Duke Ellington Orchestra comes to Chicago for Jazz Unites

The Duke Ellington Orchestra will raise the roof at the Harris Theater on Mother’s Day in honor of Jazz Unites Inc.

It was 40 years ago that jazz vocalist, Geraldine de Haas, prevailed in her efforts to bring the first Duke Ellington tribute to Grant Park, following the prolific composer and musician’s death in 1974. That outdoor concert, which was held in Grant Park for five years, was the forerunner to many of the music festivals Chicagoans enjoy today.

As an homage to the anniversary, Jazz Unites–the non-profit that de Haas later founded—is bringing The Duke Ellington Orchestra to the Harris Theater at Millennium Park for an afternoon concert on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014. The 40th Anniversary Duke Ellington Tribute concert brings the event full circle.

“This is not only the anniversary of the Grant Park tribute, but 2014 is Duke’s 115th birth year. So, being able to bring the Duke Ellington Orchestra to Chicago is a triumph for the small organization that has always thought big,” says Delmarie Cobb, chair of the tribute event.

Over the years, Jazz Unites has struggled to stay afloat. Last year, it had to forgo its other signature event—the annual JazzFest at the South Shore Cultural Center, after the retirement of de Haas. Her children moved she and husband, bassist Eddie de Haas, to New Jersey due to their failing health.

“Jazz Unites used to put on four annual events, but the organization’s two signature events are the Duke Ellington tribute and the jazz festival,” explains Clarence Williamson, a long-time board member and now the organization’s president. “We want to build up these two events again and get some younger people involved.”

Local vocalist Greta Pope is performing with The Duke Ellington Orchestra while at the Harris Theater. Pope is the daughter-in-law of “Kay Davis,” who sang with Ellington from 1944 to 1950. Davis, whose real name was Kathryn Wimp, died in 2012. Pope regularly performs her own tribute to Ellington in memory of her late mother-in-law.

The manager of The Duke Ellington Orchestra says band members are looking forward to playing in Chicago after a long absence.

For more information, visit the website at www.jazzuniteschicago.org or call 312-948-9951.