Jazz stars: Duke Ellington

"His uncommonly magnificent music can be compared
to an underground stream feeding a barren valley"

“Jazz Portraits” by Haruki Murakami

Several greatest musicians created the history of jazz music. Duke Ellington should be named as one of the first among them. Perhaps the main merit of this musician is that, working in the sphere of popular, entertainment music, he raised this music to the heights of classical art. The music   by Ellington music has entered the minds of millions of people and become an essential part of modern popular culture.

For the birthday of Ellington - musician, composer, bandleader, who was able to turn the orchestra into his personal instrument and set the standard for orchestral sound in jazz -a selection of jazz music that he performs.

On April 29, 1899, Edward Kennedy Ellington was born at 12-12 T-Street, in a middle-class African-American neighborhood in northwest Washington. Edward was nicknamed 'Duke' at the age of eight by a neighbour, a ragtime pianist, for his elegant suit, polite manners and graceful gait. Duke's father served as an usher in the White House, and this "high" social position allowed him to hire his son Edward a teacher. At the age of seven, the boy began studying the piano and solfeggio. At school, little Edward was absent-minded – during lessons he played scales on an imaginary keyboard, drumming his fingers on the desk.

The mother of the future musician, Daisy Ellington, was devoted to her son until his death; she was his guardian angel and the most important person in Duke's life.

In 1914, Ellington enrolled at Armstrong High School. In the evenings, he used to sit down at home at the piano and spend hours, gripped by an interest in harmony, strumming chords.

In 1917, Duke was admitted to the Pratts Institute of Applied Arts in Brooklyn, where he studied painting. However, the more encouraging were the artist's successes, the more he was drawn to music. After winning first prize in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) poster contest in 1917, Ellington decided to dedicate himself to the piano.

In late 1918, the Duke and his friends decided to form a small amateur ensemble, “The Washingtonians”. Since “The Washingtonians” played solely for their own enjoyment, Duke continued to work as a pianist with professional, more or less commercial orchestras: with Sam Wooding, Doc Perry and others.

In 1922, “The Washingtonians” drummer Sonny Greer received an offer from New York orchestra leader Wilbur Sweetman. However, not wanting to part with his friends, Greer suggested they go together. "The Washingtonians" - Ellington (piano), Otto Hardwick (clarinet and saxophone), Arthur Wetzel (trumpet), Elmer Snowden (banjo) and Sonny Greer went to try their luck in New York. Soon, however, they had to tighten their belts and return to Washington. Nevertheless, they remembered a few days spent in music and dance-filled Harlem.

In 1923, Duke came to New York again, determined to make a name there. This time "The Washingtonians" were received engagements. At first, Elmer Snowden led the ensemble, and then Duke replaced him. Gradually Duke increased the number of musicians, some were replaced. In 1927, the orchestra began to perform at the famed Cotton Club. To make full use of his superb orchestrations, Ellington invited other instrumentalists. Thus, in early 1929 the line-up of the orchestra was as follows: Art Whetsel, Kuti Williams, Freddie Jenkins (trumpet), Tricky Sam, Juan Tizol (trombone), Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Barney Bigard (clarinet saxophone) and the former rhythm band. This line-up was virtually unchanged until 1935.

Ellington is the greatest arranger of all time in jazz. The word 'arranger' does not quite fit here, though, while you listen to Duke's music, sometimes you can't tell where the theme ends and the arrangement begins. Even when Ellington arranged other composers' themes, he would put so much of himself into them that the whole music, including the theme, sounds like his own.

With admirable skill, taste and impeccable musical tact, Duke used a timbre palette that subtly and originally combined similarities and contrasts.

Ellington embodied another type of expression in his 'mood style', distinguished by the refinement and elegance of orchestral colour, the soft lyrical melody and the bluesy coloration of the sound.

The influence of academic music, a predilection for the orchestra's lush colorfulness, the virtuosity of the soloists, the monumentality and complexity of form can be felt in the 'concert style' compositions. In Duke's piano playing, one can sense his individuality as a composer-arranger. With the piano, he leads the entire orchestra. What is equally remarkable, and even somewhat mysterious, about Duke Ellington -- is the rich yet gentle and mellow sound with its unique colouring and velvety feel. At first, this peculiarity was attributed to the cast of the performers. Later, however, when most of the first string musicians were replaced by musicians who had not been trained by Duke, it emerged to everyone's amazement that the sound of the orchestra did not changed at all.

Starting in 1933, Duke Ellington toured Europe on several occasions.

In January 1943, the Ellington Orchestra opened a series of concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall with the four-part "Black, Brown and Beige" (announced as "Duke Ellington's First Symphony").

Beginning his career as a ragtime performer, in later decades Ellington also composed complex, large-scale works imbued with a genuine symphonism, marked by an infinite wealth of orchestral colour, an exquisite palette and depth of thought.

In 1951, Ellington's Harlem Suite was performed in a concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1955, "Night Creature" was performed at Carnegie Hall, and in 1957 premiered his collaboration with B. Strayhorn. The 1950s and 1960s were a period of intense concert activity, with the Ellington Orchestra appearing in radio programmes, films, jazz festivals and on numerous tours of the USA, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In 1971, the prominent musician and his orchestra undertook their last and longest tour, performing in dozens of countries, including Moscow, Leningrad and other cities in our country.

After this trip, he continued to work, but his illness was already wearing him down. He received many awards, honors and decorations. Columbia University, which once denied him the Pulitzer Prize, elected him its honorary doctorate in 1973. In France, he was the first jazz musician to be awarded the Legion of Honour, and in the far Togo, his image was engraved on a postage stamp.

The legacy Duke Ellington left behind is vast and varied. However, his greatest merit was the very rise of jazz, for which he did more than anyone else did.

Ref: http://info-jazz.ru/community/jazzmen/?action=show&id=23
Joell D. Duke: Portrait of Duke Ellington; translated from English by Yu.T. Vermenich - Novosibirsk: Sib.univ.ed., 2007
Course: "History of Jazz: Heroes, Schools, Styles". Lecture: "Duke Ellington: The Duke and His Escort".