Duke Ellington Critical Analysis
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader. Duke Ellington was thought to be one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music. After his death in 1974, he became even more popular. He even received a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board. Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz.
He liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category”. Those belonging to this group included many of the musicians who served with his orchestra. Some of his band members were among the giants of jazz and performed with Ellington’s orchestra for decades. It was Duke Ellington, however, who melded them into one of the most well-known orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals.
Some of these songs included “Jeep’s Blues” for Johnny Hodges, “Concerto for Cootie” (“Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me”) for Cootie Williams and “The Mooche” for Tricky Sam Nanton. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and “Perdido” which brought the “Spanish Tinge” to big-band jazz. After 1941, he began to collaborate with composer-arranger Billy Strayhorn. Ellington often referred to Billy Strayhorn as his “alter-ego”. Duke Ellington is considered one of the 20th century’s best-known artists.
He also recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films. Ellington and his orchestra toured the United States and Europe regularly before and after World War II. He led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son, Mercer Ellington, continued touring with the band until his death from cancer in 1996. Paul Ellington, Mercer’s youngest son, took over the orchestra in 1996. After his mother’s passing, Paul Ellington took over the estate of Duke and Mercer Ellington.
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