Duke Ellington

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With complete sincerity and honesty, one can easily recognize Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington as America's greatest composer in any genre. Leading his orchestra for over fifty years of continual musical excellence, he wrote literally thousands of works, ranging from standard ballads like "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", through instrumentals and full scale suites. Ellington always composed with his orchestra members in mind and many of them stayed with him for twenty years or more. In the words of his verteran collaborator and arranger, Billy Strayhorn, "Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is his band".

From a Washington middle-class background, Ellington took piano lessons as a child, played at dances and parties and wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag" at the age of sixteen. After leaving school he worked as a sign-painter and a clerk while running his first band, wich included Sonny Greer (drums) and Otto Hardwick (tenor sax). In 1922 the three moved to New York, where they played briefly with Wilbur Sweatman and Ellington learned Jazz piano from James P. Johnson and Willie "the Lion" Smith. The following year Ellington formed his first band for a nightclub engagement and with Jo Trend wrote the score for "Chocolate Kiddies", a show wich starred Josephine Baker and Adelaide Hall and enjoyed a long run in Berlin.

With the arrival of James "Bubber" Miley (trumpet) and Joe "Trickey Sam" Nanton (trombone) the band soon began to acquire an individual sound. Their patented growling and wah-wah sounds are herd to special effect on several songs.
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