NYC Take The A Train To Honor Duke Ellington

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New Yorkers rode a 1939-era train Wednesday along the subway line made famous by jazz legend Duke Ellington. The festivities marked the 110th anniversary of Ellington's birth.


Today is the 110th anniversary of the birth of jazz legend Duke Ellington. His band's signature tune, written by Billy Strayhorn, was "Take the A Train," and it was in the subway system this morning that New Yorkers celebrated.

NPR's Robert Smith went underground for the party.

ROBERT SMITH: So, on Duke Ellington's birthday, where else are you going to go? You're going to go to the A train. I'm here at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue waiting for the next train, and even the young people here know the names.

Mr. JOSEPH SAYLES (ph): Duke was the man. You don't know? That's one of the pioneers of music.

Ms. EMPRESS WHITELY (ph): He was a great jazz musician. He was predominately famous in the 1940s and '50s for his music.

(Soundbite of noise)

Ms. WHITELY: I think that's it.

SMITH: That's the rhythm of the train there, rhythm of the A train.

Mr. SAYLES: Yup, definitely

(Soundbite of noise)

SMITH: Joseph Sayles and Empress Whitely are headed for Brooklyn, but they're in for a treat today because the MT is running a special train in celebration of Duke Ellington's birthday. And here it comes into the station. It's an old-fashioned 1939 A train.

Mr. SAYLES: The old A train, the best A train.

SMITH: Well, inside is the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Let's get on board.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: So you have to picture this. Inside a fully-restored A train is a 16-member orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and I'm here with one of the sax players. What's your name?

Mr. JASON MARSHALL (Saxophonist, Duke Ellington Orchestra): Jason Marshall.

SMITH: Jason Marshall. What's it like trying to play on this train?

Mr. MARSHALL: A hazardous honor.

SMITH: A hazardous honor. Well, people seem to be enjoying it.

Mr. MARSHALL: Absolutely.

SMITH: Also, here is Paul Ellington. That's the grandson of Duke Ellington.

Mr. PAUL ELLINGTON (Grandson of Duke Ellington): I think everyone's having a good time, and certainly the spectacle of the band playing on the A train is quite intriguing.

SMITH: Yeah, people are amazed when you pull into the station.

Mr. ELLINGTON: Some of them are upset. Some of them are, like, interested and curious. But either way, it's doing what it's supposed to do.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: The antique train is going all the way to JFK Airport, but I've got to get out here in Brooklyn.

Robert Smith, NPR News, waving goodbye to the antique A Train here at High Street in Brooklyn.

(Soundbite of music)


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