contributed compositions, arrangements, and even played piano on some of the recordings. Duke used these groups to back guest stars like Coleman Hawkins, which resulted in a classic album released in 1963 on the Impulse! label. He also recorded for the Columbia, Legacy, Variety, Vocalion, and Okeh labels with these smaller units.

One of Detroit’s top contemporary bassists, John Barron is an active composer and educator. He has created several original compositions to compliment the works of Duke Ellington that Spangler has collected over the years.”