Author: Ciara Loughnane
This weekend will be blessed with The Duke Ellington Orchestra preforming at the Seattle Symphony this weekend. If you somehow don’t know who Duke Ellington is, buckle up and get ready for a music history lesson!
Duke Ellington is one of the most successful American composers of the 20th century and one of the most well-known black Americans at the time. In 1919, he started out his career by working as a freelance sign-painter for events. Whenever he made a sign for a dance or party, Ellington would ask if they had any musical entertainment; if the answer was no, he would offer to play. Through this, he began to meet other musicians and eventually formed a band that played in local nightclubs. His group eventually became the regular band at Harlem’s Cotton Club, a prestigious nightclub with wealthy white clientele. This gig catapulted the group into national spotlight and allowed the band to begin touring all of the country and even into Europe.
Some musicians who were members of Ellington’s orchestra are considered to be some of the best players of jazz, and Ellington molded them into one of the best known orchestral units in jazz history. The Duke Ellington Orchestra began in 1923 with Duke leading the group up until his death at age 75 in 1974. The band played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, as well as in Asia, inspiring millions of people all over the world with his jazz music. After Ellington’s death, his son, Mercer Ellington, took leadership of the band and toured with the Orchestra for the next 22 years until his own death in 1996. After that, Mercer’s youngest son, Paul Mercer Ellington, lead the group in order to continue to preserve the music and legacy of his grandfather.
Currently, Paul is at New York University studying for his Master’s degree in Film Production, so Tommy James has been acting as the conductor for the orchestra in Ellington’s absence and will be leading the orchestra this weekend at the Seattle Symphony.
I personally cannot wait to go and see such a historic group play. The Duke Ellington Orchestra is such an integral part of Jazz and American music history. If you are interested in seeing them preform this weekend, tickets can be found at the Seattle Symphony’s website here.
CIARA LOUGHNANE | I’m actually writing articles, this is so weird | KXSU Digital Media Director