Royal Essence

Royal Essence, an Evening of Ellington (1999) Sir Roland Hanna & Davey Yarborough

Song List

  1. Royal Essence
  2. I Let a Song Go out of My Heart
  3. Daydream
  4. Everything but You
  5. Prelude to a Kiss
  6. Cottontail
  7. Azure
  8. Black & Tan Fantasy
  9. In a Sentimental Mood
  10. Awesome Eyes
  11. Silky
  12. Flamingo
  13. What Am I Here For?

Sir Roland Hanna: Piano on all cuts. Solo on “Flamingo”

Davey Yarborough: Flute and Saxophones

Liner Notes

In celebration of the Ellington Centennial, The Montpelier Arts Center is proud to present a recording of a concert by legendary pianist/composer Sir Roland Hanna and exciting saxophonist, flutist, and composer Davey Yarborough.

On April 29, 1999, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington would have been 100 years old. Born in Washington, DC, he was undoubtedly the City’s most famous native son and arguably the greatest of all jazz composers. Charlie Cassell, of the Charlin Jazz Society, initiated The Duke Ellington Centennial Commission in 1997 to plan the Washington Area Celebration in 1999. The Montpelier Arts Center was among the many Washington Area Jazz organizations to participate. In addition to planning three special Ellington concerts at Montpelier in the month of April 1999, I felt the project also demanded a recording, preferably one that could be released at the time of the celebration.

Selecting the artists for the recording project was easy. Sir Roland Hanna, a regular performer at Montpelier since 1991, is the most knowledgeable and distinguished of all Ellington scholars, as demonstrated by his breathtakingly sophisticated interpretations of Ellington compositions in concert as well as in his astute commentary in lectures and workshops. An especially memorable lecture at Montpelier in 1994 included an incisive and eloquent analysis of Ellington’s“ Single Petal of a Rose” from The Queen’s Suite, an analysis that participants are still talking about!

That memorable afternoon was followed by a fabulous duet concert that evening featuring Hanna with woodwind player Davey Yarborough (another artist who had frequently performed at Montpelier, especially with Montpelier favorite Ronnie Wells). I had asked Davey to join incomparable Mr. Hanna that night because I knew theirs would be the perfect sound for our tiny but acoustically perfect hall. Although this was true, an even more stunning development was the amazing unanimity of their collaboration, especially on Mr. Yarborough’s compositions.

Theirs would also be the perfect sound for an Ellington CD, I reasoned, and who better to select for an Ellington recording than the Director of Jazz Studies at the Duke Ellington School of Arts (Yarborough) and the greatest Ellington scholar (Hanna).

- Richard Zandler, 1999

Sir Roland Hanna

Sir Roland Hanna was recognized as one of the major figures in Jazz today. His diverse experiences as a musician (pianist and cellist), composer, group leader, soloist, accompanist, arranger, teacher, recording, and broadcast media artist, worldwide touring artist/diplomat, and humanitarian, made him a dynamic driving force in the continued development of the art form. His long and distinguished career clearly qualified him as a national treasure.

Born in Detroit in 1932, Roland Hanna’s first Musical influence was the gospel and rhythm and blues heard in his preacher father’s church. This was coupled with formal training in classical piano from an early age. His musical evolution continued beyond graduation from Cass Technical High School and through a two-year assignment to the United States Army Band. After discharge from the Army in 1954, he studied at the Eastman School and subsequently at Julliard. He played with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1958, appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival and on a European tour ending at the Brussels World’s Fair. In 1959 he played with Charles Mingus at the Half Note and then appeared with his own trio at the Five Spot.

Since the 1960s, he traveled all over the world appearing as the pianist for major orchestras (e.g., the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra - Europe and Japan in 1967, the Soviet Union in 1972), leading his own groups, or appearing as a soloist. He performed solo concerts for two months at the Olympia Theatre in Paris in 1968 and then embarked on a benefit tour in Africa for music students in 1969. Because of his commitment to education in Africa and in recognition of his humanitarian efforts, he was knighted by Liberian President William Tubman in 1970.

His amazingly varied history included serving as Sarah Vaughan’s musical director, anchoring the Rosengarden Orchestra on the Dick Cavett Show, touring with a classical quartet performing his own compositions on cello, and, perhaps most notably, forming the New York Jazz Quartet. He did all this while composing over 400 compositions and making more than 40 albums.

In addition to his active touring schedule (especially with his trip - Eddie Locke: Drums & Paul West: bass), Sir Roland Hanna taught at the Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queens College in New York City.

(Sir Roland Hanna passed away in the fall of 2002.)

Davey Yarborough

Davey Yarborough is a native of Washington, DC who has been dazzling audiences for 20 years. He is a fine flutist and saxophonist as well as a distinguished composer, arranger, bandleader, studio musician, and teacher.

After formal training at the University of the District of Columbia (BA) and Howard University (MA), Yarborough studied flute with the master, Frank Wess, and saxophone with the great Sonny Stitt. These intensive and challenging studies have served him well not only as a performer but also as a composer and teacher.

Throughout his career, he has performed with some of the greatest stars in the Jazz constellation: Dizzie Gillespie, Lena Horne, Clark Terry, Bill Eckstine, Slide Hampton, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Witherspoon, Louie Bellson, and Joe Williams. In addition to his own quartet (Bill Joyner, Everett Brooks, and Steve Walker), he has appeared in several collaborative groups including “Eternal Equinox” (with Joe Harris, Hilton Felton, and Nasar Abadey) and “Covington-Seals-Yarborough” (Charles Covington, Richard Seals, and Davey Yarborough). The later group’s recording “It’s Time For Love” is a tour de force for all three musicians.

His versatility as a performer, composer, and arranger propelled him to such interesting projects as creating and performing the background music for “The Cosby Show,” writing the musical soundtrack for the movie “Uptown Angel,” and writing and arranging a musical tribute to Sonny Stitt and John Malachi. Besides playing at numerous Washington area clubs and concert halls, Yarborough has also played at major jazz festivals including the East Coast Jazz Festival and the Blues/Jazz festival of San Remo, Italy.

Davey Yarborough is helping to shape a whole new generation of exciting jazz performers through his dedicated and inspiring work as a distinguished teacher at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC. He not only teaches saxophone but also serves as the Coordinator of Jazz Studies, and the Director of the Jazz Orchestra.

Davey Yarborough appears courtesy of Swing Records.