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Duke Ellington. Ellington, Duke [Edward Kennedy] .

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ellington duke edward kennedy
Ellington, Duke [Edward Kennedy]

(b Washington, DC, 29 April 1899; d New York, 24 May 1974). American jazz composer, bandleader and pianist. He was for decades a leading figure in big-band jazz and remains the most significant composer of the genre. (New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)

the most significant composer of the genre
“the most significant composer of the genre”
  • Successfully combined innovative elements of jazz with the dance band format.
  • Creative use of instrumental timbres, orchestration, and other compositional devices.
  • Use of extended and/or complex forms.
  • Ellington was a major contributor to the repertory of jazz and to the “jazz language.”
a leading figure in big band jazz
“a leading figure in big-band jazz”

Ellington was also successful as a bandleader:

  • He hired players with distinctive playing styles and wrote tunes that featured them.
  • Some of his players stayed with the band for decades.
  • Appearances in films (Black and Tan Fantasy, Check and Double Check, Anatomy of a Murder).
  • Distinctive musical style(s), including the “jungle sound.”
the jungle sound
The “Jungle Sound”
  • Reeds (especially clarinets) in extremes of the registers
  • Plunger and other mutes on the brass (“wah-wah” effect)
  • Use of the tom-toms and other “special effects” in the drums
ellington s early career
Ellington’s Early Career
  • Serious about music as a teenager and learned to play the piano, began emulating local ragtime pianists.
  • Formed his own group “Duke Ellington’s Serenaders” and, by 1920, was making enough at music to support his wife (Edna) and son (Mercer).
  • Moved to New York in 1923 with the “Washingtonians,” a group that included Sonny Greer, Otto Hardwick, and Artie Whetsol. He later added Bubber Miley, Tricky Sam Nanton, and Harry Carney
  • Pieces such as East St. Louis Toodle-O (1926) and Black and Tan Fantasy (1927)
black and tan fantasy
Black and Tan Fantasy

A study of contrasts, both within and outside the piece.

  • The title.
  • The main theme adapts a white spiritual (The Holy City), turning it into a minor blues.
  • The 12-bar minor blues contrasted with 8-bar phrases not in blues form.
  • Chopin’s “Funeral March”.
the cotton club 1927 32
The Cotton Club (1927-32)
  • one of New York's premier nightspots, located in Harlem at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue.
  • Frequented by celebrities and socialites. Listeners nationwide could hear Ellington’s orchestra via broadcasts on NBC.
  • The band expanded to 12 pieces – 3 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, piano, banjo/guitar, bass, and drums. Added musicians during this time included Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, and Juan Tizol.
  • Many of Ellington’s pieces were exotic in character, utilizing the “jungle sound for which he was noted.
  • Ellington recorded over 180 “sides” between late 1927 and early 1931, including The Mooche (1928) and Mood Indigo (1930).
the swing era 1933 1942
The Swing Era (1933-1942)
  • (1943) English bandleader Jack Hylton brought the Ellington band overseas for performances in Britain, Holland, and France.
  • Performances in dance halls, theaters, and clubs; radio broadcasts; recording; film appearances.
  • In addition to extended works such as Black, Brown and Beige, Ellington continued to compose shorter works (limited by the 3 minute format of the 78 RPM record) such as Harlem Air Shaft, Cotton Tail, and Main Stem.
  • Billy Strayhorn joined Ellington as arranger, composer, and pianist in 1939; he remained until his death in 1967. Strayhorn contributed such works as Take the “A” Train.
the 1940s and 1950s
The 1940s and 1950s
  • On January 23, 1943, Ellington performed his extended work Black, Brown, and Beige at Carnegie Hall. Ellington performed there several more times over the next few years.
  • In contrast to the relative stability of personnel during the thirties, Ellington's orchestra experienced a great deal of flux in the mid-to-late forties. Ellington left the Victor record company in 1946 and, after a short time with the Musicraft label, signed with Columbia.
  • Economic pressure and changes in musical preferences caused problems for big bands.
  • Ellington continued to turn out longer works as well as the music for the Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder.
  • Ellington's triumphant appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival
  • The band continued to travel in the US and in Europe (1950, 1958, and 1959).
1960 1974
  • Ellington continued to write, record, and tour.
  • He received numerous awards, prizes, and honorary degrees.
  • Several international tours, including Europe, the Middle East and India in 1963, Japan in 1964, Latin America and Mexico in 1968, and the Soviet Union in 1971. These journeys sometimes inspired new compositions, as with the Far East Suite (1964), the Latin America Suite (1968), the Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1970), and the Goutelas Suite (1971).
  • Ellington composed music for three Sacred Concerts between 1965 and 1973.
  • He recorded with various other musicians, among them Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, and such younger luminaries as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach.
  • His memoirs, Music is My Mistress, were published in 1973.
  • Ellington passed away from cancer on 24 May 1974.