It’s Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington’s 111th Birthday Anniversary Today!


Gjon Mili, Duke Ellington, 1943

There’s a 24-hour birthday broadcast on WKCR. And festivities around Duke Ellington (1899-1974) circle (110th Street and 5th Avenue).

Jazz and Jam

After attending one of my parties, George Frazier, Life’s Entertainment Editor, a jazz buff, decided that my cavernous studio was made to order for a jam session. “It’s big enough and, dust and all, it feels right for a real bash,” he said.
It was war time, excited times; the year was 1943. Jazz was in full swing, and what better subject for a story than a gathering of extroverted musicians and a mob of fans. We were to cut recordings to send to the armed forces overseas and shoot for Life. And every great in jazzdom who happened to be in town–Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, Jess Stacy, Lee Wiley, Mary Lou Williams, Cozy Cole, and Billie Holiday–turned up.
It was quite an initiation. I had often listened to blues and spirituals and found them very moving, but orchestrated popular jazz had always scored low with me. This jam session was a revelation, not for the music itself–which sounded more like an outburst than a performance–but as a spectacle non pariel. It was a physical experience, compelling everyone’s participation.

Gjon Mili, Photographs & Recollections (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1980), p. 168


Life, December 6, 1968

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