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Orchestra to Pay Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald

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January 24, 2006 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra and three of today’s finest vocalists will grace the stage of Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16 for a special presentation of “Exquisitely for Ella: a Songbook Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.”

Led by conductor Jeff Lindberg, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra (CJO) will perform the best of Fitzgerald’s “Songbook” recordings, including those of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen.

Featured jazz vocalists Frieda Lee, Dee Alexander and Spider Saloff will team up with the 42-piece CJO, including strings, to perform original orchestrations by arrangers that include Nelson Riddle and Billy May, as transcribed by Lindberg.

The CJO’s lead vocalist Frieda Lee is more than a performer. Raised in Philadelphia, she also is an educator, teaching music throughout the United States, hosting workshops and serving on the Chicago Board of Education throughout her diverse career. On stage, she has collaborated with late Chicago jazz and blues singer Joe Williams and traversed Chicago’s rich and diverse jazz scene.

Dee Alexander, known for her impressive range and warm sound, also will perform with the CJO. A jazz singer and accomplished theatre actress, Alexander has appeared in ETA Performance Arts Theatre productions, including “Passenger Past Midnight,” “When the Wind Blows” and “Hillary Clay.” Alexander’s voice can be recognized in commercial spots for McDonalds, Pillsbury and Buick, among others.

Spider Saloff, another well-known Chicago jazz vocalist, will join the CJO in its tribute to Fitzgerald. Saloff is a popular performer at major jazz venues and nightclubs nationally and internationally and is a five-time winner of the prestigious MAC Award, presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. She also has appeared on CBS television’s “The Bonnie Hunt Show” and “The Steve Baskerville Show.”

Chicago Jazz Orchestra’s artistic director and conductor Jeff Lindberg is a professor of music at the College of Wooster in Ohio and conductor of the Wooster Symphony Orchestra, now in its 90th season. Co-founder of the Jazz Members Big Band in 1978, Lindberg is an active transcriber of original jazz recordings. He has received numerous commissions from the Smithsonian Institute for that work. His transcriptions have been performed by artists Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Gunther Schuller and David Baker and by the Count Basie Orchestra, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the Woody Herman Orchestra and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.

During her lifetime, Ella Fitzgerald was known as the “The First Lady of Song.” She sold more than 40 million albums and collaborated with many of jazz’s all-time greats, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, at the world’s most important venues.

This concert is sponsored through a partial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Oppenheimer Family Foundation, Illinois Arts Council and CityArts.

An additional performance of “Exquisitely for Ella: a Songbook Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald” will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. in downtown Chicago. Ticket prices for the Chicago event range from $15 to $29. For tickets and information, call the Chicago Jazz Orchestra hotline at (312) 409-3947 or visit www.chicagojazzorchestra.com.

Tickets for the special Evanston campus event at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, are $25 for the general public; $21 for senior citizens and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $12 for students.

To order tickets or for more information, call the Pick-Staiger Ticket Office at (847) 491-5441.