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March 8, 1999 - March 21, 1999
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The Duke, Still King of Swing

 

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By Nino Padova
Guardsman Staff Writer
Published Mar. 8, 1999

 

April 29, 1999 marks the centennial of the birth of Duke Ellington, one of America’s most prolific and widely recognized composers of the 20th century.

Born Edward Kennedy Ellington in the Northwest section of Washington to a musical middle-class family, Duke was playing piano by the time he was eight-years old. In the sixty-seven years that followed, Ellington set forth a legacy that includes almost 2,000 musical compositions ranging in forms from big band swing and ragtime to the blues.

In 1927, Duke took a job in Harlem’s whites-only Cotton Club where he was famous for creating the "jungle sound," a mix of orchestral jazz with the vocal aspect of the New Orleans style.

Famous for its supporting cast of sidemen, The Duke Ellington Orchestra was home to some of the best musicians the jazz world had to offer. For five decades, names like Rex Stewart, Bubber Miley, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer and Billy Strayhorn were part of a road playing machine that endured everything from world wars to the great depression.

Duke’s true genius was his ability to integrate diverse cultural and musical ideas into his arrangements in such a fashion that would appeal to people of different races and classes. This became known as total jazz.

In addition to writing for film and television, Ellington’s enormous body of work includes recordings with John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Charles Mingus and an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

In 1965, nine years before his death, Duke received the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed on an American civilian.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth, jazz great Wynton Marsalis will be touring with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra presenting a broad sampling of Ellington’s work titled, "America in Rhythm and Tune." They’ll be at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium March 17 at 8 p.m.

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Copyright 1996-1998 City College of San Francisco. All rights reserved.  Articles by Guardsman staff writers are copyright by The Guardsman, a student-run publication of the Journalism Department of City College of San Francisco.  Material supplied by the College Press Service is used under license from that organization.  Material reprinted from City Currents is used with the permission of the Public Information Office, City College of San Francisco.