Duke Ellington, Origins of the Jazz Mover

Fred Witt | May 29th, 2019

The music career of Duke ‌Ellington, a jazz mover of the 20th century that we know (Take The “A” Train), was little accident. Duke was born to professional musician parents . He started piano lessons at 7, wrote his first song and was playing for money by 15, was running his own band by 23, recording by 25 and carried his bands for 50+ years to 75.

The Duke music we know was backed by a package of almost “everything.” Beyond his playing he was a master at his song-writing form, had original imagination, had the eye for good musicians, skill at leading, reasonable business sense, a good public presence, and little of life habits that dragged him down.

Duke moved his music with the times, sometimes leading it, and rarely going so far off that he lost his audience. In his first 10 years a lot of Duke’s music reflected things like the ’20 dance era, and seems remote from our jazz “regular stuff.” However, he was doing new things, with trumpet “wow’s” and high-pitched reaches. Try dialing up Youtube for “Creole Love Call” for a sample. Fifteen years in with his bands he was moving closer to us. His “Take the A Train” in 1940, almost 80 years ago is pretty well imbedded with us. Click on the video sample above to hear it.

Duke’s music kept going, with a lot of standards we know well. There are also plenty of fun and interesting pieces that we may not have seen circulation on. See our next Duke posting, “Duke and the Big Career” for more flavors in his work.

Duke will be featured big time on KCSM the weekend of June 7. You can get some Duke Ellington butter spread on the bread for you Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tune in Friday and you’ll catch Chuy & Mel 2-6 pm, Saturday Sonny, Dick & Mel 10am to 6 pm, and Sunday Keith & Mel 9 am – 2 pm.

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