Ellington, Duke [Edward Kennedy]
- André Hodeir
- , revised by Gunther Schuller
(b Washington, DC, April 29, 1899; d New York, May 24, 1974). American jazz composer, bandleader and pianist. He was for decades a leading figure in big-band jazz and remains the most significant composer of the genre.
Ellington’s father was a butler and intended him to become an artist. He began to study the piano when he was seven and was much influenced by the ragtime pianists; at the age of 17 he made his professional debut. His first visit to New York, in early 1923, ended in financial failure, but on Fats Waller’s advice he moved there later that year with Elmer Snowden’s Washington band, the Washingtonians: Sonny Greer (drums), Otto Hardwick (saxophones), Snowden (banjo) and Artie Whetsol (trumpet). Between 1923 and 1927 this small group, which played at the Hollywood and Kentucky clubs on Broadway, was gradually enlarged to a ten-piece orchestra by the addition of Bubber Miley (trumpet), Tricky Sam Nanton (trombone), Harry Carney (baritone saxophone), Rudy Jackson (clarinet and tenor saxophone) and Wellman Braud (double bass); Fred Guy replaced Snowden on banjo. The band’s early recordings (...