This month, we want to focus on American music, especially that rooted in the African American experience. What better way to start than with “The Duke”.
At age seven, Edward Ellington began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales but quickly grew bored and instead focused on visual arts. As a teenager, he attended dance parties and pool rooms, where ragtime re-awakened his interest in piano playing; he composed by ear his first piece, “The Soda Fountain Rag.” After being fired from various bands for not reading music, he dropped art school and began studying theory with pianist and band leader Oliver “Doc” Perry and took private lessons in harmony with Henry Grant, a high school music teacher while continuing to work as a sign painter He started to play gigs in and around Washington, D.C. Thus Ellington became a professional musician. His attachment to music was so strong that in 1916 he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Daisy surrounded her son with dignified women to reinforce his manners and teach him elegance. His childhood friends noticed that his manner and dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman,] so they began calling him "Duke".
Duke Ellington composed not only songs that all the world has sung, but also suites, sacred works, music for stage and screen and symphonies. His is some of the truly unforgettable music ever created written for the piano. He embraced the phrase "beyond category" as a liberating principle and referred to his music as part of the more general category of American Music.
Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one. - Duke Ellington
The Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation