The Duke Still Rules

Here’s a good quote which arrived in my inbox this morning. It’s from a site called Delanceyplace:


In today’s excerpt – Ahmet Ertegun was the legendary founder and president of Atlantic Records who signed Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, and countless others. He was the ten-year-old son of the Turkish ambassador to Britain when he was first confronted with the overwhelming energy and power of of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. For him it was “real jazz … not this bullshit thing we hear on a record player”:

“Ahmet was ten years old when Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Elling­ton, ‘the King of Jazz,’ came to London for the first time on June 12, 1933, to perform with ‘His Famous Orchestra’ at the London Palla­dium. The grandson of a former slave, Ellington was then thirty-four years old. Raised in Washington, D.C., he had begun taking piano les­sons when he was seven years old, written his first composition at the age of
fourteen, and begun his career as a professional musician four years later.

“Duke Ellington’s two-week engagement at the Palladium was a cultural event of major proportions, changing not only how he per­formed but also the way in which his music was perceived. … On Ellington’s opening night in the Palladium, the curtain opened to reveal an expansive stage decorated with three huge cardboard cutouts of cartoonlike black musicians, all of which would now be considered racist. In a pearl gray suit, white shirt, and tie, the impos­sibly elegant and regal-looking Duke sat behind a concert grand piano. …

“The scores of smartly dressed young English people in the ex­pensive seats, among them the Duke of Kent, the third son of King George V, stomped their feet, shouted, whistled, and applauded in ap­proval as did the ‘hundreds in the hinterlands of the Palladium.’ After the show, ‘a small army of autograph seekers,’ sixty women among them, ‘besieged the Duke and his musicians’ outside the stage door.

“In what one English jazz scholar would later call ‘a precursor to Beatlemania,’ fans clung to Ellington’s limousine as he was driven away. The BBC extended the program for five minutes so Ellington could play ‘Mood Indigo’ in its entirety.

“For Ahmet, who was taken to the show by his brother, the eve­ning was an ear-shattering, life-changing experience he would never forget. ‘It was nothing like hearing the records,’ Ahmet would later say. ‘The engineers at the time were afraid that too much bass or too much drums would crack the grooves on the 78s so they recorded them very low. And when you heard these bands in person, it was explosive. This boom-boom-boom incredible rhythm. It went through your body. I went, ‘Oh my God, this is jazz. This is not this bullshit thing we hear on a record player. This is real jazz.’ … The very loudness of the sound, the reverberation of the bass and drum in the theater frightened me, it was so powerful… I’d never heard music with that kind of strength … For the first time, I saw these beautiful black men wearing shining white tuxedos and these brass instruments gleaming. It was an incredible sight.’ ”

Author: Robert Greenfield
Title: The Last Sultan
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date: Copyright 2011 by Simon and Schuster
Pages: 12-14
The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun
by Robert Greenfield
Hardcover ~ Release Date: 2011-11-08

So do you want some proof? Here’s a video of a nice piece of Ellington’s music. He was to 20th-century American music in a way that Beethoven was to 19th-century German music:

Something of a showpiece for baritone sax player Harry Carney. How sweet!




Filed under Music

2 responses to “The Duke Still Rules

  1. Joan

    For one brief fleeting moment I thought this was going to be about John Wayne. (grin)

  2. I like the “other Duke” too!

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