Duke Ellington was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 1920s, with a career that spanned well over 50 years. He is best known for the innovative way he would organize his orchestra, leading to the style of big band jazz. His eloquence, charisma and charm made him an act that was highly sought after in his time, and his impact is still felt today.
Ellington was based in Washington D.C., but he performed for much of his life in New York City. His appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem led to national prominence. His orchestra toured Europe throughout the 1930s. The experience had such a lasting impact on some, that they decided to stay for several decades after the show was finished.
Ellington was adept at writing based on the musician, and was one of the first songwriters to pioneer songwriting for the 78 RPM format. These three-minute songs were a difficult form to master for songwriters who were used to much longer and more intricate complications, but this was the beginning of pop music and Ellington was one of its founders in many ways.
Ellington’s career is marked by major collaborative efforts with other writers and musicians. He wrote Caravan and Perdido with Juan Tizol, and called Billy Strayhorn his writing companion.
Ellington died of complications from lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974. The final words Ellington ever spoke were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.”
About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Facebook.