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Willie Ruff, Whole Drum Truth headline Nov. 4 concert

October 10, 2011

Event kicks off “A House Full of Rhythm,” the 2011–2012 Ellington Jazz season

the whole drum truth in morse recital hallThe Ellington Jazz Series at the Yale School of Music kicks off its 2011–2012 season on Friday, November 4 with a concert featuring French horn player Willie Ruff and the star drum quartet The Whole Drum Truth. Multistyle violinist Mari Black will also perform. The concert will begin at 8 pm at Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall (470 College Street, New Haven).

The Whole Drum Truth is a quartet of master drummers in modern jazz. Collectively, they have played alongside artists including Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Yusef Lateef, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ravi Shankar. Albert “Tootie” Heath, the youngest of the legendary Heath Brothers, leads the quartet. The other members are Louis Hayes, the current leader of the Cannonball Legacy Band; Kenny Washington, who teaches at Juilliard and plays in the Bill Churlap Trio; and Willie Jones III, who has released four albums as a leader on his own label, WJ3 Records.

Willie Ruff, the founding director of the Ellington Series, plays both bass and French horn and has performed on the bill with figures such as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Mari Black, a graduate of the Yale School of Music and a winner of numerous fiddle and violin competitions, has played concerts from Canada to Korea to Zimbabwe.

Tickets to the concert are $20–$30, $10 with student ID. Season tickets to the Ellington Jazz Series are also available; see below.


On Saturday, November 5, the members of The Whole Drum Truth will lead a workshop with young local drummers. The workshop, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm at the Yale Art Gallery’s McNeil Lecture Hall (1111 Chapel Street).


The November 4 concert kicks off A House Full of Rhythm, the umbrella name for the 2011–2012 Ellington Jazz Series. Recent Ellington seasons focused on the local, bringing together musicians from New Haven and Yale in a series called Home Grown on Common Ground. The 2011–2012 season looks outward, bringing some of today’s most prominent jazz performers to New Haven audiences. “What a pleasure it is to give this audience the artists they deserve,” said founding director Willie Ruff.

After opening on November 4, the Ellington Series continues on December 9 with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Quartet, featuring Akiyoshi – a pianist honored as a NEA Jazz Master – with saxophonist Lew Tabackin and others.

On May 23, the Ron Carter Trio will feature the Grammy Award-winning bandleader who has been named Jazz Bassist of the Year (Downbeat Magazine) and Most Valuable Player (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences).

Matt Wilson, voted Drummer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and #1 Rising Star Drummer for five consecutive years in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll, brings his band Arts and Crafts on May 11 to close the season.

Season tickets are still available and begin at $64. Pick 3 sampler packages begin at $51. Student discounts are available. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit music.yale.edu or call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158.

For more information on the Ellington Jazz Series, visit music.yale.edu/concerts/ellington.


Willie Ruff is a musician and scholar of wide-ranging interests and influence. A French horn and bass player, he is also an author, lecturer, and educator. As part of a duo with pianist Dwike Mitchell, he performed on the bill with major jazz figures, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. In 1959 they introduced jazz to the Soviet Union, and in 1981 they did the same in China. On faculty at the Yale School of Music since 1971, Professor Ruff is the founding director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship program at Yale, and his work in bringing jazz artists to Yale and New Haven public schools earned him the Governor’s Arts Award in 2000. In addition to teaching Yale courses in arranging, ethnomusicology, and folklore, Mr. Ruff has led many conferences and research projects exploring music’s wide-ranging impact. His memoir, A Call to Assembly, received the Deems Taylor Award for excellence in a book on music.

The Whole Drum Truth brings together the greatest veteran jazz drummers in an all-percussion quartet. The ensemble is unique on the contemporary scene, moving the drums from the back line into the spotlight. Since its 2003 debut in Morse Recital Hall at the Yale School of Music, The Whole Drum Truth has performed in Africa and Europe, and helped to revitalize jazz in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Led by Tootie Heath, the ensemble has featured veteran artists including the late Ed Thigpen, likely the greatest brushes player of all time; Ben Riley, a collaborator of Theolonius Monk; and Idriss Muhammad, an inventor of the soul and funk sound of the 1960s and ’70s.

Multistyle violinist Mari Black, one of the most dynamic young players of her generation, has been called “particularly impressive” by the Boston Globe. She has won top awards in numerous classical violin and fiddling competitions and is working on her debut album. Mari has appeared with artists such as Mark O’Connor and Willie Ruff in live performance and national media broadcast, including Fox, CBS, and NPR. She has taught at the Mark O’Connor fiddle camp, New York’s School for Strings, the Boston Youth Symphony’s Intensive Community Program, and Bunker Hill Community College. Mari completed her master’s degree at the Yale School of Music and is working on her doctorate at Columbia University’s Teachers College to develop college-level multistyle string programs.