1899 - Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington born on April 29 in Washington, D.C.
1933 - Ellington's first trip abroad was for a European Tour in June and July. Ellington was surprised how well he was regarded in Europe.
1935 - Ellington's mother died on May 27. He wrote "Reminiscing In Tempo," his longest work to date, in her memory.
1967 - Billy Strayhorn died on May 31.
1969 - Ellington was given the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, the highest honor the U.S. Government can give, by President Nixon on April 29 - Ellington's 70th Birthday.
1974 - Ellington died May 24.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) - Movie with score by Ellington, directed by Otto Preminger, and starring James Stewart. Ellington appears briefly.
ANDERSON, Ivie (1905-1949) - Ellington's vocalist from 1931 to 1942 and one of his best. She was also in the Marx Brother's Movie "A Day At The Races," in which she sings "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm."
ANDERSON, William "Cat" (1916-1981) - "Cat" Anderson was a glory of Ellington's trumpet section from 1950-1971. He was capable of hitting very high notes, but he played wonderful ballads as well.
ASCAP BOYCOTT - Ellington was a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). This organization served the important function of collecting royalties for the broadcast or public performance of music in order to pay the composer. In March 1940, ASCAP requested an increase in the licensing fee for the radio broadcast of music composed by its members. Rather than pay the higher fee, radio stations set up their own licensing company BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated). Without royalties Ellington could not keep his Orchestra going. He needed a completely new book of music. Billy Strayhorn and Mercer Ellington, who were not members of ASCAP, were set to work at once composing new pieces. This was a great opportunity for Strayhorn and the younger Ellington. They composed many fine pieces during the boycott. By the end of 1941, ASCAP and the networks had come to terms and Ellington was again receiving royalties for his compositions.
ASHBY, Harold (1925- ) - Harold Ashby played tenor sax for Ellington from 1968-1974. Ashby was quite a player who earned his chops in blues bands in the late 1940s (in Kansas City) and in the early 1950s (in Chicago). He played with Walter Brown and well as others before joining Ellington.
BECHET, Sidney (1897-1959) - Bechet was only briefly in the Ellington band in the mid-1920s. So briefly, he never recorded with Ellington, but Ellington credits Bechet with helping to turn his band toward jazz. Bechet was born in New Orleans and died in Paris.
BELLSON, Louis (1924- ) - Bellson was Ellington's drummer from 1951-53. Bellson also worked with Goodman, Dorsey, James, Basie, and Pearl Bailey.
BEYOND CATEGORY - Ellington used this phrase to denote very high praise. Ellington himself disliked being placed into categories such as jazz.
BIGARD, Barney (1906-1980) - Bigard was Ellington clarinetist from 1928-42. He later worked with Louis Armstrong.
BLACK, BROWN AND BEIGE - Ellington's first very long work, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943.
BLANTON, Jimmie (1918-1942) - Blanton was with Ellington from 1939-42. This young player revolutionized bass playing before his untimely death.
BLANTON-WEBSTER BAND - The Ellington Orchestra of 1940 and 1941 featuring Jimmie Blanton (bass) and Ben Webster (tenor).
BRAUD, Wellman (1891-1966) - Ellington's bassist from 1927-35.
BROWN, Lawrence (1907-1988) - Ellington's trombonist from 1932-51 and again from 1960-70.
CARNEGIE HALL - Ellington began a series of annual concerts at Carnegie Hall in January 1943. The 1943 concert premiered Ellington's first very long work, "Black, Brown and Beige."
CARNEY, Harry (1910-1974) - Aside from Ellington himself, Harry Carney had the longest stint in the Ellington orchestra, playing baritione sax from 1927-1974.
CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK - Ellington's first feature film from 1930.
COTTON CLUB - The Ellington Orchestra played the Cotton Club from December 1927 to January 1931. During this time, Ellington became world famous. He composed a series of international hits beginning with "Dreamy Blues" (later retitled "Mood Indigo"). There were also weekly radio broadcasts of Ellington's music from the Cotton Club. Ellington returned to the Cotton Club in 1933 and again in 1937-38.
COX, Baby - Baby Cox was a guest vocalist, famous for singing "The Mooche."
DIMINUENDO AND CRESCENDO IN BLUE - Gonslaves' 28 chorus solo in this work at the 1956 NEWPORT Jazz Festival is the most famous solo in all of Ellingtonia.
DUKE - Edward Kennedy Ellington acquired the nickname "Duke" while still a schoolboy for his regal bearing and elegant dress.
DUKE ELLINGTON SOCIETIES - There are Duke Ellington societies all over the world. The Duke Ellington Society of Washington, D.C. is the oldest, meeting continuously since 1955.
EATING - Richard O. Boyer, in a 1944 New Yorker article reprinted in Mark Tucker's The Duke Ellington Reader, tells this wonderful story about Ellington eating: "Duke, who is always worrying about keeping his weight down, may announce that he intends to have nothing but Shredded Wheat and black tea. When his order arrives, he looks at it glumly, then bows his head and says grace. After he has finished his snack, his expression of virtuous determination slowly dissolves into wistfulness as he watches Strayhorn eat a steak. Duke's resolution about not overeating frequently collapses at this point. When it does, he orders a steak, and after finishing it he engages in another moral struggle for about five minutes. Then he really begins to eat. He has another steak, smothered in onions, a double portion of fried potatoes, a salad, a bowl of sliced tomatoes, a giant lobster and melted butter, coffee, and an Ellington dessert -- perhaps a combination of pie, cake, ice cream, custard, pastry, jello, fruit, and cheese. His appetite really whetted, he may order ham and eggs, a half-dozen pancakes, waffles and syrup, and some hot biscuits. Then determined to get back on his diet, he will finish, as he began, with Shredded Wheat and black tea."
ELLINGTON-BLANTON DUETS - Ellington and bassist Jimmie Blanton recorded a series of duets in November 1939 and again in October 1940. The later series of duets produced the masterpiece "Pitter Panther Patter."
ELLINGTON EFFECT - Strayhorn's phrase to describe the attributes of Ellington's music. Even though Ellington's music was almost infinitely varied, you can generally recognize the Ellington touch almost instantly.
FARGO - Perhaps the best recording of an Ellington live performance was made in Fargo, North Dakota on November 7, 1940 by Dick Burris and Jack Towers, the latter a member of the Duke Ellington Society of Washington, D.C.
GOD'S TROMBONES - The greatest trombone section ever featured Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Juan Tizol, and Lawrence Brown.
GONSALVES, Paul (1920-1974) - Ellington's great tenor man, Paul Gonslves, played in the orchestra from 1950-1974. He was most famous for his long solo on "Diminuedno and Crescendo In Blue" at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Gonsalves, a hard drinker, died only a few weeks before Ellington, but no one had the heart to tell Ellington. I can imagine Ellington's surprize upon meeting Gonsalves within the pearly gates. "Paul, what are you doing here?" "Duke, you won't believe it. I haven't had a drink in weeks."
GREAT JAMES ROBBERY - After Ellington lost Johnny Hodges and Sonny Greer in 1951, he hired three players from the Harry James Orchestra -- Willie Smith on alto, Louis Bellson on drums, and Juan Tizol returned to play valve trombone. Not to worry, Hodges eventually returned in 1955.
GREER, Sonny (c1895-1982) - Ellington's drummer from 1923-1951. A friend of Ellington's in the early Washington, D.C. days. Greer left the band to care for his wife.
GROWL AND PLUNGER - Bubber Miley, Ellington's first great soloist, would use his voice to make his trumpet growl. Miley also used mutes and plungers extensively to alter the sound of his trumpet. Miley taught this technique to trombonist Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, who in turn taught it to Cootie Williams. There was always a growl trumpet chair in the Ellington Orchestra.
GUY, Fred (1897-1971) - Fred Guy played banjo and guitar in the Ellington orchestra from 1925-49.
HALL, Adelaide (c1904-1993) - A guest vocalist famous for singing "Creole Love Call."
HAMILTON, Jimmy (1917-1994) - Ellington's clarinetist from 1943-1968.
HARDWICK, Otto (1904-1970) - Toby Hardwick played alto sax for Ellington from 1923-28 and again from 1932-46. Hardwick and Ellington knew each other in the early days in Washington, D.C.
HIBBLER, Al (1915-2001) - Al Hibbler was Ellington's vocalist from 1944-1950. Perhaps his best performance was "I Like The Sunrise" from the "Liberian Suite" in 1947. Sinatra also sang "I Like The Sunrise" and later apologized to Hibbler because no one could do it as well as "Hibbs."
HODGES, Johnny (1907-1970) - Ellington's greatest soloist, Johnny Hodges played a lush alto for Ellington from 1928-51 and again from 1955-70.
HOLIDAY, Billie (1915-1959) - Billie Holiday first sang with the Ellington orchestra in the film Symphony In Black from 1934.
JEFFRIES, Herb (1916- ) - Ellington's vocalist from 1940-42 and also a film star. Especially famous for "Flamingo."
JONES, Rufus (1936-1990) - Rufus "Speedy" Jones was Ellington's drummer from 1966-72. His performances in the "Far East Suite" and the "Afro-Eurasian Eclipse" are especially noteworthy.
JUMP FOR JOY - A musical revue that featured Ellington in 1941.
JUNGLE MUSIC - The style of music that Ellington played in the 1920s has been called Jungle Music. The name was derived from the exotic dancers and stage sets at the Cotton Club as much as the jungle qualities of Ellington's music.
LOVE YOU MADLY - At performances, Ellington would tell the audience "Love You Madly" in many languages. "Love You Madly" is also the name of the Ellington discussion group on the Internet.
MILEY, Bubber (1903-1932) - Bubber Miley, along with Sidney Bechet, turned the Ellington orchestra away from sweet dance music to the more serious music that would make them famous. Miley was in the band from 1923-29 and pioneered the growl and plunger style of playing that would always be an element of the Ellington sound.
MILLS, Irving (1884-1985) - Ellington's manager in the early days.
MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS - Ellington's autobiography. Essential reading for any fan.
NANCE, Ray (1913-1976) - Ray Nance was in the band from 1940-66. He played trumpet and violin. He sang. He even danced. He certainly earned the nickname "Floorshow."
NANTON, Joe "Tricky Sam" (1904-1946) - Ellington's trombonist from 1926-46.
NEW YORK - Ellington left his hometown of Washington, D.C. for New York in 1923. Ellington became world famous during his Cotton Club engagement from 1927-31. In later years, Ellington was on the road so often that he would say, "My home is on the road. New York is just where I keep my mailbox."
NEWPORT - Ellington's performance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 8, 1956 featured a famous solo by tenor man Paul Gonsalves on "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue," a new work, the "Newport Jazz Festival Suite," and a rousing "Jeep's Blues" featuring Johnny Hodges. The performance also produced Ellington's best-selling LP, Ellington At Newport. These successes reinvigorated the Ellington Orchestra after the somewhat fallow period of 1951-1955.
NIXON, Richard - Richard Nixon gave Ellington the Presidential Medal Of Freedom on April 29, 1969 in a grand ceremony at the While House.
PARIS BLUES (1961) - Movie with score by Ellington, starring Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, Joanne Woodward, and Louis Armstrong.
PETTIFORD, Oscar (1922-1960) - Ellington's bassist from 1945-48.
PIANO PLAYER - Ellington often referred to himself simply as the "piano player."
PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM - Ellington was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by Richard Nixon in a ceremony at the White House on April 19, 1969.
PROCOPE, Russell (1908-1981) - Russell Procope played alto sax and clarinet for Ellington from 1946-74.
PROHIBITION - 1919-1933.
RECORDING BAN - The Musicians Union imposed a recording ban from August 1942 until November 1944. This interrupted Ellington at one of his most creative periods. No studio recordings were made by anybody during this time. Only a few Ellington recordings were made during the ban: radio shows, victory discs, and concerts. There was a second recording ban in 1948.
SMALL GROUP SESSIONS - Ellington featured several of his prominent sidemen in fabulous small group sessions from 12/36 to 9/41. These recordings were released under names such as "Rex Stewart and His Fifty-Second Street Stompers," "Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters," "Cootie Williams and His Rug Cutters," and "Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra."
STEWART, Rex (1907-1967) - Rex Stewart played cornet for Ellington from 1934-45.
STRAYHORN, Billy (1915-1967) - Billy Strayhorn was Ellington's composing and arranging partner for almost 30 years from 1938-67.
STRIDE PIANO - In his early days, Ellington learned by imitating the stride pianists, especially Willie "The Lion" Smith and James P. Johnson. The style is characterized by a strong left hand played rhythmically. In later years, Ellington was pleased to hear that classically trained pianists had trouble playing the left hand in his compositions.
SUITES - Ellington's longer works were often titled Suites and this term can be used as a shorthand to refer to all of his longer compositions.
SYMPHONY IN BLACK - A 1934 short film featuring Ellington and a then unknown teenaged vocalist named Billie Holiday.
TERRY, Clark (1920- ) - Clark Terry played trumpet and flugelhorn for Ellington from 1951-59. Before Ellington, Terry had played with Charlie Barnet and Count Basie. He was also know for his "mumbling" scat singing.
THREE HIGH-WATER MARKS - Ellington criticism generally agrees that there were three high-water marks in Ellington's career. The first was the Cotton Club band (1927-1931). The second was the Blanton-Webster band (1940-1941). The third was the Post-Newport band (1956-1972). Critics are always bickering about which of the three periods was Ellington's greatest, usually professing admiration for the period in which they first discovered Ellington (Keith Richards - of the Rolling Stones - suggests that most people like best the kind of music that was popular when they first got laid). You should decide for yourself which Ellington period you like best or if you like them all equally. After all, dividing Ellington's work into periods is creating categories and, as we all know, Ellington was beyond category.
THREE CAREERS - Ellington combined the three careers of musician, bandleader and composer better than anyone else in the history of music.
TIME MAGAZINE - Ellington appeared on the cover of Time Magazine on August 20, 1956, shortly after the 1956 Newport performance. It has often been assumed that the appearance at Newport prompted Time to put Ellington on its cover, but in fact the cover was planned before the Newport Festival. Ellington was only the third jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time, the first was Louis Armstrong in 1949 and the second was Dave Brubeck in 1954.
TIMNER - William E. Timner's "Ellingtonia: The Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and His Sidemen" is the standard work on Ellington's recorded music.
TIZOL, Juan (1900-1984) - Ellington's trombonist from 1929-44, 1951-53, and 1960-61.
VOCALISTS - If Ellington had a weakness, it was in his selection of vocalists. Robb Holmes, on his Internet site Rude Interlude, offers the best explanation I have read about this Ellington oddity: "Ellington had his imperfections, both personally and musically. It has been noted by others that his vocalists rarely lived up to the high standards of his instrumentalists. Many writers have wondered at this, but Duke explained it, perhaps unwittingly, in his memoirs. When he discusses singers, Duke repeatedly picks one aspect for praise: "a tribute to her diction and articulation" (Joya Sherrill)... "every word was understandable" (Betty Roche)... "I should mention first his clear, understandable enunciation" (Al Hibbler)... "his perfect enunciation of the words gave the blues a new dimension" (Joe Williams). Diction was all-important to Ellington. In his memoirs, he recounts how Miss Boston, the principal of his elementary school, "would explain the importance of proper speech.... When we went out into the world, we would have the grave responsibility of being practically always on stage.... She taught us that proper speech and good manners were our first obligations, because as representatives of the Negro race we were to command respect for our people." He learned his lesson well, and he applied it to his singers." There were, however, several fine vocalists in the band (Ivie Anderson, Joya Sherrill, Herb Jeffries, and Al Hibbler). Moreover, Ellington often had first rate guest vocalists (Adelaide Hall, Baby Cox, Bing Crosby, The Mills Brothers, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mahalia Jackson). Often overlooked is the fact that some of Ellington's musicians were also capable vocalists (Sonny Greer, Louis Bacon, Cootie Williams, and most especially Ray Nance).
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 1899. Washington, D.C. is also, quite appropriately, the home of the oldest Duke Ellington society, which has been meeting continuously since 1955.
WASHINGTONIANS - The name of Ellington's first band was the Washingtonians. Ellington went through a confusing array of names, especially in the 1920s and 1930s when he was recording for many different record companies at the same time. Some of the other names used were "Sunny & the D C'NS," "The Hotsy Totsy Gang," "The Whopee Makers," "The Jungle Band," "Joe Turner and His Memphis Men," "The Harlem Footwarmers," "The Ten Black Berries," "Harlem Hot Chocolates," and "Earl Jackson and His Musical Champions." As you can imagine, sorting out the Ellington catalog was a formidable task, but that work has been done for us (see TIMNER).
WEBSTER, Ben (1909-1973) - Ben Webster was the first great tenor player in the Ellington orchestra. He was only in the band from 1940-43, but he left his mark. He was followed in the tenor chair by two great tenor players, Al Sears and Paul Gonsalves.
WHETSEL, Arthur (1905-1940) - Artie Whetsel played trumpet for Ellington in 1923 and again from 1928-36. Whetsel knew Ellington in the early days in Washington, D.C.
WILLIAMS, Cootie (1911-1985) - Cootie Williams played trumpet for Ellington from 1929-40 and again from 1962-74.
WOODYARD, Sam (1925-1988) - Sam Woodyard was Ellington's drummer from 1955-66.