Saturday, August 11, 2007
Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
There are two kinds of worries -- those you can do something about and those you can't. Don't spend any time on the latter.
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Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1977) was an American Jazz composer, pianist and band leader. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. Duke Ellington is considered by many to be the greatest American composer. He had many hits including "Take the A Train", "Satin Doll", "Rockin' in Rhythm", "Mood Indigo", "Caravan" and "Sophisicated Lady". Many of these songs were written with his lifelong collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, who did not always get author credit, although Ellington's manager, Irving Mills, usually managed to get his name on compositions. His works were always tailored to the talents of the musicians in his band, including Johnny Hodges, Bubber Miley, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Sonny Greer, and Otto Hardwicke. Many musicians stayed with him for decades. He first came to attention at the Cotton Club in Harlem where he was billed as "Duke Ellington and his Jungle Band".
These appearances featured many experiments in tonality, with trumpet screams and wah-wah, and growling saxophones. He was a musical experimenter all his life, recording with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus as well as with his own highly skilled orchestra. He frequently composed in longer forms modelled on classical music, such as his "Black, Brown and Beige" (1943), and "Such Sweet Thunder" (1957), based on Shakespeare. His "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" with a rocking saxophone interval by Paul Gonsalves in 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 greatly increased his fame and drawing power. He also wrote for films, starting with Black and Tan Fantasy in 1929, but also Anatomy of a Murder (1959) with James Stewart, in which he appeared as a bandleader, and Paris Blues (1961), which featured Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as Jazz musicians. Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but was turned down. His reaction: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be famous too young." [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Duke Ellington.]