Duke Ellington

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Duke Ellington, shown in 1971

Edward Kennedy Ellington (April 29, 1899May 24, 1974) was an African American jazz composer, pianist, and band leader who has been one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music.


  • It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).
    • Song title (1932).
  • Playing "Bop" is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.
    • Look (10 August 1954).
  • It's like an act of murder; you play with intent to commit something.
    • On jazz New York Herald Tribune (9 July 1961).
  • Every man prays in his own language.
    • Section title and eponymous song of A Concert of Sacred Music (1965).
  • How can anyone expect to be understood unless he presents his thoughts with complete honesty? This situation is unfair because it asks too much of the world. In effect, we say, "I don't dare show you what I am because I don't trust you for a minute but please love me anyway because I so need you to. And, of course, if you don't love me anyway, you're a dirty dog, just as I suspected, so I was right in the first place." Yet, every time God's children have thrown away fear in pursuit of honesty-trying to communicate themselves, understood or not, miracles have happened.
  • Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.
    • At age 66, on being passed over for an award (Pulitzer Prize for music) in 1965, as quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (24 December 1986).
  • Roaming through the jungle of "oohs" and "ahs," searching for a more agreeable noise, I live a life of primitivity with the mind of a child and an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats.
    • Music Is My Mistress (1973).
  • If it sounds good, it IS good.
    • J.D. Moore's Ten Commandments for The Studio
  • By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with.
    • Nat Hentoff, At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene (2011).
  • There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind ... the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good it's successful; if it doesn't it has failed.

Quotes about Ellington[edit]

  • That's wild! I'll start off with five stars and work backwards from there. Now there, to me, is the most perfect band in existence, whether you're thinking of it orchestrationally or in terms of Duke's immensely creative writing. I can't think of anybody I admire more than this man; nobody could even be compared with him, except Billy Strayhorn. Duke does something with this old, tired instrumentation of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, and he has a perfect way of utilizing the men's specific sounds. Anything he plays is a work of art. The band is out of tune, for instance, and it doesn't even matter. They almost have their own brand of intonation. Duke can take an exotic-sounding idea and create something – you might call it sophisticated crudity. It gives both the qualities that I look for – an earthy quality and the sophisticated quality.

External links[edit]

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