Duke Ellington


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Duke Ellington

  1. 1. Duke Ellington Composer, musician, bandleader (April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1974) By: Erin M. Day
  2. 2. Biography: Beginnings • Born Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington • Grew up in the District of Columbia • Began piano lessons at age seven, but found baseball more interesting • Nickname comes from his casual, offhand manner, easy grace and dapper dress which gave him the bearing of a young nobleman • First composition in 1914, “Soda Fountain Rag,” (or “Poodle Dog Rag”) written while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Cafe for the summer, was created by ear because he had not yet learned to read music. He would play it as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango and foxtrot and listeners never knew it was the same piece.
  3. 3. • At age fourteen he began Biography, sneaking into Frank Holiday’s Poolroom, where the pool cont. room pianists ignited his love for the instrument • Began listening to, watching and imitating ragtime pianists in D.C. as well as Atlantic City and Philadelphia • Was hooked once he started to play gigs in cafes and clubs around the city – Turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn – Dropped out of the commercial art program at Armstrong Manual Training School just three months shy of graduation
  4. 4. Biography: Beginnings, cont. • Launched musical career painting commercial signs by day and playing piano gigs he set up himself by night • Also worked as a messenger for the U.S. Navy and State Department • Moved into his own house that he bought for himself as he became a successful ragtime, jazz and society pianist • At first he played in other ensembles but formed his first group in 1917: “The Duke’s Serenaders,” for which he was a member as well as the booking agent • With his music career taking off, he felt financially secure and married his high school sweetheart Edna Thompson in 1918 when he was nineteen and within the year she gave birth to their only son
  5. 5. Drop Me Off at Harlem • When his drummer was invited to join an orchestra in NYC, Ellington decided to leave his successful career in the DC scene and aspire to the challenge of Harlem • The Harlem Renaissance was in progress and the jazz scene was competitive and difficult to crack • Hustled by day and played whatever gig could be scrounged up • Returned to DC after a few months, feeling discouraged, but returned in 1923 and was given a four-year performance engagement which gave him a solid artistic base
  6. 6. The Cotton • Ellington plays his first gig at the Cotton Club in 1927 Club • Asked to provide music geared towards a white American audience that would transport them to the Deep South and into the depths of the African jungle • He backed the cabaret turns, and you can easy visualize the floor show in songs from this period such as “Jungle Jamboree” and “Song of the Cotton Field”
  7. 7. Style of • Collaborated closely with Billy Strayhorn (composer of the band’s theme “Take the A Train”) on orchestrations and they formed the Duke such a close relationship that their contributions were sometimes difficult to tell apart • Ellington’s piano playing, once ignored, began to register strongly, adding a fresh tonal palette to the band (ex. “Ko-ko”) • Conducted the orchestra from the keyboard using piano cues and visual gestures – rarely used a baton • Certain sounds never left his palette, even when instrumentalists moved on • Genius lay in allowing his musicians’ individuality to shine: – Violently abrasive solos – Embellishments on tunes that would send tears down the faces of audience members
  8. 8. Duke’s Prolific Post-War Period • After the war, as others disbanded, he carried on • Performance style never changed, except that as the three minute record gave way to the long-player, he became even more inclined to write extended works • 1950’s “Tone Parallel to Harlem,” remains perhaps his most sustained effort, but the suites he poured out during his incredibly prolific final period are held in increasingly high esteem
  9. 9. His Legacy • Known in lifetime as one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not all of American music • For about 50 years, led an orchestra that toured the world and for which he composed most of the material • Supreme manipulator of orchestral sounds, making him one of the prime choices among pundits for the title of greatest jazz musician of all time • Won twelve Grammies spanning Best Soundtrack Album for “Anatomy of a Murder” in 1959 to winning the award for Historical Jazz Album in 1999 • Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon • Ten years before his death he was turned down for a Pulitzer Prize and it is still unknown if it was racial discrimination or if the committee just couldn’t take seriously a composer of something called “Doing the Chocolate Shake.” Ellington shrugged it off and said that fate was kind in not wanting him to become too famous too young. After his death, he received a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board.
  10. 10. Major • Early Ellington, RCA Bluebird. Includes many of Works the of the early classics. • Duke Ellington 1935-36, Classics. Includes “Reminiscing in Tempo.” • The Indispensable, Vols 5-6, RCA. Includes the best of the best. • Such Sweet Thunder, Columbia. One of his best- loved suites. • The Far East Suite, RCA Bluebird. One of the most successful later suites.
  11. 11. And this concludes my presentation on: Duke