Very few bands start with a boost from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2011, Dr. Laura Nash, a music professor at Fairfield University, obtained a grant to present an educational workshop for teachers from kindergarten through high school on the life and work of master jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Brian Torff, bassist, composer, and Professor of Music at Fairfield University, formed a seven-piece band for the workshop and began putting Ellington’s music in a new light. “You can’t recreate Duke’s incredible music, but you can build on it in new ways, just as he always did,” said Torff. New Duke was born.
Torff scored Ellington pieces utilizing modern rhythms — funk, hip-hop, ska, reggae, rock, world beat, and other African influences. The band repeated the NEH workshop in 2014, adding vocalist Darryl Tookes, and began delving deeper into daring musical mash-ups. The sax, brass, rhythm, and vocal sound combined Duke Ellington with Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, The Doors, Stevie Wonder; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Pharrell Williams, and Cream. “I grew up in the late ’60s and early ’70s period of jazz-rock horn bands, and there was so much wonderful experimentation going on then,” said Torff. “My love for rock and jazz lead me into the three Bs of music: The Beatles, James Brown, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.”
New Duke is comprised of stellar New York-area musicians and educators: Darryl Tookes, vocals; Jamie Finegan, trumpet and flugelhorn; Rick Sadlon, alto sax and flute; Steve Moran, tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes and clarinet; John Fumasoli, trombone; Dave Childs, piano and keyboards; Brian Torff, bass and harmonica; and Greg Burrows, drums. Their original drummer, Don Mulvaney, died tragically in a car accident along with his wife and daughter in August of 2015. “We are carrying on the music of New Duke in honor of Don and his family,” said Brian Torff.
The band has been performing Torff ’s original compositions that draw on his blues, jazz, and rock roots. New Duke has performed at summer jazz festivals, in concerts, educational workshops, Music for Youth, and has appeared twice for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant at Fairfield University. One student wrote of a New Duke concert, “One of New Duke’s biggest assets is how it brings together a passion for music of previous generations with those who listen to more contemporary music by establishing a common ground. This is an impressive and noteworthy feat.”
New Duke will continue to bridge musical styles and seek that common ground.
Individual Musician Bios:
Brian Torff, bass, harmonica, vocals, musical director
Brian Q. Torff is a bassist, composer, author, and educator. He is Professor of Music and Music Program Director at Fairfield University. He is the musical director and arranger for New Duke and performs with the Django Reinhardt All-Stars, who have appeared at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and Birdland. Torff has performed with George Shearing, Frank Sinatra, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, Stephane Grappelli, Hank Jones, the Thad Jones—Mel Lewis Orchestra, Oliver Nelson, Marian McPartland, Tony Bennett, Cleo Laine, and Larry Coryell. In 1992 he served as co-chairperson of the Music Advisory Board for the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2008 Torff was named Artist of the Year by the Fairfield Arts Council. In early 2008 Brian Torff lived in Paris where he wrote his book, In Love with Voices: A Jazz Memoir. In addition to his work at Fairfield University, he is the jazz series director at the Westport (Connecticut) Arts Center. He is currently writing a book of musical essays entitled Between the Beats.
Darryl Tookes, vocals
Darryl Tookes is an American singer, pianist, composer, arranger, and educator who has recorded and performed with Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, Todd Rundgren, George Benson, Diana Ross, Sting, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Leonard Bernstein, and many others. Darryl’s vocal style is completely original; his voice has been described as “angelic,” with his perspectives on harmony informing his music in surprising ways. He is a faculty member at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, as well as Fairfield University. Tookes serves on several national arts boards and committees, and is currently a Governor on the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Florida A & M University, with a major in physics.
Jamie Finegan, trumpet and flugelhorn
Jamie Finegan is a musician’s musician. Son of Grammy-nominated composer/ arranger Bill Finegan, he composes, produces, and plays trumpet and piano. His playing credits are myriad and diverse, having recorded, toured, and performed all over the world with many great jazz and blues artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Jim Hall, Geri Mulligan, Phil Guy, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and numerous others.
Greg Burrows, drums
Greg Burrows is a drummer/percussion- ist (and occasional vocalist) from New York City. He studied under Henry Adler, Joe Morello, and Bob Moses, and com- pleted two years of studies in classical and new music percussion studies at SUNY Purchase. He has also focused on Brazilian and Latin percussion. Burrows has worked lengthy stints with guitarist Sal Salvador, Brooklyn band Chicha Libre, and numerous freelance engagements and tours.
John Fumasoli, trombone
Trombonist and educator John Fumasoli has numerous performance credits in- cluding recordings with Jeff Golub, the Average White Band, Marion Meadows, Bobby Baldwin, Shelby Lynne, Jose Feliciano, Robby DuPree, Brian Torff ’s Thunderstick, and his own group, The Jones Factor, which is presently at work on its third album. In addition, he has performed with Tony Bennett, Gerry Mulligan, Diana Ross, B.B. King, Cab Calloway, the Rippingtons, and the Gil Evans Band, to name a few. He is on the faculty of Fairfield University and Fairfield Public Schools and has numerous compositions and arrangements published by D.I.D. publishing.
Rick Sadlon, alto saxophone, flute
Saxophonist/flutist Rick Sadlon has performed extensively through the country. As lead alto saxophone in the SS Norway Orchestra, he performed with acts such as Rita Moreno, Diahann Carroll, Jack Jones, Lionel Hampton, and Anne Murray. Other shows and performance credits include the Goodspeed Opera House, the Wesleyan New World Consort, Mohegan Sun, Orchestra of New England, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Barry White, Ray Charles, and three years at Musical Theater Zurich in Switzerland. In addition to frequent performances with the jazz duo Gomez & Sadlon, Rick is Director of Music for the Darien Public Schools and is currently serving as the president of the Connecticut Arts Administrators Association.
David Childs, piano, keyboards
David Childs has been working as a pianist for over thirty years. He performs full time in the tri-state region in a variety of venues and has shared the stage with such jazz greats as Jimmy Heath, Eddie Bert, James Moody, Lionel Hampton, Larry Ridley, and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. David is the pianist at the Stratford Unitarian Church. In addition to performing, he teaches piano at Fairfield University and Cider Mill Conservatory in Wilton, Connecticut. His most recent recording was a trio CD with sax and bass recorded in May of 2013.
Steve Moran, tenor, baritone, soprano saxophone; clarinet
Steve Moran has been playing saxophone, clarinet, flute, and piano professionally for the past twenty-five years. After high school, Steve joined the Navy and was appointed director and arranger of the U.S. Naval Band in Great Lakes, IL. Since graduating summa cum laude from the University of Bridgeport with a double major in music education and jazz studies, Steve has been playing with New Duke and other bands while teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Fairfield University. He has done two national tours with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.