NPR logo Duke Ellington: Master Of The Jazz Song

Duke Ellington: Master Of The Jazz Song

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Duke Ellington continues to be a strong influence to this day, even receiving a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Erich Auerbach/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Duke Ellington continues to be a strong influence to this day, even receiving a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, designated by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as a time to celebrate the life and legacy of jazz. Many legendary jazz artists were born in April, which made it a natural for the designation.

To celebrate JAM, WDUQ has posted a weekly music list celebrating a notable jazz artist born that week. This time around, it's Duke Ellington.

Ellington was the most prolific jazz composer of all time, writing and performing tirelessly for more than 50 years. Many of his compositions also bear the name of composer Billy Strayhorn, his longtime collaborator and friend. Ellington composed for every kind of musical setting imaginable, from his famed orchestra to small groups to film scores to musical stage productions. His mark can be found everywhere on jazz, both past and present.

Duke Ellington: Master Of The Jazz Song

And His Mother

Snibor

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Snibor

  • from ... and His Mother Called Him Bill [US Bonus Tracks]
  • by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

...And His Mother Called Him Bill was recorded shortly after the death of Ellington's closest collaborator and dear friend, Billy Strayhorn. Ellington was overcome with grief from this loss. That emotion is apparent throughout this collection of Strayhorn compositions. The album won a Grammy in 1968.

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Song
... and His Mother Called Him Bill
Album
... and His Mother Called Him Bill
Artist
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
Label
RCA
Released
2002

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Love Songs

Satin Doll

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Satin Doll

  • from Love Songs
  • by Duke Ellington

Ellington was a master composer of love songs, so an album highlighting those in particular doesn't come off as a gimmick. "Satin Doll," another Strayhorn composition, alternates between featuring Ellington with minimal accompaniment and with his full orchestra. The result is beautiful.

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Song
Love Songs
Album
Love Songs
Artist
Duke Ellington
Label
Columbia
Released
2001

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Cover for First Time! The Count Meets the Duke

Wild Man

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Wild Man

  • from First Time! The Count Meets the Duke [Bonus Tracks]
  • by Duke Ellington with Count Basie's Orchestra

First Time! brought together the full orchestras of two figures of jazz royalty: Ellington and Count Basie. You won't hear a battle of bands led by these pianists. You will hear a wonderful, joyous interplay between them.

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Song
First Time! The Count Meets the Duke
Album
First Time! The Count Meets the Duke
Artist
Duke Ellington with Count Basie's Orchestra
Label
Sony

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Cover for Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

In a Sentimental Mood

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In a Sentimental Mood

  • from Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
  • by Duke Ellington w/ John Coltrane

The first few notes from Ellington's piano immediately set the mood for this song. Moments later, John Coltrane's tenor sax adds the warm, expressive melody. The musical communication between these two jazz greats is noteworthy.

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Song
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
Album
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
Artist
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
Label
Impulse!
Released
2007

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Cover for Highlights from the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, 1927-1973

Caravan

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Caravan

  • from Highlights from the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, 1927-1973
  • by Duke Ellington

Co-writer Juan Tizol introduces the melody of "Caravan," which is tinged with both Middle Eastern influences and Latin rhythms. A gypsy-jazz-inspired violin is featured toward the middle. This track was recorded live in 1952.

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Song
Highlights from the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, 1927-1973
Album
Highlights from the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, 1927-1973
Artist
Duke Ellington
Label
RCA
Released
2000

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

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