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Duke Ellington: The Early Years

                                  -Page 1-

Duke Ellington, also known as Edward Kennedy Ellington, was born on April 
29, 1899 in Washington D.C., where he spent nearly one-third of his life.  
Daisy Kennedy Ellington, Duke's mother, was a soft-spoken woman who was 
born in 1879 in Washington D.C. as well.  She had grown up in a middle-class 
family and had also completed her high school career, an accomplishment 
that was outstanding at that time in history.  In all respects, Daisy had 
grown up in a reputable and well-established family, and passed on much 
of her own upbringing to her son, Edward.  

As a child, Daisy always made sure that Edward was always confident about 
hisself and also about his abilities by her constant encouragement.  For 
Daisy, Edward was the light of her life and never had to want for anything.  
As stated by John Edward Hasse in his biography on Duke Ellington, "Daisy 
undoubtedly hoped that her son would be able to rise above the troubles 
and make a better life for himself" (22).  Ellington, in return, also 
devoutly loved his mother and spent his life in search of her happiness 
and approval.

His father, James Edward Ellington, was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina 
in 1879.  Along with many other southern blacks, James had migrated north 
in search of more opportunities and better living conditions, and had 
settled in Washington D.C.  Unlike the woman who was to become his wife,
he had not completed high school, but instead had stopped short of 
completing the eighth grade.  Throughout the late 1890s and up until around 
1920, James held a number of odd jobs, including a driver, a butler and 
even a caterer.  James made sure that his family always lived as if they
were millionaires, complete with "cut glass and silver, with lace curtains
in the living room.  This was a refined, cultivated household..." (Hasse 23).

Between 1898 and 1921, James and the family moved to several different 
locations, all of which were in Northwest Washington, which was the area in
which the upstanding citizens of the District of Columbia all lived.  From 
both of his parents, Edward learned many of the traits of a "cultured" person, 
including how to choose the proper utensils at a dinner table.  He greatly 
admired his father and picked up much of his characteristics, especially his 
reputation for having a "way with the ladies," which would manifest itself in 
his later years.  Hasse stated in his biography, "young Ellington was a natural 
aristocrat--in bearing, manners, taste, dress, and self-confidence.  Cultivating 
airs and graces, and foreshadowing his future relationships with women, he even 
had his female cousins bow down to him as a sign of respect" (24).

Both of Edward's parents played the piano:  his father played operatic arias by 
ear and his mother played parlor songs and rags by note.  It was in Edward's early
childhood that he learned the true power of music, to cause strong feelings and to
uplift the spirit.  It was also here that Edward begun to truly appreciate music
as well as begin to develop an affinity for the art.

The Development of a Music Legend

                                 -Page 2-

As a young man, Ellington displayed talent in several different arts, and had
to choose which path he would follow as an adult.  Ellington learned developed 
liking for the ragtime music which was so popular during his teenage years.  
He taught himself to play the piano by listening, watching and imitating others.  
According to Ellington, " on the piano you could develop your own musical,
physical, and visual style" (Hasse).  The first piece he ever composed was 
entitled "Soda Fountain Rag" (also known as Poodle Dog Rag), which he wrote
while working as a soda jerk in the Poodle Dog Cafe.  This attracted him some 
attention, though he never wrote it down.   

The next piece he composed he called "What You gonna Do When the Bed Breaks
Down?"  This song had particular appeal for Ellington's teenage audiences, 
who enjoyed the bawdy nature of the song.  It was in 1913 Edgar McEntree,
a friend, "looked at Ellington's polite manners, fashionable clothes, and 
aristocratic bearing and nicknamed him 'Duke'" (38).  It was this very same
friend that encouraged Ellington to play a song for the seniors' dance, which
was a great success.  From this point on, he was in heavy demand as a pianist
at various social functions.  Since he needed new pieces for his performances,
Duke began recycling and changing the few pieces he did know, so that his
audience often thought he had a real repertoire.  This typified one of his
most fundamental principles of compositions which was reusing older material
in new contexts.  

One of his greatest influences during this very formative period in his life
in addition to Louis Brown, was Oliver "Doc" Perry, who was a popular Washington 
bandleader.  Perry took the time to teach Duke how to read music and became a 
"piano parent" to the budding musician.  After a while in his apprenticeship, 
Perry began asking Duke to play in his place at various events, and soon after
he began to play in different clubs and cafes in black Washington.  

In February 1917 Ellington dropped out of high school three months short of 
graduation in order to pursue his career as a professional musician.  In
his early days, he would work during the day painting signs and posters, even
opening a sign-painting business, and by night he would perform music.  His
first musical positions were in the ensembles of Washington bandleaders Louis
Thomas, Russell Wooding, and others.  

Duke's next step in becoming a "real" professional musician was beginning his own
group in late 1917 or early 1918 known as The Duke's serenaders.  Initially
this group was comprised of two to four players, with Ellington on the piano, drums,
banjo or guitar, and a saxophonist.  From then on, Ellington's popularity continued
to increase, and he began taking further steps, which included becoming his own
booking manager, in order to avoid unneccessary fees.

By 1919 Duke had accomplished enough to buy his own car and house, which was an
important step for him since marrying Edna Thompson on July 2, 1918.  On March
11, 1919 they had a son, named Mercer Kennedy Ellington.

His band continued to gain more recognition and in latter years would become a 
regular at such places as the Howard Theatre, where he would many connections,
including meeting Juan Tizol, a Puerto Rican trombonist who would later join
Ellington in his orchestra.  By the early 1920s, Duke and his band were
playing a wide array of engagements, for a wide array of crowds.  This would
prepare him for later years and future performances.


Highlights of Duke's Career

                                 -Page 3-

Duke's career began to really grow and expand after his friend, William 
Greer, after being asked to join vaudeville bandleader Wilbur Sweatman in
February 1923 in New York as a new drummer, accepted the position on the 
premise that Sweatman also hired Otto Hardwick and Ellington.  After some
thought, Duke decided to accept the job, especially since he wanted to take 
his art form to a new level.  It was there that Duke became "a key figure
of the cultural awakening of Harlem" (Hasse 64).  After Sweatman and his band
decided to go off on tour, Duke decided to remain in New York and attempt to
create a niche for himself.  Unfortunately, at this time Duke was not able
to be the success he wanted to be, and therefore decided to head back to 
Washington D.C. in order to rethink his position.  Following this initial 
rough period, Ellington was able to struggle through and increase his 
popularity, as well as build his band, which would go on to include some
of the greatest talents in jazz.

Ellington's career as a bandleader lasted more than fifty years; during at 
least forty-five of which he was a public figure of some prominence. In the late 1920s, 
Duke attained the security and prestige of a residency at the Cotton Club, where the 
best black entertainers of the day worked for gangsters and performed for all-white 
audiences. Duke survived those years with his dignity intact, which was no small 
achievement, considering the stigmas attached to what he was doing.  Duke also
learned from his musicians, some of whom were then more skilled than he. By the 
end of the twenties, he had begun to experiment and develop as a composer and 
arranger, and he had several hits under his belt. Among those popular successes 
were some of his earliest masterpieces.  In the early thirties, he sharpened his 
skills, and made his first attempts at composing longer works.  Reworkings of his 
earliest successes, recorded in the middle of the decade, show the progress he had 
made. 

By the late thirties, he had assembled the best collection of players he ever had 
under his command at one time. One of the best times of Duke dates roughly from 
1938 to 1942. This span covers the brief tenure in the band of Jimmy Blanton, the 
young virtuoso of the string bass, as well as the residency of Ben Webster, Duke's 
first tenor saxophonist, who joined the ranks of musicians such as Johnny Hodges, 
Harry Carney, and Barney Bigard.  The trumpet section had Rex Stewart and Cootie 
Williams (replaced by Ray Nance in 1940). The trombones were Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, 
and Lawrence Brown, and Sonny Greer on drums. The piano player, of course, was Duke 
himself.

By 1943, Duke had begun a series of annual concerts at Carnegie Hall, as well 
as the regular production of extended, concert-length works, beginning with 
Black, Brown and Beige.  Billy Strayhorn, a brilliant young arranger who had 
joined the band in 1939, became increasingly important as Duke's principle 
collaborator in composition. 

Skin Deep, a 1952 album track featuring extended drum solos by Louis Bellson,
became a favorite demonstration record of early Hi- Fi aficionados. Certain 
older numbers, notably Rockin' in Rhythm, were accelerated to breakneck tempos, 
barely recognizable.  And then there was the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, signaling 
Johnny Hodges's triumphant return, and Paul Gonsalves's 28-chorus solo on
Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. Along with Duke's on the cover of Time magazine, later
that year, Newport '56 signaled the return of Duke Ellington as a musical force to be reckoned with.

Duke Ellington Orchestra Discography
------------------------------------

Title                   Recording Date    Recording       Company
                                          Location
                           
                                          
                                                            
Black And Tan Fantasy
                           10-26-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Black And Tan Fantasy (B)
                           11-3-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Black And Tan Fantasy (C)
                           11-3-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Black Beauty
                           3-26-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Blue Bubbles (1)
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Blue Bubbles (2)
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Chicago Stomp Down
                           11-3-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Creole Love Call
                           10-26-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Diga Diga Doo
                           7-10-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Doing The New Low-Down
                           7-10-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Got Everything But You
                           3-26-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Harlem River Quiver
   (Brown Berries)
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Harlem River Quiver
   (Brown Berries) (2)
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            French RCA
                                                            LP
Harlem River Quiver (3)
                           12-19-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            RCA Label X
Harlem Twist (East St.
   Louis Toodle-Oo)
                           1-19-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Hitting The Bottle (1)
                           10-2-1930
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Hitting The Bottle (2)
                           10-2-1930
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Hot And Bothered
                           10-1-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Jubilee Stomp
                           1-19-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Jubilee Stomp
                           3-26-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Memories Of You
                           10-2-1930
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
Move Over
                           10-1-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Old Man Blues
                           8-20-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Old Man Blues (A)
                           8-20-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Old Man Blues
                           8-26-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Ring Dem Bells
                           8-20-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Ring Dem Bells (A)
                           8-20-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Ring Dem Bells
                           8-26-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
Take It Easy
                           1-19-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
That Lindy Hop
                           10-2-1930
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
The Blues I Love To Sing
   (1)
                           10-26-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
The Mooche
                           10-1-1928
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
The Blues I Love To Sing
   (2)
                           10-26-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York

Three Little Words
                           8-26-1930
                                          Hollywood,
                                          California
                                                            Victor
What Can A Poor Fellow
   Do?
                           11-3-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Okeh
Washington Wobble (1)
                           10-6-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            French RCA
                                                            LP
Washington Wobble (2)
                           10-6-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            RCA Label X
Washington Wobble
                           10-26-1927
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor
You're Lucky To Me
                           10-2-1930
                                          New York, New
                                          York
                                                            Victor

"The Jungle Band" (aka Duke Ellington Orchestra) Discography
------------------------------------------------------------

Accordion Joe (A)
                             4-22-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Accordion Joe (B)
                             4-22-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Admiration
                             3-20-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Black And Blue
                             7-29-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Cincinnati Daddy
                             12-10-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Cotton Club Stomp (A)
                             4-22-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Cotton Club Stomp (B)
                             4-22-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Double Check Stomp
                             4-22-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Harlem Flat Blues
                             3-1-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Home Again Blues
                             10-27-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Jazz Convulsions
                             9-13-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Jolly Wog
                             9-13-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Jungle Jamboree
                             7-29-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Maori (Foxtrot)
                             2-21-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Maori (Rhumba) (A)
                             3-20-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Maori (Rhumba) (B)
                             3-20-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Mood Indigo (Dreamy Blues)
                             10-17-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Paducah
                             3-1-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Rent Party Blues
                             3-1-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Rockin' Chair
                             1-14-1931
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Rockin' In Rhythm
                             1-14-1931
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Runnin' Wild
                             10-17-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Sweet Mama
                             12-10-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Twelfth Street Rag
                             1-14-1931
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Wall Street Wail (A)
                             12-10-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Wall Street Wail (B)
                             12-10-1929
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
Wang Wang Blues
                             10-27-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
When You're Smiling (A)
                             3-20-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick
When You're Smiling (B)
                             3-20-1930
                                            New York, New York
                                                                Brunswick



Links to Duke on the Web (Page 4)

Artists: Duke Ellington
The Edward Kennedy Ellington Pages
Duke Ellington Timeline
A Duke Ellington Panorama
TDES: A Duke Ellington Appreciation
Duke Ellington
Rude Interlude: A Duke Ellington Home Page
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
E! Online - Fact Sheet - Duke Ellington
The Duke Ellington Society
Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington
The Ellington Pages: Recordings and Films

This page was written and created by:

Danae Johnson
Music 074 - Introduction to Jazz
Professor Paul Jeffrey
Spring 1998



"Music is everything.  Music is the oldest entity....The scope of music is
immense and infinite....Without music I may feel blind, atrophied, 
incomplete, inexistent."

-Duke Ellington


Information for this paper were taken from the following sources:

Hasse, John Edward.  "Beyond Category:  The Life and Genius of Duke
     Ellington."  New York:  Da Capo P, 1995.

"Duke Ellington and His Orchestra:  Discography."  
     http://www.technoir.net/jazz/dukeo.html 

"The Jungle Band:  Discography." 
     http://www.technoir.net/jazz/jungle.html