Maurice Peress, a conductor who served as a link between jazz and classical music, died over the weekend at his home in New York. He was 87. Peress collaborated with Duke Ellington in preparing the composer’s 1943 “Black, Brown And Beige” for performance by a symphony orchestra. He also worked closely with New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein in adapting Bernstein’s “Mass” and works by Charles Ives for symphony performance. When he was conductor of the Kansas City Philharmonic, a performance by Ellington’s band deeply affected Peress. In his 2004 book, Dvorak To Duke Ellington, he wrote:
I was fired up, wondering how a symphony conductor like myself could take part in this important music, music that spoke to me as profoundly as any other, music that reached out and embraced everyone.
Peress found effective ways to adapt Ellington for symphonic presentation. Here, he conducts the American Composers Orchestra in four of the sections of Ellington’s “Black, Brown And Beige,” first played by the Ellington Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1943.
In today’s New York Times, a comprehensive obituary by Neil Genzlinger outlines Peress’s career.
Maurice Peress, RIP