Duke Ellington

Jazz Royalty

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Section 1: Facing The Music

Duke Ellington, born on April 29, 1899, is an American jazz legend. Many people say that he was the one to raise jazz music's reputation to the standards of the already previously established genres of music, because of how impressive all of his compositions were, how incredible his stage presence was, and how well he incorporated a variety of instruments in a unique orchestra format. Though jazz wasn't particularly embraced by the whole of the United States in its rebirth (after first being formed in New Orleans) in Harlem and surrounding areas, people like Duke Ellington helped give jazz music a national reputation that has stayed with us ever since. After Duke's death in May 29, 1974, his works gained much more attention, and he was even awarded a special Nobel Peace Prize! Before you can learn more about this fascinating person's life and legacy, you need to understand exactly how his soulful music sounded.

Take The "A" Train

The first one you'll hear is called "Take The 'A' Train" made in collaboration with Billy Strayhorn in 1939, and is considered one of the best, and most famous, songs he's ever played. Pay close attention to the instruments involved and how Ellington plays the piano with such relaxation and ease.


The piece is significant because most consider it the "signature sound" of Ellington and his orchestra. It was originally written by Nilly Strayhorn, but was not famous until Duke Ellington made the time to play it and add his unique sounds. This song has been covered numerous times, but most famously by Ella Fitzgerald in 1957. In these covers, most artists added much more complex lyrics, and added verses. In the original Duke Ellington version, the

lyrics were simply:


You must take the A Train

To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

If you miss the A Train

You'll find you've missed the quickest way to Harlem

Hurry, get on, now, it's coming

Listen to those rails a-thrumming (All Aboard!)

Get on the A Train

Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem


As you can clearly see, they are no where near spectacular. However, this song became known across the United States. This shows that it really was about hearing the MUSIC, and not the fancy lyrics. With so many covers and renditions of it, some being by the Rolling Stones and The Delta Rhythm Boys, each artist wanted to put their own spin on the classic song and stand out in front of the other covers. Unfortunately for them, nothing can beat the pure and plain (but NOT boring) piano music made by Duke Ellington. Of course, the man who sung with Ellington, Ray Nance, added his own flair by doing "scat singing", which was becoming very popular for artists at the time. Seeing that people are still covering the song today, it's safe to say it made quite a lasting impression.

Satin Doll

Now click the link below to watch Duke and his jazz orchestra perform on T.V. in 1953. I would have you watch a piece written closer to the 1920's, but unfortunately they are blocked on school chromebooks, as are many of his other signature performances.

However, if you'd like to listen to more, please click the link to the google document under the Satin Doll link to find more performances that you can watch at home!

Sweet Jazz O' Mine

Here's another great hit he performed with his orchestra at the Cotton Club! Read more below on his life and legacy to learn about the Cotton Club.

Want to see more? Click this link!

Unfortunately, many of his performances are blocked on chromebooks, but if you are interested in hearing more of Duke's music at home, you should go to this doc! This link has many websites with some other great songs that you can listen to at home.

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This is one of Duke's famous album covers

Section 2: Influencing America

How is Duke Ellington still known today? Didn't he die in 1974? Why should I listen to his music? These are all questions you may be asking if you didn't know just how greatly Duke Ellington impacted American culture. Hopefully I can be of assistance!

Duke Ellington was playing every day in Washington D.C., but was not getting the recognition he was striving for, and that his music certainly deserved. However, he started getting gigs to play on the national radio, and suddenly, he was famous! There was one problem with this, though: On the radio, people from across the nation heard his music, which of course they loved. However, there was still a dominance of racial discrimination in the South, and so he rarely got to actually perform in front of people. So, he moved North during the Great Migration to Harlem, New York, where he became a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He and his band soon booked a permanent job at the Cotton Club, an extremely popular venue that had an audience that was actually usually predominantly white. Even so, they fully embraced Ellington's jazz music. This inspired many more African American artists to show off their amazing artistic talents to the world, and thus, the Harlem Renaissance was born. Duke Ellington, now a national figure, didn't stop in Harlem. He then traveled the country with his band, playing favorites like "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" that many, many artists have done renditions of (don't believe me? Watch Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett singing it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYfF9VKMp4w). Duke's spunky and joyful filled music never failed to make people want to get up and dance.

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This is where Duke and his orchestra performed for many years, leading the Harlem Renassaince
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This is Duke's star on Hollywood Boulevard!

Section 3: The Royal Life

Edward Kennedy Ellington, born on April 29, 1899, was brought up by two musically-inclined parents who encouraged him to take piano lessons as a very young kid. They lived in a small, modest neighborhood in Washington, D.C., so when Edward began to show potential as a great pianist and musician, everyone in the town knew about it. At the age of 7, his classy and gentleman-like demeanor was so well known, everyone called him "the Duke". He wrote his first song when he was only 15; it was called "Soda Fountain Rag", based off of his job as a soda jerk. Soon, he was offered an artistic scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, but he turned it down and decided not to go to college. He wanted to become a professional musician as soon as he possibly could. In no time, Duke Ellington was a national icon, playing in Broadway nightclubs (one being the Cotton Club), with his group of 10 other artists. People had never heard such unique sounds coming from such unique instruments before. Bubber Miley, a man Duke Ellington recruited to be in his jazz band, played the plunger. Yes, the plunger, as in a toilet plunger! It made one of the coolest and most unique sounds in Ellington's orchestra. At age 19, the Duke married his high-school sweetheart, Edna Thompson, and had one child with her. Once Ellington died, his son took over his band immediately and started on a tour in a few short days. He was quite talented as well. Throughout his lifetime, the Duke won 9 grammys, and 3 more after passing! After 75 years of life and making beautiful music, Duke Ellington died of lung cancer and pneumonia. Soon before his passing, he published his only autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, which centers around his reflection on his life and the impact music had on it. On the day of his funeral, more than 12,000 people came to grieve. Once he died, though, his music only gained more fame and momentum. Music trends have shown that more songs incorporated some of the signature sounds of Ellington's music after his passing.

Section 4: Duke Ellington And Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr., is known mainly as an American singer and actor, and, in my opinion, is great at both of these things. However, from those two-word descriptors, it doesn't seem like he is very notably similar to Duke Ellington, right? Wrong. With a bit more investigating into his music, you will see that these two have some really amazing connections!

First off, you need to know a little bit more about Harry Connick, Jr. Yes, he is a singer, but I don't think that classifies him well enough. He is a true musician, of course like Duke Ellington. However, it's hard to say that really classifies them, as many, many people in this world would consider themselves musicians. One of the many things Connick does in his songs and performances is often use a big, full band of instruments. Some classical, some jazzy, all unique. Sound familiar? Now, you can't justly classify Harry into the jazz genre of music, but the reason I picked him is because I remembered the distinct sound of his Christmas album, which sometimes pops up onto my family's itunes shuffle. I couldn't even remember his name, but I remembered the satisfactory feeling of listening to such grand orchestrations. Connick, being the diverse man he is, has quite a few slow, ballad-like songs, as well, as with Ellington. First, listen to "You Didn't Know Me When" by Harry Connick, Jr. This is one of his upbeat songs featuring his traveling band, The Big Band (yes, that is actually its name). It is considered one of his most popular songs!

"You Didn't Know Me When"

Click here to download the song and listen to it!

Are you still not convinced that these two are long-lost clones? Let's investigate these two talented people further.

At a very young age, Harry Connick, Jr. showed great potential as a piano player, who had started lessons because of his musically-inclined parents (sound familiar??). He grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, which just happens to be the place where jazz all got started! Of course, jazz was established there long before Harry was born, but it obviously had an impact on him because it has an influence in the music he produces today. Harry is now an extremely skilled pianist, just as the Duke was. however, one of the differences in their music is that Harry is known for his soothing, clear singing voice, where as Duke much preferred to let his piano and band speak for itself, though sometimes he would have separate singers perform alongside the band. They both, however, wrote most of their own music and had an undeniable passion for making music. Next, listen to "She Belongs To Me", which has a very distinct jazzy sound.

"She Belongs To Me"

Listen to this audio file through your google docs music player, or just download it!

"It is jazz music that called me to be a musician and I have always sang the songs that moved me the most." -Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry quickly rose to fame, just as Duke did. You have now probably seen Harry on American Idol as a judge, in numerous movies and TV shows, maybe one of his Broadway shows, or his live tours! The Duke, as explained in the sections above, had quite the career of a lifetime, as well. This is not what makes them alike, though. What makes them so similar is the obvious love each of them had for making people happy.
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THE END!

Thank you so much for reading this! I hope you learned a lot!
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