Duke Ellington - Jazz Royalty
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington became one of the most influential artists in the annals of recorded music, and is overwhelmingly recognized as among the greatest figures in the history of jazz.
As a composer he penned an inexhaustible oeuvre in jazz and beyond, including blues, gospel, movie soundtracks, popular and classical. Many of his jazz hits became standards of the American songbook. Among them are "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)", "In A Sentimental Mood", "Prelude To A Kiss" and (co-composed with friend and artistic co-director Billy Strayhorn) "Take The 'A' Train".
As a bandleader for almost 50 years - with many members remaining loyal to him for most of their careers - he skillfully played to their individual improvisational strengths to showcase them, and his endless flow of new compositions. It has been said that Ellington knew how to "play the orchestra" as if it were his own piano - with delicate, precise harmony and timing.
He was an excellent jazz pianist - solo and accompanist to the orchestra - who could say much with a few choice note combinations.
After an early move from Washington, D.C. to New York, Ellington's band grew into an orchestra fixture, gaining huge national exposure through live network radio broadcasts of their engagements at the Cotton Club in Harlem for 3 years, and later elsewhere in Midtown Manhattan. The whole phenomenon gave Ellington the financial security to assemble a top-notch orchestra, whose tours of the US and Europe created a sensation.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Ellington Orchestra was able to make the transition from hot jazz of the 1920s to the swing music of the 1930s. Their ability to adapt and grow with the times kept the Ellington Orchestra a major vital force until Ellington's passing in 1974.
Duke Ellington's compositional legacy, constant touring performances of crisp arrangements and 47 year discography contributed mightily to raising jazz to a new status of respectability.