New Duke was recently featured in the Branford Eagle newspaper after their performance at the Branford Jazz Festival on July 3, 2014.
New Duke Swings Branford
By Kathryn Cross
He plucked his bass string. Cleo Laine’s voice began to accompany him. It was 1974 and Carnegie Hall heard jazz double-bassist and composer Brian Torff for the first time—and he was only 20. Forty years later, Torff is still playing—most recently on the Branford Green. Today, Torff is a music program director at Fairfield University, Fairfield Arts Council’s 2008 artist of the year, and the Branford Jazz on the Green series’ latest performer. Click on the video to hear him play Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” last Thursday night on the Green.
Torff performed with the group New Duke, a group of musical educators at Fairfield University that formed in 2011. Torff and New Duke create modern mash-ups of the great composer, arranger, bandleader and pianist, Duke Ellington. They mashed it up last Thursday giving their version of Duke at this year’s Branford Jazz Series. “I love combining interesting musical forms,” Torff said. “I am especially proud of ‘Amad’ as it is a combination of Ellington and hip hop. The rhythm track was created by my son Jarryd Torff, a saxophonist and producer in Montreal.”
Unlike at past Branford jazz performances, Torff and New Duke’s performance was a more modern labor as Ellington’s main pieces were from the 1930s, Branford Jazz on the Green emcee, Bill Keane said. When he is not serving as emcee, Keane is the Rev. Bill Keane, senior minister of the First Baptist Church on the Green. Torff performed alongside Jamie Finegan on the trumpet, Rick Sadlon on the alto saxophone, clarinet, and flute, Steve Moran on the clarinet and soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophone, Dave Childs on the piano, Don Mulvaney on the drums, and Darryl Tookes as the vocals. Torff himself performed with the acoustic and electric bass as well as the harmonica.
Torff and New Duke’s next performance will be at the National Endowment for the Humanities workshops held at Fairfield University. Organized by Project Director, Laura Nash, these workshops are for any K-12 educators that want to delve into Duke Ellington’s personal life, music, and social issues of the era. In between performing with New Duke, Torff will be one of the guest scholars that will participate in teaching about Duke Ellington at the workshops. “I love connecting with people whether it is in the classroom or from a stage when performing,” Torff said. “That is the art of music and education—they really go together.”
Aside from New Duke, Torff will also perform with Phantom Road, an all originals jazz-rock band. In addition, he has plans to continue to compose music as well as write another book to follow his 2008 In Love with Voices: a Jazz Memoir. “I want to stay creative, keep teaching and keep writing and performing,” he said. “I work in the music industry, but it is the music itself that I love.”
In the meantime, Branford will continue to see both modern and classical jazz performances throughout the summer. The audience seemed to love the band. “The fact that we have all of these people out of the Green coming out on a Thursday night is great,” Keane said. “I mean it could really be an excuse for gathering with neighbors and friends and any excuse is good enough for me.”