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Jazz Street: Duke Ellington

posted December 17, 2015, 8:47 am by Nathaniel Lathy | Filed Under Checking the Playlists, Jazz Street, Throwback Thursday | comment Leave a Comment


duke ellingtonListening to the greats is a worthwhile exercise not just because of all the wonderful music there is to sift through. It’s a necessity to beef up your musical IQ. You can see the enormous influence a bandleader like Ellington had on so much of what happened in popular music after he started making recordings in the 1920s. His career, leading an orchestra spanned more than 50 years until his death in 1974 at the age of 75. It’s amazing, listening to a great rock album, Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, and realizing one of the cuts, “East St. Louis Toodle-OO” was a top-10 hit for Duke in ’27. Like Armstrong and Basie, it’s hard to imagine the evolution of popular music without this remarkable composer and pianist. There’s so many great cuts in his song catalog (written by himself and others), if there’s a song a listener has misgivings about, check for the Ellington version before making a final judgement.

There’s a Fred Astaire musical, “Three Little Words,” I’ve seen many times. it turns out the title song was a No. 1 hit for Ellington in ’30, two decades before the musical comedy film was released. These revelations do more than serve the purpose of enabling you to amaze your friends with trivia tidbits. It’s a chance to hear some great songs, and at the same time marvel at the master’s legacy. It’s yet another reminder pop music didn’t start with rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s and Bill Haley. It goes back much earlier, and there’s recordings which later artists often scratched the surface in terms of approaching comparable achievements. It’s not fair to expect later artists to match what the earlier legends achieved. Rather than getting in a back-and-forth discussion about what’s better, it’s best to encourage others to partake.

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