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duke ellington

Duke Ellington

b. Edward Kennedy Ellington, 29th April 1899, Washington, District Of Columbia, U.S.A.

d. 24th May 1974, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, New York City, New York, U.S.A.

Duke Ellington was one of the most influential figures in Black Music during the last century.

Duke was was a composer, pianist and bandleader.

His career began in the early 1920’s, only coming to a close with his passing in 1974.

Duke never considered himself as a Jazz musician per se, but more of a musical ‘Jack of all trades’, although, it is the Jazz genre which owes it’s biggest debt to this musician.

He was born in Washington, D.C., in 1899.

Dukes mother and father were James Edward Ellington (1879 - 1937) and Daisy Kennedy Ellington (1878 - 1935).

His parents were both piano players, encouraging Duke to play the instrument at the age of 7.

Duke attended Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C.

When he was 15, he wrote his first composition, ‘Soda Fountain Rag’.

Duke Ellington

The Washingtonians in 1925

Influences for Duke, at the time, were the likes of Doc Perry, Lester Dishman, Louis Brown, Turner Layton, Gertie Wells, Clarence Bowser, Sticky Mack, Blind Johnny, Cliff Jackson, Claude Hopkins, Phil Wurd, Caroline Thornton, Luckey Roberts, Eubie Blake, Joe Rochester, and Harvey Brooks.

Ragtime had an influence on his early writings, which were embellished by some private tuition in harmony and sheet reading.

Duke began his performing career by playing gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C.

Duke left home and formed his first group, called ‘The Duke's Serenaders’.

The band included Otto Hardwick, on string bass, Arthur Whetsol on trumpet, Elmer Snowden on banjo, and Sonny Greer on drums.

The band performed for both Black and white audiences.

In 1923, Duke played at a gig in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which led toanother gig at the Exclusive Club in Harlem.

In 1923 Elmer Snowden's Washington Black Sox Orchestra landed a six month gig at the Hollywood Club in Manhattan.

After about three months the name of the group was shortened to the Washingtonians, Duke joined, where he took on a four year residency.

Duke Ellington

The Washingtonians in 1925. l to r: Sonny Greer, Charlie Irvis, Elmer Snowden, Otto Harwick, seated, Bubber Miley, Duke Ellington.

He recorded eight records in 1924, and in 1925.

Duke also contributed four songs to ‘Chocolate Kiddies’ revue starring Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall.

Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra expanded to a group of ten players.

Sidney Bechet played with them at times.

In 1926, Duke signed an agreement with agent-publisher Irving Mills.

In 1924 until 1926, Dukes agreement allowed him to record a great deal more.

His manager often took a co-composer credit.

Duke EllingtonDuke Ellington

flaming youth - 1927 / jubilee stomp - 1928

Irving Mills arranged for Duke to record for the Brunswick, Victor, Columbia, OKeh, Pathê, Perfect, Oriole, Domino, Jewel, Banner, Cameo, Lincoln, Romeo, Hit of the Week, Harmony, Diva, Velvet Tone and Clarion imprints.

In 1927, Duke was offered a residency at Harlem's Cotton Club.

Duke Ellington

duke at the cotton club in 1927. line-up l to r: duke, joe nanton, sonny greer, bubber miley, harry carney, wellman braud, rudy jackson, fred guy, nelson kincaid and ellsworth reynolds

He had to increase from a six to eleven-piece group to meet the requirements of the Cotton Club's management.

The residency offered Duke exposure to a weekly radio broadcast.

The club had an exclusively white and wealthy clientele, who came along to hear music composed by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, along with some of Dukes own compositions.

The radio broadcasts from the club gave Duke national exposure.

Duke collaborated with Adelaide Hall, and one song ‘Creole Love Call’ gave Duke and Adelaide their first hit record.

In 1929, the Cotton Club Orchestra appeared in Ziegfeld's ‘Show Girl’.

This led on to film work for the artist, with featured melodies appearing in ‘Black and Tan’ (in 1929) and ‘Check and Double Check’ (in 1930).

Dukes first stsint at the Cotton Club concluded in 1931.

He then signed to Brunswick Records in 1932 and remained at the label until 1936.

Duke Ellington

ivie anderson and duke

Ivie Anderson became Duke’s featured vocalist in 1931.

Ivie is the vocalist on ‘It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)’ in 1932.

During this time, Duke released some of his most famous sides, including ‘Mood Indigo’ (in 1930), ‘Sophisticated Lady’ (in 1933), ‘Solitude’ (in 1934), and ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ (in 1935).

In 1935, Duke’s mother passed away.

Duke Ellington

symphony in black - 1935

He then penned a piece for the film ‘Symphony in Black’ that year, entitled ‘A Rhapsody of Negro Life’, which was introduced Billie Holiday.

Duke’s Orchestra also appeared in the films ‘Murder at the Vanities’ and ‘Belle of the Nineties’ (both in 1934).

Beginning in 1936, Duke began to make recordings of smaller groups, taken from his 15-man orchestra.

Duke penned ‘Jeep's Blues’ for Johnny Hodges, ‘Yearning for Love’ for Lawrence Brown, ‘Trumpet in Spades’ for Rex Stewart, ‘Echoes of Harlem’ for Cootie Williams and ‘Clarinet Lament’ for Barney Bigard.

Cotton Club

In 1937, a second stint at the Cotton Club began.

That year Duke’s father died.

He and Irving Mills parted company, signing with the William Morris Agency.

Duke continued to record for the Brunswick label, whilst his smaller groups were placed at Vocalion Records.

Further recordings included ‘Caravan’ in 1937, and ‘I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart’ in 1938.

Duke & Billy

billy strayhorn and duke

In 1939, Duke then struck up an association with the writer, Billy Strayhorn.

Billy became an important member of Duke’s organization.

Billy was trained in classical music, and sometimes filled in for Duke on stage, and in the recording studio.

From 1940, Duke continued to release material, despite the war years, which featured ‘Cotton Tail’, ‘Main Stem’, ‘Harlem Airshaft’ and ‘Jack the Bear’.

In 1941, Duke and Billy penned ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’, which became a big hit, becoming the band's theme tune.

Duke had been performing short Jazz pieces, and became interested in breaking boundaries, and performing longer pieces.

Duke EllingtonDuke Ellington

blue light - 1938 / black, brown and beige - 1944

One of these came in the form of ‘Black, Brown, and Beige’ (in 1943), which was dedicated the story of African-Americans, and the place of slavery and the church in their history.

Duke then penned ‘Jump for Joy’, a full-length musical based on themes of African-American identity.

At this time, legislation relating to the settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–43, led to an increase in royalties paid to musicians.

This welcome change to the law went some way to subsidizing Duke’s orchestra.

Duke EllingtonDuke EllingtonDuke EllingtonDuke Ellington

daybreak express - 1947 / blues - 1950 / ellington uptown - 1951 / duke ellington plays - 1953

During the post war era, the new small-group format of jazz, bebop allowed club owners of smaller venues to pull in the jazz audiences at a fraction of the cost of hiring a Duke style big band.

Dukes response was to go on tour, traveling to Western Europe in 1950, and working on further compositions, including ‘Harlem’ (in 1950).

In 1951, Duke’s orchestra went through various personnel changes.

By 1955, Duke had spent three years of recording for Capitol records.

Duke EllingtonDuke EllingtonDuke EllingtonDuke Ellington

the duke plays ellington - 1954 / duke's mixture - 1955 / duke ellington presents...- 1956 / bal masque - 1959

In 1956, he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, which was recorded, and an album showcased the first release of a new recording contract with Columbia Records.

In the late 1950’s, Ella Fitzgerald recorded her album ‘Duke Ellington Songbook’, for Verve Records with Duke and his orchestra.

Duke took to working on music for film soundtracks.

He penned the score for ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ (in 1959), with James Stewart.

Duke then penned the music for ‘Paris Blues’ (in 1961), with Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier.

In the 1960s, Duke began working with a variety of artists, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

Duke signed to Frank Sinatra's new Reprise label, for a short while, before beginning to work with artists from other countries.

These included, Alice Babs, Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin.

In 1965, Duke performed at the first of his Sacred Concerts, (the Steinway piano upon which the Sacred Concerts were composed is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History).

Duke continued to release further album material, including ‘The Far East Suite’ (in 1966), ‘New Orleans Suite’ (in 1970), ‘Latin American Suite’ (in 1972) and ‘The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse’ (in 1971).

Duke Ellington

francis a. and edward k. - 1967

In 1967, Duke recorded his only album with Frank Sinatra, entitled ‘Francis A. & Edward K.’.

That year, Billy Strayhorn passed away.

Duke was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966.

He was also awarded an Honorary PhD from the Berklee College of Music in 1971.

Duke’s final live performance came with a concert at Northern Illinois University in 1974.

Duke Ellington died from lung cancer and pneumonia, at 3.10 a.m. on the 24th of May 1974, at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, one month after his 75th birthday.

His funeral was attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Duke Ellington

ella fitzgerald and billy taylor at duke's funeral

On the day, Ella Fitzgerald said ‘It's a very sad day. A genius has passed’.

Duke was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City.

Duke Ellington

Real Player


Flaming Youth (RCA Records 1927)

Jubilee Stomp (Bluebird Records 1928)

Duke Ellington Presents Ivie Anderson (Columbia Records 1932)

Blue Light (Columbia Records 1938)

Sophisticated Lady (RCA Records 1940)

In a Mellotone (RCA Records 1940)

Black, Brown and Beige (1944-1946)

Band... (Columbia / Legac Records 1944)

Daybreak Express (RCA Records 1947)

Masterpieces by Ellington (Columbia Records 1950)

Ellington Uptown (Columbia Records 1951)

Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown (CBS Records 1951)

Seattle Concert [live] (RCA Records 1952)

The Pasadena Concert (1953) [live] (GNP Records 1953)

Premiered by Ellington (Capitol Records 1953)

The Duke Plays Ellington (Capitol Records 1953)

Piano Reflections (Capitol Records 1953)

Ellington '55 (Blue Note Records 1953)

Ellington Showcase (Capitol Records 1953)

Duke Ellington Plays the Blues (RCA Records 1953)

Dance to the Duke! (Capitol Records 1954)

Duke Ellington Plays (Allegro Records 1954)

Duke's Mixture (Columbia Records 1955)

The Duke and His Men (RCA Records 1955)

Duke Ellington and the Buck Clayton... [live] (Columbia Records 1956)

Ellington at Newport [live] (Columbia Records 1956)

A Drum Is a Woman (Columbia Records 1956)

Al Hibbler with the Duke (Columbia Records 1956)

Such Sweet Thunder (Columbia / Legac Records 1957)

Ella Fitzgerald/The Duke Ellington Songbook (Verve Records 1957)

Indigos (Columbia Records 1957)

Black, Brown & Beige [1999] [live] (Columbia / Legac Records 1958)

Brown, Black and Beige (Columbia Records 1958)

Blues in Orbit (Columbia Records 1958)

Black, Brown & Beige ([Tristar] Tristar Records 1958)

Duke Ellington at the Bal Masque (Columbia Records 1958)

Cosmic Scene: Duke Ellington's Spacemen (Sony France Records 1958)

Newport Jazz Festival (1958) [live] (Columbia Records 1958)

Blues Summit (Verve Records 1958)

Side by Side (Verve Records 1958)

Jazz at the Plaza, Vol. 2 (Columbia Records 1958)

Duke Ellington at His Very Best (RCA Victor Records 1958)

Jazz Party (Mobile Records 1959)

The Ellington Suites (Pablo / OJC Records 1959)

Anatomy of a Murder (Rykodisc Records 1959)

Festival Session [live] (Columbia Records 1959)

The Nutcracker Suite (Columbia Records 1960)

Three Suites (Columbia Records 1960)

Piano in the Background (Columbia Records 1960)

Swinging Suites by Edward E. & Edward G. (Columbia Records 1960)

Peer Gynt Suite/Suite Thursday (Columbia Records 1960)

Paris Blues (United Artists Records 1960)

Piano in the Foreground (Columbia Records 1961)

First Time! The Count Meets the Duke (Columbia / Legac Records 1961)

All American (Columbia Records 1962)

Midnight in Paris (Columbia Records 1962)

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse! Records 1962)

Money Jungle (Blue Note Records 1962)

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse! Records 1962)

Will Big Bands Ever Come Back? (Reprise Records 1962)

Afro-Bossa (Musicraft Records 1962)

Featuring Paul Gonsalves (Original Jazz Records 1962)

The Great Paris Concert [live] (Atlantic Records 1963)

The Symphonic Ellington (Musicraft Records 1963)

The Duke Ellington Jazz Violin Session (Atlantic Records 1963)

Hits of the Sixties: This Time by Ellington (Reprise Records 1964)

Ellington '65 (Reprise Records 1964)

The Original Score from Walt Disney's Mary... (Reprise Records 1964)

Concert in the Virgin Islands [live] (Discovery Records 1965)

The Duke at Tanglewood [live] (RCA Records 1965)

Jumpin' Punkins (RCA Records 1965)

Concert of Sacred Music [live] (RCA Records 1965)

Duke Ellington (1966) (Reprise Records 1966)

Orchestral Works (MCA Records 1966)

The Pianist (Original Jazz Records 1966)

Ella & Duke at the Cote D'azur (Verve Records 1966)

Soul Call (Verve Records 1966)

The Popular Duke Ellington (RCA Records 1967)

Intimacy of the Blues (Original Jazz Records 1967)

Johnny Come Lately (RCA Records 1967)

North of the Border in Canada (Decca Records 1967)

And His Mother Called Him Bill (Bluebird/RCA Records 1968)

Yale Concert [live] (Fantasy / OJC Records 1968)

Latin American Suite (Fantasy / OJC Records 1968)

Second Sacred Concert [live] (Prestige Records 1968)

Up in Duke's Workshop (Original Jazz Records 1969)

The Intimate Ellington (Original Jazz Records 1969)

Pretty Woman (RCA Records 1969)

Standards: Live at the Salle Pleyel (JMY Records 1969)

New Orleans Suite (Atlantic Records 1970)

The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (Fantasy / OJC Records 1971)

Togo Brava Suite ([Blue Note] Blue Note Records 1971)

Eastbourne Performance [live] (RCA Records 1973)

Collages (MPS Records 1973)

Duke Ellington's Third Sacred Concert [live] (RCA Records 1976)

Carnegie Hall 11/13/48 [live] (Vintage Jazz Records 1991)

Live at the Greek 9/23/66 (Status Records 1994)

70th Birthday Concert [live] (Blue Note Records 1995)

Live at Carnegie Hall (Ember Records 2000)

Live at the Zanibar Club (Magnum Records 2000)

Live in 1947 at the Hollywood Bowl (Unique Jazz Records 2000)

Live in the Big Apple (Magnum Records 2000)

The Treasury Shows, Vol. 1 [live] (Storyville Records 2001)

The Duke at Fargo 1940: Special 60th... [live] (Storyville Records 2001)

Togo Brava Suite ([Storyville] Storyville Records 2001)

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