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A Swinging Tribute

Impressed by the Duke's tunes, veteran Woodland Hills jazz ace joins Collette for Centennial.


Pianist Gerald Wiggins is a Duke Ellington fan, although it wasn't always that way.

The veteran jazz ace, who has worked with such notables as Lena Horne, Benny Carter and Eartha Kitt, often includes an Ellington piece in a performance.

He even played occasional piano spots with the Duke's orchestra, and recorded with the band when it was led by the maestro's son, Mercer.

Funny, then, that at first the New York City native wasn't that taken by Ellington's music.

"As a young man, I had listened to Duke, but I really liked Jimmy Lunceford and Count Basie. They swung," said Wiggins, a robust 76-year-old who lives in Woodland Hills.

"But then I heard Duke at a Battle of the Bands at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. I was impressed. His band was really saying something."

Wiggins was especially enthralled by Ellington's compositions. "The structure of his tunes really makes you think," he said.

The pianist is celebrating the Ellington Centennial by playing free concerts with reed great Buddy Collette's All Stars, which includes such renowned players as saxophonist Charles Owens and trombonist George Bohanon.

The band will play Sunday at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park and Saturday at Thorne Hall on the Occidental College campus in Eagle Rock, (323) 259-2922.

Such Ellington favorites as "C Jam Blues," "Creole Love Call" and "In a Mellotone" will be performed. Collette, who is recovering from a stroke, will announce the numbers.

"Just having Buddy on stage is very meaningful," Wiggins said.

Double Threat: Buddy Childers, formerly with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and many others, is a great big-band trumpeter. But he's a dandy composer and arranger as well. Hear his big band, with singers Tierney Sutton and Jack Wood, play tunes from his new "It's Happening Now" CD on Tuesday, 8 and 10 p.m., at the Moonlight, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-2000.

Gone: Papashon's in Encino, where music has been on tap for a few years, has closed. All future music performances have been canceled.


Gerald Wiggins plays with Buddy Collette's All Stars on Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Madrid Theatre, 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Free, but reservations (four per caller) required. Call (818) 347-9938.

Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at

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