Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29,
1899 – May 24, 1974)was an American
composer, pianist, and jazz-orchestra
leader. His career spanned more than 50
years: Ellington led his orchestra from 1923
until his death.
Though widely considered to have been a
pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington
himself embraced the phrase "beyond
category" as a "liberating principle," and
referred his music to the more general
category of "American Music," rather than to
a musical genre such as "jazz." Born in
Washington, D.C., he was based in New
York City from the mid-1920s onwards, and
gained a national profile through his
orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club.
In the 1930s they toured in Europe.
Some of the musicians who were members
of Ellington's orchestra, such as saxophonist
Johnny Hodges, are still, in their own right,
considered to be among the best players in
jazz, but it was Ellington who melded them
into the best-known jazz orchestral unit in
the history of jazz. Several members of the
orchestra remained members for several
decades. A master at writing miniatures for
the three-minute 78 rpm record format,
Ellington often composed specifically for the
style and skills of his individual musicians,
such as "Jeep's Blues" for Hodges, and
"Concerto for Cootie" for trumpeter Cootie
Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till
You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics.
Ellington originated over 1,000
compositions, often in collaboration with
others; his extensive oeuvre is also the
largest recorded legacy in jazz, with much of
his extant work having passed into
standards. Ellington also recorded songs
written by his bandsmen, such as Juan
Tizol's "Caravan" and "Perdido" which
brought the "Spanish Tinge" to big-band jazz.
After 1941, Ellington collaborated 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 further shorter pieces. Following an
appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in
July 1956, he enjoyed a major career revival
and, with his orchestra, now embarked on
world tours. Ellington recorded for most
American record companies of his era at
some point, and appeared in several films.
scoring several, and composed stage
Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or
big band, and thanks to his eloquence and
extraordinary charisma, he is generally
considered to have elevated the perception
of jazz to an art form on a par with other
traditional genres of music. His reputation
increased after his death and the Pulitzer
Prize Board bestowed on him a special
posthumous honor in 1999.
Gunther Schuller wrote in 1989: "Ellington
composed incessantly to the very last days
of his life. Music was indeed his mistress; it
was his total life and his commitment to it
was incomparable and unalterable. In jazz he
was a giant among giants. And in twentieth
century music, he may yet one day be
recognized as one of the half-dozen greatest
masters of our time."
Wikipedia Artist Biography - Duke Ellington
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