duke ellington


  • The concert made international headlines, led to one of only five Time magazine cover stories dedicated to a jazz musician,[68] and resulted in an album produced by George
    Avakian that would become the best-selling LP of Ellington’s career.

  • [39][42] The British visit saw Ellington win praise from members of the serious music community, including composer Constant Lambert, which gave a boost to Ellington’s interest
    in composing longer works.

  • One side in particular, “Creole Love Call”, became a worldwide sensation and gave both Ellington and Hall their first hit record.

  • Announcing that the two pieces would be separated by an interlude played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Ellington proceeded to lead the band through the two pieces,
    with Gonsalves’ 27-chorus marathon solo whipping the crowd into a frenzy, leading the Maestro to play way beyond the curfew time despite urgent pleas from festival organizer George Wein to bring the program to an end.

  • [3] Some years later following a low-profile period (Hodges temporarily left), an appearance by Ellington and his orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1956 led to
    a major revival and regular world tours.

  • The revived attention brought about by the Newport appearance should not have surprised anyone, Johnny Hodges had returned the previous year,[70] and Ellington’s collaboration
    with Strayhorn had been renewed around the same time, under terms more amenable to the younger man.

  • Well-known sides continued to be recorded, “Caravan” in 1937, and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” the following year.

  • With the additional guidance of Washington pianist and band leader Oliver “Doc” Perry, Ellington learned to read sheet music, project a professional style, and improve his

  • While Count Basie was forced to disband his whole ensemble and work as an octet for a time, Ellington was able to tour most of Western Europe between April 6 and June 30,
    1950, with the orchestra playing 74 dates over 77 days.

  • A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington wrote or collaborated on more than one thousand compositions; his extensive body of
    work is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, and many of his pieces have become standards.

  • Ellington built his music business through his day job.

  • Some of Ellington’s new works, such as the wordless vocal feature “Transblucency” (1946) with Kay Davis, were not going to have a similar reach as the newly emerging stars.

  • In September 1927, King Oliver turned down a regular booking for his group as the house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club;[25] the offer passed to Ellington after Jimmy McHugh
    suggested him and Mills arranged an audition.

  • Ellington in the early to mid-1940s Two musicians who joined Ellington at this time created a sensation in their own right, Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster.

  • Titled Time Runs in Paris[64] and An Evening With Orson Welles in Frankfurt, the variety show also featured a newly discovered Eartha Kitt, who performed Ellington’s original
    song “Hungry Little Trouble” as Helen of Troy.

  • The singer later commented that the audience must have thought he was an entirely different character in the second half of the show.

  • [71] The original Ellington at Newport album was the first release in a new recording contract with Columbia Records which yielded several years of recording stability, mainly
    under producer Irving Townsend, who coaxed both commercial and artistic productions from Ellington.

  • [46] Strayhorn, with his training in classical music, not only contributed his original lyrics and music but also arranged and polished many of Ellington’s works, becoming
    a second Ellington or “Duke’s doppelganger”.

  • [62] Early post-war years Musicians enlisting in the military and travel restrictions made touring difficult for the big bands, and dancing became subject to a new tax, which
    continued for many years, affecting the choices of club owners.

  • [32] Ellington’s film work began with Black and Tan (1929), a 19-minute all-African American RKO short[33] in which he played the hero “Duke”.

  • This was followed in September 1923 by a move to the Hollywood Club (at 49th and Broadway) and a four-year engagement, which gave Ellington a solid artistic base.

  • Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era, performed in and scored several films, and composed a handful of stage musicals.

  • “[67] However, by 1955, after three years of recording for Capitol, Ellington lacked a regular recording affiliation.

  • Privately made by Jack Towers and Dick Burris, these recordings were first legitimately issued in 1978 as Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live; they are among the earliest of
    innumerable live performances which survive.

  • [53] Once more recording for Victor (from 1940), with the small groups being issued on their Bluebird label, three-minute masterpieces on 78 rpm record sides continued to
    flow from Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s son Mercer Ellington, and members of the orchestra.

  • The young band met stride pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, who introduced them to the scene and gave them some money.

  • After only a year, his Master and Variety labels (the small groups had recorded for the latter) collapsed in late 1937.

  • Unfortunately, starting a regular pattern, Ellington’s longer works were generally not well received.

  • [44] Later 1930s[edit] From 1936, Ellington began to make recordings with smaller groups (sextets, octets, and nonets) drawn from his then-15-man orchestra.

  • Also during his time in Europe, Ellington would compose the music for a stage production by Orson Welles.

  • [26] Ellington had to increase from a six to eleven-piece group to meet the requirements of the Cotton Club’s management for the audition,[27] and the engagement finally began
    on December 4.

  • He started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C. His attachment to music was so strong that in 1916 he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt
    Institute in Brooklyn.

  • \ James Stewart and Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Around this time Ellington and Strayhorn began to work on film scoring.

  • [69] The band assembled the next day to re-record several of the numbers with the addition of the faked sound of a crowd, none of which was disclosed to purchasers of the

  • Ellington’s long-term aim, though, was to extend the jazz form from that three-minute limit, of which he was an acknowledged master.

  • It was mainly Bechet’s unreliability—he was absent for three days in succession—which made his association with Ellington short-lived.

  • The late 1950s also saw Ella Fitzgerald record her Duke Ellington Songbook (Verve) with Ellington and his orchestra—a recognition that Ellington’s songs had now become part
    of the cultural canon known as the ‘Great American Songbook’.

  • By the time World War II ended, the focus of popular music was shifting towards singing crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford.

  • Although a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, in the opinion of Gunther Schuller and Barry Kernfeld, “the most significant composer of the genre”,[4] Ellington himself
    embraced the phrase “beyond category”, considering it a liberating principle, and referring to his music as part of the more general category of American Music.

  • An ambition of his, he told his previous employer, Teddy Wilson, then leading a big band, that Ellington was the only rival he would leave Wilson for.

  • Ellington continued listening to, watching, and imitating ragtime pianists, not only in Washington, D.C., but also in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, where he vacationed with
    his mother during the summer.

  • Film historians have recognized the score “as a landmark – the first significant Hollywood film music by African Americans comprising non-diegetic music, that is, music whose
    source is not visible or implied by action in the film, like an on-screen band.”

  • Will Vodery, Ziegfeld’s musical supervisor, recommended Ellington for the show, and, according to John Edward Hasse’s Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington,
    “Perhaps during the run of Show Girl, Ellington received what he later termed ‘valuable lessons in orchestration from Will Vody.” In his 1946 biography, Duke Ellington, Barry Ulanov wrote: From Vodery, as he (Ellington) says himself, he drew
    his chromatic convictions, his uses of the tones ordinarily extraneous to the diatonic scale, with the consequent alteration of the harmonic character of his music, it’s broadening, The deepening of his resources.

  • [19] British pressing of “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” (1927) When his drummer Sonny Greer was invited to join the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra in New York City, Ellington left
    his successful career in D.C. and moved to Harlem, ultimately becoming part of the Harlem Renaissance.

  • From the beginning of their relationship, Mills arranged recording sessions on nearly every label including Brunswick, Victor, Columbia, OKeh, Pathê (and its subsidiary, Perfect),
    the ARC/Plaza group of labels (Oriole, Domino, Jewel, Banner) and their dime-store labels (Cameo, Lincoln, Romeo), Hit of the Week, and Columbia’s cheaper labels (Harmony, Diva, Velvet Tone, Clarion) labels which gave Ellington popular recognition.

  • The settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–44, leading to an increase in royalties paid to musicians, had a severe effect on the financial viability of the big bands,
    including Ellington’s Orchestra.

  • Black, Brown and Beige debuted at Carnegie Hall on January 23, 1943, beginning an annual series of Ellington concerts at the venue over the next four years.

  • Radio exposure helped maintain Ellington’s public profile as his orchestra began to tour.

  • Ellington, who had abruptly ended the band’s scheduled set because of the late arrival of four key players, called the two tunes as the time was approaching midnight.

  • [15] He would sometimes hear strange music played by those who could not afford much sheet music, so for variations, they played the sheets upside down.

  • When a customer asked him to make a sign for a dance or party, he would ask if they had musical entertainment; if not, Ellington would offer to play for the occasion.

  • After a few months, the young musicians returned to Washington, D.C., feeling discouraged.

  • [1] Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s and gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club
    in Harlem.

  • While some jazz musicians had played at Carnegie Hall before, none had performed anything as elaborate as Ellington’s work.

  • [50] He was the orchestra’s first regular tenor saxophonist and increased the size of the sax section to five for the first time.

  • Not until 1999 was the concert recording properly released for the first time.

  • After the young musicians left the Sweatman Orchestra to strike out on their own, they found an emerging jazz scene that was highly competitive with difficult inroad.

  • Symphony in Black (also 1935), a short film, featured his extended piece ‘A Rhapsody of Negro Life’.

  • [13] Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. His first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.

  • New dance crazes such as the Charleston emerged in Harlem, as well as African American musical theater, including Eubie Blake’s and Noble Sissle’s (the latter of whom was
    his neighbor) Shuffle Along.

  • However, Ellington’s extended composition, Harlem (1950), was in the process of being completed at this time.

  • While Ellington’s United States audience remained mainly African American in this period, the orchestra had a significant following overseas.

  • [51][50] Much influenced by Johnny Hodges, he often credited Hodges with showing him “how to play my horn”.

  • Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and leader of his eponymous jazz orchestra from 1923 through the rest of
    his life.

  • Ellington moved out of his parents’ home and bought his own as he became a successful pianist.

  • Swing dancing became a youth phenomenon, particularly with white college audiences, and danceability drove record sales and bookings.

  • She is the vocalist on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” (1932) among other recordings.

  • [59] Despite this disappointment, a Broadway production of Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday, his sole book musical, premiered on December 23, 1946,[60] under the direction of
    Nicholas Ray.

  • At the end of the 1930s, Ellington began a nearly thirty-year collaboration with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his writing and arranging companion.

  • “[15] In his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), Ellington wrote that he missed more lessons than he attended, feeling at the time that piano was not his talent.

  • His first play date was at the True Reformer’s Hall, where he took home 75 cents.


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Photo credit: by David Ohmer’]