Duke Ellington

Essay by Joel DualanHigh School, 12th gradeA+, May 1996

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In a time when music was going through a transformation from a ragtime style to a jazz-blues fusion, Duke Ellington was there to add his own style. There may have been many more decorated composers and musicians, but Duke Ellington revolutionized the way music was written, and in the eyes of many, has earned the title of being the 'great American Composer.'(Williams, 51) Brought up in a modest environment, Ellington never finished high school but instead went on the road to begin his legendary jazz career.

Growing up in acquaintance with such great jazz musicians as Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, Ellington left his education and family to play amongst the great bands in New York. Upon arriving in New York in 1923, Ellington found that his plans were foiled as the job which supposedly awaited him was no longer available. Next, Ellington just happened to run into an old friend by the name of Ada Smith, who was later to secure Ellington's band a secure job as the house band at the club which she worked at.

This was the first of many lucky occurrences which would propel Ellington's career even further. Over the course of his life, Ellington would be saved many a time, not by his skill at music, but simply his great luck, which he gladly admits.(Brown, 21)

The big city during the 1920's was not as glamorous as the pictures and glittering lights may lead people to believe, but instead was filled with seedy characters and gun toting gangsters. Ellington's workplace was a hazard in itself, with bottles from drunkards flying and bullets whizzing by heads on a regular basis. Ellington did not allow any of these things to get in the way of his career or creativity, but instead possibly aided in the...