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Tom Ellingwood

Tom Ellingwood

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As one of the most celebrated, influential composers and bandleaders not just in jazz but in all of American music, Duke Ellington occupies a unique place in musical history. Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 28, 1899 in Washington, D.C. to a musical family, and began learning piano when he was seven years old. He started composing in his teens, and became interested in ragtime and early jazz. After playing in other bands, he started his own, The Duke's Serenaders, in 1917. In the 1920s he relocated to New York City, playing with the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra before leading his own band, The Washingtonians, and kicked off his recording career in 1924. In 1927, Ellington and company got a gig as the house band at Harlem hotspot The Cotton Club, under the name Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra, becoming a key component of the Harlem Renaissance era. The band's tenure there, which included live radio broadcasts, helped earn Ellington a nationwide reputation. During this period he upped his personnel to include 11 musicians, creating a signature sound heavily influenced by the styles of the individual members, at that time including trumpeters Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams, saxman...

As one of the most celebrated, influential composers and bandleaders not just in jazz but in all of American music, Duke Ellington occupies a unique place in musical history. Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 28, 1899 in Washington, D.C. to a musical family, and began learning piano when he was seven years old. He started composing in his teens, and became interested in ragtime and early jazz. After playing in other bands, he started his own, The Duke's Serenaders, in 1917. In the 1920s he relocated to New York City, playing with the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra before leading his own band, The Washingtonians, and kicked off his recording career in 1924. In 1927, Ellington and company got a gig as the house band at Harlem hotspot The Cotton Club, under the name Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra, becoming a key component of the Harlem Renaissance era. The band's tenure there, which included live radio broadcasts, helped earn Ellington a nationwide reputation. During this period he upped his personnel to include 11 musicians, creating a signature sound heavily influenced by the styles of the individual members, at that time including trumpeters Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams, saxman Johnny Hodges, and clarinetist Barney Bigard. During this period, the band released milestone recordings like "Black and Tan Fantasy," "Creole Love Call," and "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." By 1931, the band had departed the Cotton Club and was billed as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, boasting 14 players. Singer Ivie Anderson came aboard in 1932. Some of Ellington's most timeless tunes emerged from this era, like "Sophisticated Lady," "Mood Indigo," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Ellington's band became an international phenomenon in the '30s. By decade's end he was affiliated with Billy Strayhorn, who would become an invaluable partner in writing and arranging. In the years to come, Ellington would continue expanding his vision, incorporating everything from classical to sacred music into his work. He continued working right up until his death from lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974 in New York City.

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