NYC Take The A Train To Honor Duke Ellington

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.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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)

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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