Legacy of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington 1People are told that they must never drink anything but a white wine with fish or a red wine with beef. The people who don’t know and have never been educated along these lines drink anything. I suspect they get as much joy out of their eating and drinking as the other people.  It’s just like people who listen to music. They don’t necessarily know what they are listening to. They don’t have to know that a guy is blowing a flatted fifth or a minor third, but they enjoy it. I consider this healthy and normal listening. It’s a matter of “How good does it sound?” Music is music, and that’s it. If it sounds good, it’s good music. How good? It depends on who’s listening.”
-Duke Ellington 

Once in a lifetime an artist comes along, who not only creates remarkable music but also leaves a lasting legacy on generations of musicians. Duke Ellington (1899-1974) was one such artist. Duke pioneered a style that remains very much alive on the contemporary jazz scene. The depth and breadth of Ellington’s work is a testament to his monumental creativity throughout his career spanning more than fifty years. Duke always looked for distinctive talent among the musicians in his band, and he wrote and arranged especially for their unique voices and stylings, showing that he recognized the co-dependence between his compositions and the musicians who played them.


Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Edward Kennedy Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s and gained popularity through his orchestra’s appearances at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem. Ellington wrote or collaborated on more than one thousand compositions; his extensive body of work is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, and many of his pieces have become standards. Ellington collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn for nearly 30 years. Together they composed multiple extended compositions, or suites, as well as many short pieces. Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era, performed in and scored several films, and composed a handful of stage musicals.

Ellington was known for his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, as well as for his eloquence and charisma. In addition to defining the Jazz tradition with his performances and a long list of standards, his masterpieces explored the realms of film music, opera, jazz versions of classical works, combinations of jazz band and symphony orchestra, operetta and sacred concert pieces. Little wonder that Duke Ellington was, and always will be, “beyond category.” He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Award for music in 1999. 

Duke Ellington

To read a full biography of Duke Ellington click HERE


We at Arkadia Records feel it is important to honor the legacy of some of the Jazz greats. An example of this philosophy is a series of “Thank You” Albums celebrating legendary musicians. Thank you, Duke! is the third in our series of musical homages – we asked our artists to contribute a song or two derived from, or influenced by, Duke Ellington and his repertoire. 

In this diverse and exciting collection, a talented and multifaceted assemblage of musicians – each in his own style – pays tribute to Duke Ellington, playing tunes Duke wrote and made famous. 


Wide in scope and deep in nature, Ellington’s influence is something for which we will remain in debt for many years to come. Duke Ellington’s influence and memory are particularly vibrant in the minds and music of Arkadia’s artists. See below what some of them had to say about Duke.

00034 Golson close up kissing sax sax Up Jumped GOODBENNY GOLSON   

When I was a kid of four or five, I began to notice that the music of Duke Ellington was being played in our house. The very first song of his I heard was “Mood Indigo.” Everybody in our neighborhood was always saying how pretty it was and one could hear it on various record players as he walked down the block. There was something about the sound of his music and his band that appealed to me, even then. My family seemed to like his music even though they were adherents to the “Low Down Dirty Blues.” This was unusual, an aberration, but I didn’t know. His “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” was like the theme of the “streets” – nothing complicated or intellectual, just a memorable melody and groove. After a few years I intuitively knew that this man’s music was different, and that he was truly a Duke of sorts because of the classy way he spoke, dressed, and wrote his music, I had to record “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” My heart insisted. Duke had a style that was the embodiment of humankind, a style that was truly universal. His music touched all strata of society: black, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, hip, unhip, and all kinds of personalities. Duke’s music touched not only ears, but hearts as well. Because of this, his music lives past his time. Duke Ellington was unique – one of a kind.”  

 billy taylorBILLY TAYLOR

“He was a big influence on me. I developed my whole style of comping, starting with his introduction to “In a Mellow Tone.” He could do what I could never do. He could make stride work. And he does back-bass things where it’s really off center, while he’s doing this other thing in the right hand. The whole idea is that the right hand is swinging and the left hand is saying, “No you don’t, no you don’t.” I worked at the Hickory House in New York for a very long time…he would come and sit at a corner table, listen to the music, talk with his friends, visit with me, and I could ask him questions. He was very generous. One thing that impressed me about Ellington was his sense of swing. This is one of the swingingest guys.
One night I was scheduled to play (solo) at Birdland after the Ellington band. The last tune was a big, raucous closer. The crowd was going crazy and as the band left, Ellington stayed up there…he let the noise simmer down to the point where it was calm again. Then he said, “I’d like to introduce you to my friend from Washington, D.C., a young man named Billy Taylor. I want you to listen to him very closely.” Duke didn’t have to do that: He was a superstar who could have just as easily gone off stage and let the crowd scream like gangbusters, leaving me to deal with a solo piano performance after a real house-raiser. I was grateful for that, and I’ll never forget it.”

Joanne Brackeen head shotJOANNE BRACKEEN 

The musical vibration of Duke Ellington has always been an influence in my artistic development. To me the two compositions, “Sophisticated Lady” and “Come Sunday,” are like living realities with a life of their own. As I explored these songs, I found continuous and endless possibilities as to how I would play them. The beauty of his music has a simplicity combined with an undercurrent of limitless, complex substance from which the performer can explore. It is majestic music!

To learn more about Thank You, Duke! Album click HERE


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