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Duke Ellington

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 instant hit.

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 lived.

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