OGDEN — Don Keipp’s Crosstown Big Band is up next in the monthly Excellence in the Community concert series.
The 17-piece ensemble will perform at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in downtown Ogden. Admission is free.
The concert will be a salute to the music of legendary composer, pianist and big-band leader Duke Ellington, according to Crosstown Big Band leader Don Keipp, a retired Weber State University professor and percussionist who plays with the Joe McQueen Quartet, among other local jazz groups.
Songs on the program will include well-known Ellington pieces like “Satin Doll,” “Take the A Train,” “Caravan” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing.” But Keipp said there will also be some older, “funky” tunes — like “The Mooche,” “Ko-Ko” and “Rockin’ in Rhythm.”
The Crosstown Big Band will be joined onstage by vocalist Katrina Cannon, who performs with the Night Star Jazz Orchestra, out of Salt Lake.
Keipp says Ellington is a good choice for a concert like this.
“He’s one of the best composers — period — of the 20th century,” Keipp said. “He had over 900 compositions to his name. And while some of that music was dance music, especially when he was playing at the Cotton Club, he later got into religious and other kinds of music.”
Keipp joined the Weber State faculty in 1985 and retired seven years ago. He spent much of his career overseeing the percussion and jazz programs at the school. Keipp formed the Crosstown Big Band in 2012.
Keipp says he got to shake Ellington’s hand once, back when Keipp was an usher at the University of Iowa and Ellington was greeting people at a concert he was playing there.
Ellington died in 1974. Tuesday would have been his 120th birthday.
Keipp said Ellington, who was active as a bandleader from the 1920s to the 1970s, was known for adding little percussion touches like chimes, gongs and timpani to his concerts.
“And because of that, he caused other bandleaders to add those things, too,” Keipp said. “After they’d play a show, when the next big band would come along the stagehands would say, ‘Where’s your chimes and gongs?’”
Ellington was also known for paying his musicians a decent wage. Keipp said Ellington paid his band members above the industry standard.
“Even in hard times he paid them well, so they stuck with him,” Keipp said, “some of them for 30 years.”
That’s particularly impressive these days, Keipp said, when it’s extremely difficult to make a living in a big band.
“Big band jazz is not a money-making deal, it really isn’t,” he said. “It’s just for the love of the music.”
For example, Keipp says he’s played drums for a few years with the Phoenix Jazz & Swing Band, out of Salt Lake City. They rehearsed weekly.
“Twenty-eight rehearsals, five concerts — and I got a check for $150 at the end of the year,” he said.
With his Crosstown Big Band, Keipp says they rehearse once a month, but it’s hard to find paying gigs. In seven years, he says they’ve played maybe eight shows, total. He says a big band should be paid between $2,000 and $3,000 for a gig, but it’s hard to get that.
“I’ve never made a dime with any of the gigs with my big band,” he says.
And as a gun for hire?
“When I came here in ’85, I got paid $100 for a gig,” the percussionist says. “And that’s what I get paid now — $100.”
Of course, on Monday jazz fans will get to hear the full 17-piece band, along with a vocalist, for the unbelievably low price of free.
The concert is being held in conjunction with Jazz Week in Ogden, May 6-11. Three separate organizations will be bringing jazz music to the community during the week.