Duke Ellington: 5 Essential Performances (To Celebrate His 114th Birthday)

Entertainment

To call Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington inimitable is to actually downplay his mythic role in world culture, as no American figure — be he from the realm of jazz or any other musical idiom — has ever matched his spectacular and ceaseless creativity. Born 114 years ago this week, Ellington was a composer, arranger, bandleader and pianist whose omnivorous talent saw little let up from his artistic maturity in the late 1920s until his death in May of 1974. There was no one remotely like him during his lifetime and there has been no one to challenge his status since.

You can spend a lifetime exploring Ellington’s music — between official recordings and informally captured performances there are thousands of hours of what has come to be called Ellingtonia — and it would be a worthy and joyous existence. For those who are unfamiliar with this musical titan here is…

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