Duke Ellington: A Life On the Road


Duke Ellington spent forty years traveling, composing, and performing.

Ellington composed as he lived, on the road and on the fly. He wrote his pieces in hotel rooms, Pullman cars, and chartered buses, then rehearsed them in the recording studio the next afternoon or on the bandstand the same night. He had little choice but to do so, for he was a professional wanderer who traveled directly from gig to gig, returning to his New York apartment, he said, only to pick up his mail. It would no more have occurred to him to take time off to polish a composition than to go on a monthlong vacation. Even if he had wanted to take a sabbatical to work on Black, Brown and Beige, the band’s touring schedule would have precluded it.

“I work and I write. And that’s it,” Ellington said. “My reward is hearing what I’ve done, and unlike most composers, I can hear it immediately. That’s why I keep these expensive gentlemen with me.” But maintaining a touring orchestra was for him not a luxury but a necessity. The band was his musical laboratory, the great good place where he experimented with new ideas, and he was incapable of functioning as a composer without its constant presence.

Link: A Life of Duke Ellington

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