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Duke Ellington: Beyond Category
Evening Program with Performance
Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 6:45 p.m.
Duke Ellington at the Hurricane Club, New York, NY, May 1943
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899–1974) was one of America’s most brilliant jazz composers. He was also an accomplished pianist and bandleader whose works crossed into genres including blues, gospel and sacred music, pop, classical, and film scores. His songs, which include such huge hits as “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Satin Doll,” were recorded both by his outstanding band and virtually every major musician and singer of his day.
It’s only fitting that the Duke Ellington Collection, one of the few major music archives in the world devoted to a single artist, is housed in his native city at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. In a lively evening of music, discussion, and multimedia presentations, saxophonist Loren Schoenberg, founding director and senior scholar of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, draws on material from the archives to present an overview of Ellington’s career, from his early days as a commercial artist who played piano for gigs at night to his later years, on which he remarked, “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be famous too young.” The program concludes with a performance of some of Ellington’s best-loved works by Schoenberg on sax accompanied by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Trio.
“I thought that Tchaikovsky to Ellington to Strayhorn might be a good parlay.” —Duke Ellington
Ellington’s musical career, particularly in his later years, was marked by a rich vein of experimentation and variety. He and longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn even took on the classics, reinterpreting themes from The Nutcracker in their own signature jazz style. He talks about the project in this 1960 interview with Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records.
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