Marc T. Bolin
Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie
NPR's "All Things Considered" segment about "Queenie Pie: Duke Ellington's Lost Opera, Forever A Work In Progress
Chicago Tribune Review
"You can hear why Ellington had such high hopes for the piece. His original songs for "Queenie Pie," along with the interpolated Ellingtoniana, evoke the dangerous allure of Harlem in the '30s, dancing to the beat of sex and money. The music is a delight, especially as done up here in big-band arrangements by Marc Bolin and Lindberg. These irresistible Ellington tunes are linked together by orchestra-accompanied dialogue and song-and-dance numbers that COT's first-rate ensemble brings off sensationally well."
Long Beach Post Review
"Often, it's ambiguities lift it from the confines of the tangible, and lift it into the reals of the metephorical. It is at these moments that the piece feels most alive, teetering on the brink of greatness somewhere between the Duke's pen, the Harlem Renaissance, and now. Anyone with a love of jazz, opera or musicals and anyone with a curiosity towards what progressive performing arts in this city today looks like will have lots to relish and enjoy here." LA Times Review What we have of "Queenie Pie" are scraps: melodies for some songs, lyrics and indications of harmonies. But Ellington, whose way of composing was ultimately collaborative, never knew how he would ultimately fashion his material until he had started working with his band. The new arrangement is credited to trombonist Marc Bolin and Long Beach Opera conductor Jeffrey Lindberg..."Queenie Pie" obviously tantalizes. Long Beach Opera's production (which is a co-production with Chicago Opera Theater, where it will be given next month) reveals that the score's best moments are too good to let be lost to history."
For those who don't know, in 2007, I was asked to complete Ellington's unfinished opera Queenie Pie to be premiered in a fully-staged production by Oakland Opera Theater. This year Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater are collaborating the production of Queenie Pie. Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited (co-directed by Kenny Burrell, Charley Harrison, and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez) is the orchestra for LBO, and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra will be used in Chicago. Jeff Lindberg is conducting both productions. Ken Roht (stage director and choreographer), Danila Korogodswky (scene designer), and a stellar cast (Karen Marie Richardson as Queenie Pie, Anna Bowen, Keithon Gipson, and Jeffrey Polk [Lion King, Smokey Joe's Cafe, and many other broadway musicals]), this production is not to be missed!
Mr. Lindberg has adapted some of my realized score for these productions and I'm so very excited to see/hear how all of this comes together.
A little about the realization::::
Edward K. "Duke" Ellington is arguably the most prolific composer of America's classical music - Jazz. Ellington composed a myriad of works that are sewn into the very fabric and vernacular of American culture. Ellington created numerous three-minute instrumental pieces (timed to fit on the 78 records,) popular songs, large-scale/multi-movement concert suites, movie scores, treatments of classical works, and sacred music. Of approximately 3,000 compositions by Ellington, only one stands alone in style, genre, and breadth - Queenie Pie.
Ellington worked on what he called his "folk opera" from the mid 1930's until his death in May of 1974, but never completed the work. Early in the fall of 2007, I was asked to complete Ellington's unfinished opera Queenie Pie to be premiered in a fully-staged production by Oakland Opera Theater in May of 2008. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. The work that was presented to me, the work that I was supposed to "finish" was anything BUT a work. Research of the Ellington collection from the Smithsonian Institute, annotations from the study and transcription from Ellington’s oeuvre and the steps taken to assemble the scattered manuscript.
In 2006, Skye Atman (Oakland Opera Theater's Assistant Musical Director to whom responsibility had been placed to recover the manuscript) spoke with Maurice Peress (hired by Duke Ellington and later his son Mercer to orchestrate Queenie Pie), said that he thought he might have some material from the 1986 production of QP in his basement. This lead turned into dead-end. Deirdre McClure, OOT’sMusical Director and conductor of OOT’s 2008 production of QP, visited Peress in New York City - apparently Peress was unable to locate ANY of the old scores.
Atman then became aware of the existence of two manuscripts; a copy at the Smithsonian Institute, which came from the Betty McGettigan collection and a copy at the University of California at Irvine, which came from the Donald McKayle (choreographer) collection. Each manuscript was an incomplete copy of the same score – the Smithsonian copy was missing the TV Commercials and the Irvine copy was missing the last written scene. Until that point, the copy from the Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian was the copy that most people who have studied this work were aware of, e.g. John Franceschina and John Edward Hasse. Atman combined the two scores, and in doing so, provided us with a document that represents as close to a complete opera as we've seen of Queenie Pie since death snatched the quill from Ellington's hand. Along with this score, I worked with drink napkins from hotels representing cities from all over the U.S., scribbled ideas on the back of programs, letters, and small torn pieces of paper. This has been a truly wonderful journey.
Queenie Pie addresses multiple themes that thread through much of Ellington’s oeuvre, such as African-American identity, the Harlem experience, African primitive mythology, profound spirituality, a celebration of beauty - the beauty of a woman - and the power that such beauty holds over men.
If you'd like to hear more about Queenie Pie...just ask!