Duke Ellington

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Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington|
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Brittany ThomasMay 2, 2012MUSC 1303-100Jason Passmore|
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One of the greatest jazz bandleaders, arrangers, recording artist, and composers of all time is none other than Duke Ellington. Born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C., Ellington was destined for musical talent. His family was musically talented; both of his parents could play piano even though neither could read music. Ellington did not grow up in a poor family; and he had educational advantages that many black musicians in his time didn’t have. He received the nickname “Duke” from a fellow classmate, because of his elegant way of dressing and his regal behavior. While in school elementary school, he received piano lessons, and by the time he reached high school, he was already performing locally. He was also a fairly good painter and won a scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. But his art career was overshadowed by his love for music. Music won his heart, so art wasn’t in the picture. At the age of 17, he wrote his first song, “The Soda Fountain Rag”, which was his debut. In 1919, Ellington’s son Mercer was born. With encouragement from Fats Waller, Duke moved to New York with his newly formed group, The Washingtonians. He later formed the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which by 1930 had grown to include 12 musicians. During these early years in New York, Ellington developed skills that he would carry throughout his entire career. He evolved from band member to leader and performed in a variety of clubs. His writing and arranging skills also evolved and became more defined. These new skills would be his unique compositional style. Some of Ellington’s new influences were stride piano players like Willie “The Lion” Smith and James P. Johnson and ragtime piano players.

One of the best career moves made by Ellington was his booking at The Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. His band was established house performers there from...
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