Duke Ellington Term Paper

This essay has a total of 1756 words and 8 pages.

Duke Ellington


Duke Ellington is considered to be one of the greatest figures in the history of American
music. Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born in Washington D.C. on April 29, 1899.

His parents were James Edward and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They raised Duke as an only
child, until his sister, Ruth, was born when Duke was sixteen years old.

Duke, even as a teenager had a great talent for music. In the beginning of his musical
life, Duke began to take a promising interest in a new type of music that would later be
called jazz. Choosing to base his career on a new idea may not have been smart, but Duke
did take this chance and in turn became one of the most famous musicians in America.

Duke's first job was at a government office. He was a clerk who received the minimum wage
and was barely getting by. He would arrange dance bands for weddings and parties for extra
money. His mother taught him how to play the piano. Sometimes he put this knowledge to use
and played at a few of the dance parties and weddings.

After Duke's first job, he became more interested in painting and the arts. For a few
years he painted public posters. Duke then decided to put together his own band. At this
point in his life things started to change for the better for Duke, but not for long. In
those days, this new music was just beginning to develop and would later be given the name
of jazz. In that time it was considered to be low and vulgar because it was music that
grew directly out of the Black culture. In those early years, segregation was at one of
its all time worst points in history. I think that is why Duke Ellington was one of the
most important individuals to the growth and development of jazz.

During Duke's long career, the new music slowly spread out of bars and saloons, to dance
and nightclubs and then eventually onto the concert stage.

In time, jazz became a universally recognized form of art and has been said that it is the
only real form that has originated from the American soul.

By the 1960's Duke traveled the globe so many times that he became known as the unofficial
ambassador to the United States. Duke's band had played in Russia, Japan, Latin America,
the Far East, the Middle East, and Africa.

Duke, himself, was an elegant man. When the white people looked down on the black man and
his music, Duke managed to bring dignity to every one of his performances. Once, the jazz
historian Leonard Feather described Duke as, "an inch over six feet tall, sturdily built,
he had an innate grandeur that would have enabled him to step with unquenched dignity out
of a mud puddle."

Duke's private life was something of an enigma. Although he had many friends he never
really told them everything about himself. He would often guard his privacy probably
because he had so little of it. When he was alone though, he would almost always be
arranging the next tune for the band to play, and was always thinking or preparing
something for the band to do in the next performance.

Duke attracted some of the greatest musicians to join his band. Because of this it has
been said that many of Duke's pieces are almost impossible to exactly duplicate without
the personal style of the original musicians. One of the strange things that was known
about Duke was that his school music teacher, Mrs. Clink scales, who played the piano, was
always the inspiration for him to just sit down and start tinkering around with a few
notes that usually became big hits.

In his band the two, probably most famous musicians were the trumpeter Whetsol and the
saxophonist Hodges. As the band became more and more popular, saxophonist Hodges became
the highest paid performer in the United States.

The 1920's became known as "the Jazz Age" because jazz had hit its first great burst of
popularity. At that time Duke then added a young drummer named Sonny Greer. A few years
after Greer was hired, Duke's band hit a very rough spot. They were often stuck in the
street with no money and nowhere to go. Duke and his band often were stuck doing crude
recordings just for a few dollars to buy a meal.

In the autumn of 1927, luck had crossed paths with Duke again. The manager of Duke's band,
Irving Mills, had heard that the prestigious cotton club was looking for a new band and
immediately Irving began campaigning for Duke. Duke and his band opened on December 4,
1927 to meet a mad rush of spectators who eagerly waited to hear Dukes newest pieces.
Duke's band became very prosperous and they had their own spot on the Cotton Club floor
with special lighting and accommodations.

At the year of 1928 the band consisted of Bubber Miley, Freddy Jenkins, and Arthur Whetsol
on trumpet, joined with Tricky Sam Nanton, and Juan Tizol on trombone. Johnny Hodges, now
on alto sax, with Barney Bigard doubled on tenor sax and clarinet, and finally Harry
Carney at seventeen years old joined on Bari sax. Carney was known as one of the first
people in a band ever to use the Bari sax as a solo instrument.

While Duke's band was performing at the Cotton Club, his band participated in more than sixty-four recording sessions.
In 1931 Duke grew so tired of the show-business routines that he decided to try his luck
again on his own. When he arrived in New York his band grew to almost three times what it
originally had been at the Cotton Club. Duke feared that this would become a very serious
problem considering how the stock market crashed in late 1929 and millions of people
across the United States were out of work.

Somehow, though, most of the entertainment business survived the economic hardships.
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