Who was Duke Ellington and Why was Duke Ellington one of the most significant jazz musicians and composers?

One of the most significant jazz musicians and composers, Duke Ellington (1899-1974) began his performance career playing jazz for white audiences at Harlem’s Cotton Club in 1927.

It was at this popular night spot that Duke first expressed the music of a “black experience,” yet his popularity proved that his music was for everyone.

By 1943 Duke was playing jazz festivals and had weekly shows at Carnegie Hall. He composed over 1,500 songs, including “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

Over his career, his music evolved from standard jazz arrangements into longer pieces like mini-concertos and suites such as Black, Brown, and Beige.

For Duke, music was a tool as necessary as language: “What we could not say openly we expressed in music.”