Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington Biography (BBC)

Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington was born in Washington at the end of the nineteenth century during the height of the ragtime era. His piano teacher, the aptly-named Miss Clinkscales, may have disapproved, but at sixteen he had written his own Soda Fountain Rag, the start of a sixty-year career as a composer.

He had also acquired his nickname 'Duke', from his dapper appearance as he worked as a soda-jerk at Washington's Poodle Dog Cafe. In 1927, Ellington got his big break and moved into the Cotton Club in Harlem.

Run by gangsters, featuring a dazzling floor show built around a jungle theme, and attended by well-to-do white audiences seeking some exotic night life, the Cotton Club offered a platform for Ellington to develop his career, and broadcasts, films and discs for several labels followed in profusion.

By 1931, Ellington's Cotton Club orchestra had become the leading big band in the USA. In the mid-1930s, Ellington began to experiment with large scale compositions, such as Reminiscing in Tempo and Creole Rhapsody.

At the end of the decade he had assembled his finest band, featuring Ben Webster's tough and lyrical tenor sax, and the tragically short-lived bassist Jimmy Blanton, who introduced a new rhythmic freedom. In 1939, pianist and composer Billy Strayhorn joined Ellington, and the two men found they had a natural talent for writing music together, continuing. until Strayhorn's death in 1967.

Strayhorn wrote the band's theme Take The A-Train. In 1943, at Carnegie Hall Ellington premiered his 45-minute Black Brown and Beige, and although its lukewarm critical reaction briefly deterred him, he began a sequence of further long pieces with the Deep South Suite in 1946.

From the 1950s, Ellington toured internationally, wrote many long suites, and also composed for films and the stage. His best-known film score was Anatomy of a Murder (1959). In his last years, Ellington wrote much sacred music, which he performed in churches and cathedrals round the world. His other extended suites were inspired by ideas as different as New Orleans music, Shakespeare and visits to Asia.

Duke Ellington Biography (Wikipedia)

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and leader of a jazz orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death over a career spanning more than six decades.

Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onward and gained a national profile through his orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured in Europe. Although widely considered a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington embraced the phrase "beyond category" as a liberating principle and referred to his music as part of the more general category of American Music.

Some of the jazz musicians who were members of Ellington's orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are considered among the best players in the idiom. Ellington melded them into the best-known orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Some members stayed with the orchestra for several decades. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington wrote 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. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, for example Juan Tizol's "Caravan", and "Perdido", which brought a Spanish tinge to big band jazz. In the early 1940s, Ellington began a nearly thirty-year collaboration with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his writing and arranging companion. With Strayhorn, he composed many extended compositions, or suites, as well as additional short pieces. Following an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1956, Ellington and his orchestra enjoyed a major revival and embarked on world tours. Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era, performed in and scored several films, and composed a handful of stage musicals.

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Proms 2012: Prom 38: National Youth Jazz Orchestra
Royal Albert Hall

Proms 2012: Prom 38: National Youth Jazz Orchestra

Royal Albert Hall

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