Berklee City Music is proud to say “Happy Birthday!” for Jazz Appreciation Month to jazz composer, bandleader, pianist and innovator Duke Ellington! In an art form primarily associated with improvisation, Ellington stands out for his imaginative, moving and swinging compositions, which inspire jazz musicians to this day. He was one of the earliest jazz artists to experiment with extended structures and long form works, for example his groundbreaking Black, Brown and Beige as well as his many suites. His music consistently explores a range of colors and moods, drawing upon influences as diverse as the blues, American popular song, Western classical music and African folk.
Born and raised in Washington, DC, Ellington led small groups in his hometown before moving onto New York, where his band grew larger and eventually moved into Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. From there, Ellington’s creativity as well as his popularity exploded, leading to what some historians have described as a lifelong tour. Duke Ellington and his orchestra (which retained many of the same core players over several decades) would travel across the globe until his death in 1974. His music would continue to shape how jazz is played and understood.