Duke Ellington

The Jazz Artist of the 20 Century

Biography of Duke Ellington

Edward K. Ellington, or better known as Duke Ellington, was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington DC. Even at an early age Ellington had an interest in music. Both of his parents were pianists which most likely influenced his love of music. At the age of seven Ellington started to receive lessons in piano by Marietta Clinkscales. Ellington’s mother, Daisy Kennedy Ellington, made sure that Ellington grew up with sophistication and formality. He gained the nickname of “Duke” from his friends because of his elegant dress and lifestyle. Even though that Ellington got an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York he began to play musuic professionally at the age of 17. In 1923 Ellington moved to New York and in 1924 he formed his own band. In 1927 Ellington, along with his band, got access to Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. This was really the big point of his career as he was introduced to larger audiences. The band left the Cotton Club in 1931 and started a tour that would last until Ellington’s death. Billy Strayhorn joined the band as a composer, arranger, and occasionally, a pianist. Ellington and Strayhorn worked well together and Strayhorn wrote dozens of songs for the band including the popular song “Take the A Train”. As Ellington’s band continued on some very talented members joined. A few were Jimmy Blanton, Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, and Harry Carney. Finally on May 24, 1974 Duke Ellington died of lung cancer. His impact on the jazz world and on bigband was enormous and many people still remember him as a very talented and creative composer.

Duke Elligntons Impact on American Culture

Duke Ellington’s style of jazz music was a totally new and original for the time. Ellington was a major composer for big band jazz and his talents were unlike anyone else. Duke Ellington also played a major role in the Harlem Renaissance while playing at the famous Cotton Club. Ellington’s music was one of the reasons why jazz music was so popular during his time period. Even though big band jazz declined after World War II ,Duke Ellington is still regarded as an important composer and musician to the jazz era.

Take the "A" Train

Duke Ellington, "Take the A Train"

Take the "A" Train Significance

One of the important factors of this song is that Billy Strayhorn composed it. This song was pretty much the breakthrough of Strayhorn’s career. Once Ellington heard the song he hired Strayhorn on the spot. Duke Ellington even made the song his orchestra’s signature tune. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn had worked together on hundreds of works. The overall significance of Take the “A” Train is that it started a major collaboration that lasted many years. Also the song became one of the most popular songs in Ellington’s career.

Wynton Marsalis - 2nd Line

Modern Day Comparison to Duke Ellington

One similarity between Wynton Marsalis and Duke Ellington are their early lives. Like Ellington, Wynton was exposed to music at an early age. His father was a musician and a teacher and his older brother was a jazz musician. Marsalis also started playing the trumpet at age six, just like Ellington started playing the piano at age seven. As Marsalis continued on playing music he began to gain popularity and fame as he went on. Another similarity I noticed is their styles of music. Even though I do not have a musical ear I could tell that in both songs the trumpets could easily be heard. This I assume was done on purpose because the trumpet is usually an important part of a band. Also both songs were pretty much the opposite of mellow jazz. Both peices more like exciting jazz than soothing jazz.