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Duke Ellington1

Duke Ellington's pre-eminence in jazz is not only because of the very high aesthetic standard of his output and not simply due to his remarkable abilities as a pianist, composer and bandleader, but also to the fact that he has extended the boundaries of jazz more than any other musician, without abandoning the true essence of the music. Perhaps no other American musician left such a massive and challenging legacy in composition and performance. Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 1899, to parents James Edward and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. Duke, even as a teenager, had a great talent for music. His school music teacher, Mrs. Clinkscales, who played the piano, was always the inspiration for him to just sit down and start tinkering around with a few notes that usually became big hits. In the beginning of his musical life, Duke began to take a promising interest in a new type of music that would later be called jazz. Choosing to base his career on a new idea may not have been smart, but Duke took this chance and in turn became one of the most famous musicians in America. In our nation’s capital city, Ellington sneaked into Washington burlesque halls finding ragtime musicians, including James P. Johnson, and hearing the rhythms of people from all walks of life. He later returned in earnest to his piano studies and at age fourteen wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag" aka "Poodle Dog Rag." Awarded an art scholarship by Pratt Institute, Ellington used his painting skills to make signs advertising his and other bands’ appearances. At the age of seventeen, he decided to pursue the lucrative music business and around this time earned the sobriquet "Duke" for his sartorial splendor and regal air. Duke’s first job was at a government office. He was a clerk who received minimum wage and was barely getting by. He would arrange dance bands for weddings and part...

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