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Essay/Term paper: A portrait of duke ellington by tracy frech

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Biography Term Papers

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A Portrait of Duke Ellington By Tracy Frech

Duke Ellington is considered to be one of the greatest figures in the history of
American music. Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born in Washington D.C. on
April 29, 1899. His parents were James Edward and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They
raised Duke as an only child, until his sister, Ruth, was born when Duke was
sixteen years old. Duke, even as a teenager, had a great talent for music. In
the beginning of his musical life, Duke began to take a promising interest in a
new type of music that would later be called jazz. Choosing to base his career
on a new idea may not have been smart, but Duke did take this chance and in turn
became one of the most famous musicians in America.

Duke's first job was at a government office. He was a clerk who received
the minimum wage and was barely getting by. He would arrange dance bands for
weddings and parties for extra money. His mother taught him how to play the
piano. Sometimes he put this knowledge to use and played at a few of the
dance parties and weddings. After Duke's first job, he became more interested
in painting and the arts. For a few years he painted public posters. Duke
then decided to put together his own band.

At this point in his life things started to change for the better for Duke,
but not for long. In those days, this new music was just beginning to develop and
would later be given the name of jazz. In that time it was considered to be low
and vulgar because it was music that grew directly out of the Black culture. In
those early years, segregation was at one of its all time worst points in
history. I think that is why Duke Ellington was one of the most
important individuals to the growth and development of jazz. During Duke's long
career, the new music slowly spread out of bars and saloons, to dance and night
clubs and then eventually onto the concert stage. In time, jazz became a
universally recognized form of art and has been said that it is the only real
form that has originated from the American soul. By the 1960's Duke traveled the
globe so many times that he became known as the unofficial ambassador to the
United States. Duke's band had played in Russia, Japan, Latin America, the Far
East, the Middle East, and Africa. Duke, himself, was an elegant man. When the
white people looked down on the black man and his music, Duke managed to bring
dignity to every one of his performances.

Once, the jazz historian Leonard Feather described Duke as, "an inch
over six feet tall, sturdily built, he had an innate grandeur that would have
enabled him to step with unquenched dignity out of a mud puddle." Duke's
private life was something of an enigma. Although he had many friends he
never really told them everything about himself. He would often guard his
privacy probably because he had so little of it. When he was alone though, he
would almost always be arranging the next tune for the band to play, and was
always thinking or preparing something for the band to do in the
next performance. Duke attracted some of the greatest musicians to join his band.
Because of this it has been said that many of Duke's pieces are almost
impossible to exactly duplicate without the personal style of the original
musicians. One of the strange things that was known about Duke was that his
school music teacher, Mrs. Clinkscales, who played the piano, was always the
inspiration for him to just sit down and start tinkering around with a few notes
that usually became big hits. In his band the two, probably most famous
musicians were the trumpeter Whetsol and the saxophonist Hodges. As the band
became more and more popular, saxophonist Hodges became the highest paid
performer in the United States.

The 1920's became known as "the Jazz Age" because jazz had hit its first
great burst of popularity. At that time Duke then added a young drummer named
Sonny Greer. A few years after Greer was hired, Duke's band hit a very
rough spot. They were often stuck in the street with no money and nowhere
to go. Duke and his band often were stuck doing crude recordings just for
a few dollars to buy a meal. In the Autumn of 1927, luck had crossed paths
with Duke again. The manager of Duke's band, Irving Mills, had heard that
the prestigious cotton club was looking for a new band and immediately Irving
began campaigning for Duke. Duke and his band opened on December 4, 1927 to
meet a mad rush of spectators who eagerly awaited to hear Dukes newest
pieces. Duke's band became very prosperous and they had their own spot on
the Cotton Club floor with special lighting and accommodations. At the
year of 1928 the band consisted of Bubber Miley, Freddy Jenkins, and Arthur
Whetsol on trumpet, joined with Tricky Sam Nanton, and Juan Tizol on trombone.
Johnny Hodges, now on alto sax, with Barney Bigard doubled on tenor sax and
clarinet, and finally Harry Carney at seventeen years old joined on bari sax.
Carney was known as one of the first people in a band ever to use the bari sax
as a solo instrument. While Duke's band was performing at the Cotton Club, his
band participated in more than sixty-four recording sessions.

In 1931 Duke grew so tired of the show-business routines that he decided
to try his luck again on his own. When he arrived in New York his band grew
to almost three times what it originally had been at the Cotton Club.
Duke feared that this would become a very serious problem considering how
the stock market crashed in late 1929 and millions of people across
the United States were out of work. Somehow, though, most of the entertainment
business survived the economic hardships. Ellington's band had appeared on
Broadway and had even gone to Hollywood to make a movie.

Duke's band was having a hard time performing in the south because of the
segregation laws not allowing blacks to eat in white restaurants or finding
accommodations that would allow blacks and whites to stay together in a half-
decent room. In 1932 Duke added a trombonist named Lawrence Brown. In the same
year, most of the other big bands were adding vocalists to their ensemble and
thus Duke felt pressured to do so too. Duke then hired a woman named Ivie
Anderson and quickly proved that he had done the right thing.

Then in 1933 his band got a chance to play in Europe. At first Duke
was very skeptical of how his music would be reacted to just because jazz
had it's roots in America and the Europeans had a very contrasting style of
music. The band managed to talk Duke into believing the idea was a good one.
The band's first stop was England. The band was amazed at how well informed
they were about their entire past. Even the Prince of Wales came to hear
the band play. At the time the prince was an amateur drummer and Sonny
Greer Showed the prince how to work the drum set and they played together
and in the end were calling each other "Sonny" and "The Wale". All the
concerts held in England were sellouts. The band then moved on to Scotland,
and then Paris, France where their music was greeted with open arms.

When Duke's band returned to America the band really began feeling the
hardship and sorrow of traveling on the road, being separated from loved
ones. Also, many of the band members, including Duke, began developing
drinking problems and started making some of the musicians lives miserable.
What made things worse was the fact that Duke's mother, Daisy, died in May
of 1935 that set Duke into a deep depression and he used to sit and stare
into space while he talked to himself. Fortunately though, those long pep-
talks with himself seem to snap Duke out of his depression. But despite
everything the band survived and in 1946 a saxophonist/clarinetist named
Russell Procope joined the band and brought everyone up to a new point of
view about traveling on the road. Around the time that Procope joined the
band Duke invented a new song called "Reminiscing in Tempo" and was not
looked upon favorably by critics but it did seem to sum everything up that
was written by Ellington from 1931 to 1939 in a combination of gladness,
sadness, triumph, and tragedy. But then Duke's friend Arthur Whetsol became
and had to leave the band. Then the future of the band seemed uncertain as
the depression continued and millions of people were still out of work.

Until around 1935 when the "Swing Era" hit the U.S. Irving Mills had then
formed his own record company in 1936 that boomed with popularity as the demand
for big bands playing this new swing music was in intense demand. Later on Duke
hired a lyrical writer named Billy Strayhorn that led a premature death in 1967.
But when Strayhorn was with the band he wrote many compositions that often went
into the band's book of music. Then in 1942 Duke hired one of the best tenor
saxophonists ever and let him play the first tenor sax solo ever arranged by
Duke Ellington.

In 1951 Saxophonist Johnny Hodges, trombonist Lawrence Brown,
and Sonny Greer left the band together and formed their own band but then in
1955 Sonny Greer returned to the band and stayed with Duke until his death in
1970. And then by the 1950's the Ellington band was carrying on almost alone. By
1972 the times and styles of the world no longer fit the old time style of Duke'
s band. The band was not known like it used to be and that could be the point in
time I suppose you could say that the band broke up. Duke Ellington's career
spanned the whole history of the birth of the music called jazz. And nowhere in
that glorious history is there a man who had more love for music, more respect
for his art, than the man they called the Duke.


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