The Company Index
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in April 1899 in Washington DC
He was nicknamed 'Duke' by a boyhood friend, and the name stuck.
Self-taught at the piano, he grew up surrounded by vibrant ragtime
music and it was this that first inspired him to compose. Unsurprisingly,
his first works were rags for solo piano. Ellington's huge output eventually
included works in almost every conceivable medium, from solo song to orchestral
suites, church music and a full-length ballet, The River (1974). He
went on to compose some 6000 works, including Mood Indigo, Caravan,
Solitude, Sophisticated Lady and Such Sweet Thunder (1956), a series
of ten Shakespeare portraits and the inspiration behind David Bintley's
ballet, The Shakespeare Suite.
In 1923, he took his band, The Washingtonians, to New York, where they were
a huge success. The tour that followed was equally successful, and in 1927,
Ellington and his band, now under his own name, took up residence in
Harlem's world-famous Cotton Club. His four years there eventually led
him to Hollywood, and the band's first European tour in 1933.
For almost 30 years, from 1939 until his death in 1967, Billy
Strayhorn was a regular collaborator with Ellington. Although he
often went uncredited, it was Strayhorn's idea to adapt Tchaikovsky's
Nutcracker Suite, and he received equal billing with Ellington for it.
The Jazz-Nutcracker received its premiere in 1960 and was an
At his death in 1974, Ellington was acknowledged as one of the
most influential figures in the history of jazz, and one of the
greatest jazz pianists, composers and improvisers that had ever