Constantly surprising and consistently visionary, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington was the rare performer who was both a consummate entertainer and a musical genius respected by his peers. Ellington's orchestra, which he led for 50 years, was a showcase for his... [more]
Constantly surprising and consistently visionary, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington was the rare performer who was both a consummate entertainer and a musical genius respected by his peers. Ellington's orchestra, which he led for 50 years, was a showcase for his vision and a springboard for a loyal core of soloists who made their own imprints on jazz history. Ellington's real instrument was his band, and he wrote specifically to the sound and personality of each member of his orchestra. The body of work he created was one of the most important in the history of jazz -- and also one of the most popularly recognized. Ellington songs such as "Mood Indigo," "Solitude," "In A Sentimental Mood," and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" became early American pop standards, putting him in the esteemed company of composers George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and Irving Berlin.
Born in 1899, Edward Kennedy Ellington grew up middle class in Washington, D.C., and began playing ragtime and stride piano at age seven. He dropped out of college just three months shy of graduation to play clubs and cafes. He formed his first group, the Duke's Serenaders, in 1917, and moved to New York in 1923, where his career took off. By the mid-1930s, Ellington's orchestra had hit its stride. Over the next ten years, Duke was intensely creative and increasingly ambitious, his inspiration culminating with the epic "Black, Brown, and Beige" in 1943.
Ellington, whose music was described by trumpeter Clark Terry as "always in a state of becoming," never stopped composing, even when he was hospitalized with cancer. By the time he died in 1974, he had received the French Legion of Honor and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had played more than 20,000 performances worldwide, for everyone from nightclub goers to Queen Elizabeth II and President Nixon. And thanks to his belief in democracy through music, jazz would never be the same. [show less]