Edward Kennedy Ellington - Born April 29, 1899. So let's think about that a little. That was three years after the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision laid the groundwork legitimizing the horrible Jim Crow, separate but equal decades that followed. It was, obviously, the start of a terrible era to be black in America.
Young Edward was born to a black middle class, Washington, D.C. family. His loves growing up were more baseball and art than music. His mother adored him and thought he was all that, and like lots of boys with that kind of maternal support, he grew up believing he was all that. And the thing with Duke was, unlike lots of other guys whose mothers adored them, he was all that.
In CalBizLit's opinion, he was, hands down, the most important figure in American music ever. Between the remarkable compositions, the swinging style, selection of the astonishingly talented orchestra members, and the enormous volume or works he composed, there was simply nobody else close. And he did almost all of it in a world where his musicians often couldn't eat in restaurants.
I've heard from people who aren't jazz fans that jazz makes them angry. Although I can't really sympathize, I sort of understand. But I don't think Duke Ellington's music could ever make anybody angry.
I feel honored to have seen the Duke Ellington Orchestra, even if it was only once (and even if Cootie Williams took a nap during the concert), in Berkeley in the very early 1970's, not long before he passed. Although it was some years past his last creative period, it was a magical evening and his charm had not eroded one bit. Introducing Sophisticated Lady, he said "This is for the most beautiful woman in the hall tonight. And you know who you are." He set a standard for charm and elan that none of us other guys could ever match. And Mrs. CalBizLIt, who was there with me, has remained charmed by him ever since.
There's quite a bit of Duke stuff, including introductory play lists, at my March 1, 2009 Jazz Salon post here.
And there's just tons of other Duke Ellington stuff on YouTube. But I think my favorite of them is this one: