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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Essay on The Life and Times of Duke Ellington

Essay on The Life and Times of Duke Ellington
Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.
                                          -Duke Ellington


One of the most major forces that shaped and developed the Jazz and American music is Duke Ellington. He is known to bring Jazz in its renowned form today. As a form of music, Jazz might have started out in a chaos and rough arrangements, but it is through the improvisation of Ellington’s compositions that finally it reached its perfect moments. He was able to put jazz at its peak where it served to be a symbol of the genuine expressions of American ideas and stories. As a genius composer, pianist and band leader who arranged thousands of compositions in a very innovative manner, he was able to tell the evolution of the American musical story throughout the world.

Early Life and Career
            Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 and was raised by both musically inclined parents in a middle class neighborhood of Washington DC. He was the second child of James Edward and Daisy Ellington. The heart of the Ellington’s home was their entertainment room where their prized piano sat at the center. Edward’s childhood days during the early 1900’s were spent mostly around family, relative and friends who gather round to play the piano and sing together. Both his parents played the piano and sing the current popular songs at that time. Being exposed at such musical environment, Edward as a child also enjoyed the music and started to play the piano and sing at home and in church. As he got older, he started to love listening to the rag pianists playing in the soda cafĂ©’s and fountains (Crease 3-4). Because of his gentlemanly ways even at the age of 7, he was then called by his friends as “Duke”. Duke as his nickname then lingered. He became more and more interested in the popular music that he hears around his neighborhood that he started to play the piano and imitate the styles and the songs of the pianists that he listened to. At the of 15, he already wrote his first composition entitled “Soda Fountain Rag”. He was then awarded an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn but then he chose to follow his passion for music and began to professionally play the piano at the age of 17 (bio.True Story). 

In the 1920’s he began performing in the Broadway night clubs as a sextet’s band leader which then grew into a 10- piece ensemble. In 1923, he went to New York where he became known as one of the most successful band leaders.  Together with his band, Duke was able to make hundred of music recordings. It was in the 1940’s where Duke’s fame rose to the top when he composed iconic jazz masterworks including "Cotton Tail", "Ko-Ko and "Concerto For Cootie”. Some of his popular songs during that time includes ""It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing," Satin Doll” and "Prelude to a Kiss."

Music and Legacy
            As a great musician and a composer, Duke was able to achieve popular success through his significant music. His music arrangements are very remarkable that they were able to achieve high reverence even at the most respected musicians at that time. These musical compositions then become standards and icons of the jazz music. But as a composer, Duke is very innovative that he is not contented in playing his songs the same ways over again. He love to constantly rearrange and modernize his style. He used varieties and combinations of tones, scales, harmonies ad instruments that made his music very mind blowing. It was his musical drama that made him stand out more. He was able to move people with his blends of rhythms, sonic movement and melodies. With his music, people were able to feel his new and complex experience of jazz. His music focused around the central theme of the different aspects of African-American life which then further made people and audience hearts swing. 

            All throughout his career, Ellington  received 12 Grammy Awards. He was also awarded the Springarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1959. The Yale University also awarded him a doctor of music degree in 1967. He was also given a medal of freedom by president Richard Nixon. During the 1964, he was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (Encyclopedia of World Bibliography). 

            Aside from achieving a lot of awards and recognitions for his music, the Duke’s legacy will always be remembered as that of the great musician and composer who made daring innovations in his music. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest talents in jazz who built his music unconventional constructions and unexpected places. Duke’s music will always inspire people of all ages everywhere to be more creative and bold in pursuing their passion.

Crease, Stephanie S. Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz with 21 Activities. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009.

Encyclopedia of World Bibliography. Duke Ellington Bibliography. 2013. Web. 7 Jul 2013 <>.

Bio. Rue Story. Duke Ellington Bibliography. 2013. Web. 7 Jul 2013 <>.

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