This month we celebrate the songwriting career of one of America’s greatest, and most prolific, songwriters: Edward Kenney “Duke” Ellington.
Duke Ellington was born in Washington, DC on April 29, 1899. He died in New York on May 24, 1974.
I won’t presume to write a biographical summary of Duke Ellington. If biographical information is what you’re after, I recommend his official website at dukeellington.com.
What I do want to address over the month is not one his extraordinary gift as a composer, but as one of the great bandleaders of the 20th century. In spite of being fired from Columbia, the death of his collaborator and close friend Billy Strayhorn, and the changing tastes in music, Ellington not only managed to keep his orchestra going, he kept it going until, literally, his last breath. The end of swing era marked the end of many of great bands, but Ellington not only hung on but created some of his finest compositions and recreated himself at his legendary Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 with the still-amazing “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” feature a 27-chorus solo from Paul Gonsalves that takes my breath away.
As we feature the music of Duke Ellington performed by Tony Bennett, we’ll also be playing some of Ellington’s performances as well. We hope you enjoy listening and, to quote the great Duke: “We love you madly.”
As a special treat, here’s that 1956 recording from the Newport Jazz Festival. I think it’s the greatest piece of jazz music ever recorded. No fooling.