Duke Ellington: A Spiritual Biography (Lives & Legacies)

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9780824523510: Duke Ellington: A Spiritual Biography (Lives & Legacies)

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington and his music have been an integral part of the American scene for most of the 20th Century. This interpretive biography offers insights into Ellington's enduring appeal, not only as a composer and piano-playing leader of a jazz orchestra, but as a cultural icon. Janna Tull Steed traces Ellington's journey from a protected childhood in Washington, D.C., through his early career as a jazzman in Harlem nightclubs to the presentation of his music in the world's grandest cathedrals in his last years.

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About the Author:

Janna Tull Steed is an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church. After serving as a pastor for more than ten years, she began studying the sacred concerts of Duke Ellington. Her work in this area - ranging from scholarly research, writing and lectures to consulting and performing - has established her as an authority on Ellington's sacred music. She was also one of the producers of The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington, narrated by Stanley Crouch, an hour long documentary, part of the Duke Ellington Centennial Radio Project.

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Held back by Police cordons, more than two thousand people were standing outside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan on Memorial Day, May 27, 1974, as loudspeakers broadcast a service in progress within those massive and towering Gothic walls. New York City's largest house of worship was packed that afternoon with a congregation of ten thousand people, among them enough musicians to have staged a marathon performance of stellar quality. But the man who had brought them together for this occasion was being mourned and eulogized. The crowd "ranged through the whole human colour scale, from the most purple black to the most pallid white," Alistair Cooke wrote later that week. "Every pew was filled, and the aisle was choked.... And when the ten thousand people inside were asked to stand and pray, there was a vast rustling sound as awesome, it struck me, as that of the several million bats whooshing out of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico at the first blush of twilight."

This mass of people had come to honor Edward Kennedy Ellingotn, know around the globe simply as "the Duke." The origin of that nickname, given to him in his youth, has been traced in distinctly different anecdotes. What remains is the impression that the mature man seemed titled by divine right and the pure strength of his singular sense of self and vocation. Ellington's claim to nobility won widespread acceptance because of his mastery of the art of jazz-and the grandeur of his humanity-in all its complexity and contradictions. Both he and his orchestra, which he led for roughly half a century, had become an American institution and an international treasure by the time Ellington died on May 24, 1974. He was seventy-five years old, and for sixty of those years he had been making music.

Duke wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag," as a fourteen-year-old schoolboy imitating the ragtime piano players in his hometown of Washington, DC. As a teenager, he began substituting for established players. Soon he was booking his own engagements, and by 1923 he was the pianist-arranger in a five-piece dance band formed by a group of musician friends. New York City beckoned, and, after several false starts, The Washingtonians-as they called themselves in those years-were recording and playing regularly in their new home base. The addition of several "hot jazz" players and Ellington's ascendance to leadership of the band brought into existence a unique ensemble whose performance innovations shaped jazz in its early years and beyond.

The Duke Ellington Jazz Orchestra played at the Cotton Club from December of 1927 to February 1931. By that time, the band was an orchestra of about ten pieces and carried Ellington's name, although the Cotton Club owners publicized it as a "jungle band." Network broadcasts from Harlem's premier nightclub (which featured "colored" entertainers for an exclusively white audience) brought the band's distinctive sounds into the nation's homes. Recordings and sheet music were successfully marketed here and overseas by Ellington's business partner and occasional lyricist, Irving Mills; and, in 1930, recordings of "Mood Indigo" (originally title "Dreamy Blues") established Ellington's worldwide fame. In his early film-work in Hollywood, Ellington avoided the demeaning or stereotypical roles then foisted on African Americans and, consequently, became a cultural hero. He returned from a successful European tour in 1933 with critical accolades ringing in his ears; abroad he and his sidemen were treated as artists of the first rank. This experience strengthened his resolve to continue on the creative path he had been following.

Ellington's life paralleled the development of jazz. He was growing up when the traditions of European classical music, and marching bands were alchemically mixed with the syncopations of ragtime and stride piano; with the instruments of marching bands; and with the musical elements from Negro work songs, spirituals, and the blues. The amalgam became a new and uniquely American music-a fusion of European and African elements. Ellington remained idiosyncratically himself, never trendy but always modern, through the various permutations of jazz during his lifetime: swing, bebop, hot, cool, progressive, third-stream, modal, free jazz, avant-garde, fusion.

While his innovations served as a foundation for jazz and still influence musicians of all kinds, Ellington's popular songs have for decades been an integral part of the American musical landscape. Ellington composed in a collaborative style, often incorporating contributions of individual band members, but his was the artistic imagination that poured forth a steady stream of jazz masterpieces and memorable songs. "Caravan," "Solitude," "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," "Prelude to a Kiss," "In a Mellotone," "Sophisticated Lady," "Satin Doll," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "I'm Beginning to See the Light," and "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," are among his popular hits.

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Book Description Crossroad Publishing Co ,U.S., United States, 1999. Hardback. Book Condition: New. 282 x 213 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Edward Kennedy Duke Ellington and his music have been an integral part of the American scene for most of the 20th Century. This interpretive biography offers insights into Ellington s enduring appeal, not only as a composer and piano-playing leader of a jazz orchestra, but as a cultural icon. Janna Tull Steed traces Ellington s journey from a protected childhood in Washington, D.C., through his early career as a jazzman in Harlem nightclubs to the presentation of his music in the world s grandest cathedrals in his last years. Bookseller Inventory # AAG9780824523510

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