Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Duke Ellington

Dr. Bob Prescribes Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington

My Music History Monday post back on June 15, 2020, marked the death on June 15, 1996, of the the “First Lady of Song,” the “Queen of Jazz,” “Lady Ella”: of Ella Jane Fitzgerald, at the age of 79.   Music History Monday for April 29, 2024 (just last week!), marked the birth of “The Duke”: Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, on April 29, 1899. Ella and Duke.  They knew each other, loved each other, and performed and recorded music together for half a century.  They were, the cliché, be damned, a musical marriage made in heaven.  And thus, in my self-proclaimed “Year of Popular American Song,” this album of songs associated with Duke Ellington – which, BTW, is one of the greatest recordings ever made (no hyperbole that; just fact) – just screams to be examined and prescribed.   And so we shall. Ella and Duke Up Close and Personal I would introduce you all to Leonard Geoffrey Feather (1914-1994). He was a London-born jazz pianist, composer, and producer, who nevertheless is best known today for his books and essays about jazz and his jazz criticism (he was the chief jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times from the 1960s until his […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) was an American jazz pianist and composer, someone who led his eponymous jazz band (or “orchestra,” as he preferred to call it), for what was a record-making 51 years: from 1923 until his death in 1974. He was born and raised in Washington D.C.  He moved permanently to New York City in 1923, and it was there that he became famous: as the leader of the house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club from 1927 to 1931. A brilliant composer of songs – many of which are today standards of the Great American Songbook – Ellington began composing extended works (what he generally referred to as “suites”) in the mid-1930s.  By the time of his death in 1974, he had written and collaborated on over one thousand musical works, by far the single largest body of written work in the jazz repertoire. When we left off in yesterday’s Music History Monday, Ellington had just become a household musical name thanks to his band’s weekly national broadcasts from the Cotton Club in New York City.  Ellington remained at the very top of the American musical heap through the 1930s and mid-1940s.  And then. And then came the late-1940s and […]

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Music History Monday: The Duke

We mark the birth of The Duke on April 29, 1899 – 125 years ago today – in Washington D.C.  By “The Duke,” we are not here referring to the actor John Wayne (who was born on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa), but rather, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, one of the greatest songwriters and composers ever to be born in the United States.   Aside from their shared nickname, it would appear that the only thing Duke Ellington had in common with John Wayne was that they both suffered from lung cancer.  In Ellington’s case, cancer killed him at the age of 75 on May 24, 1974, at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City (and not at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, as is inexplicably claimed on certain web sites!). Born in Washington D.C., he grew up at 2129 Ida Place (now Ward Place) NW, in the district’s West End neighborhood. His father, James Edward Ellington, worked as a blueprint maker for the Navy Department and on occasion as a butler, sometimes at the White House.  His mother, Daisy (born Kennedy) was the daughter of formerly enslaved people.  Theirs was a musical household; both […]

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