Quote from Jazz Royalty, Duke Ellington, for #JazzAppreciationMonth (LISTEN)

todayApril 7, 2022

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by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

As #JazzAppreciationMonth continues, we offer a quote from true jazz royalty, — bandleader, composer, pianist, performer — the superb, sublime Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. 

To read it, read on. To hear it and more about Ellington, press PLAY:

(You can follow or subscribe to the Good Black News Daily Drop Podcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or create your own RSS Feed.

Or just check it out every day here on the main website.) Full transcript below:

Hey, this Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor in chief of, here to share with you a daily drop of Good Black News for Wednesday, April 6th, 2022, based on the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar” published by Workman Publishing.

Today, we offer a quote from jazz royalty — bandleader, composer, pianist, performer — the one and only Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington:

“Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.”

Born in Washington D.C. in 1899 to two piano playing parents, Duke Ellington began composing in his teenage years and started landing gigs through his work as a freelance sign painter by offering his band’s services to any club or party he made a sign for.

Ellington later moved to Harlem and landed the gig as the house band for the Cotton Club after King Oliver turned it down, and became a world-renowned big band leader for popular compositions and recordings like 1926’s “East St. Louis Toodle-O” which was the first signature song of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra:

[Excerpt from “East St. Louis Toodle-O”]

Also hugely popular was his composition “Caravan” which was first recorded and released by clarinetist Barney Bigard and his Jazzopaters before Ellington reclaimed it:

[Excerpt from “Caravan”]

“Mood Indigo” for which Barney Bigard is listed as a co-writer:

[Excerpt from “Mood Indigo”]

The classic swing tune “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”:

[Excerpt from “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”]

His 1953 composition with longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn, “Satin Doll”:

[Excerpt from “Satin Doll”]

One of Ellington’s best known songs is one that Strayhorn composed for him, the song that would replace Ellington’s own “East St. Louis Toodle-O” as his orchestra’s signature song, the song titled to tell you how to get to Harlem, Ellington and the Cotton Club… “Take the “A” Train”:

[Excerpt from “Take the “A” Train”]

Ellington also composed beyond the category of jazz, writing orchestral and symphonic works such as Black, Brown, and Beige, and a Concert of Sacred Music, scored the feature films Anatomy of a Murder and Paris Blues, and influenced those who became the vanguard in jazz and bop such as Miles Davis and former orchestra member Charles Mingus.

In 1962, Ellington himself played Scrabble without the vowels when he recorded the album Money Jungle with bassist Mingus and drummer Max Roach, which included a new take on “Caravan”:

[Excerpt from “Caravan” from Money Jungle]

Ellington composed and played up until the last years of his life before passing at the age of 74 in 1974. That same year, his DC hometown renamed its Calvert Street Bridge the Duke Ellington Bridge.

In 1997, an intersection in Harlem in Central Park was renamed Duke Ellington Circle. In 1999 he was posthumously awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his indelible contribution to art and culture and in 2009 Ellington graced the back of the commemorative District of Columbia quarter, among just a few of the honors Ellington has received since he transcended this life as we know it.

To learn more about Ellington, read his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress,  the 1995 biography Beyond Category: The Genius of Duke Ellington by John Edward Hasse, 2016’s Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon by Steven Brower, and 2022’s Duke Ellington: The Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear by Karen S. Barbera and Randall Keith Horton.

You can also watch Ellington in the short film Black and Tan from 1929, Symphony in Black from 1935 featuring Billie Holiday, the mid-1960s documentary Duke Ellington: Love You Madly by Ralph J. Gleason on YouTube, On The Road With Duke Ellington from 1967, currently also on YouTube, the 2016 documentary The Definitive Duke Ellington on Prime Video, and you can also check out the PBS American Masters episode on Duke Ellington from 2002.

And, of course, buy or stream as much of the music as you can from the man lovingly and unforgettably referred to by modern day musical genius Stevie Wonder as “The king of all, Sir Duke.”

This has been a daily drop of Good Black News, based on the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar for 2022,” published by Workman Publishing.

Intro and outro beats provided by and produced by White Hot. All excerpts of Duke Ellington’s music included are permitted under Fair Use.

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[Photo credit: Duke Ellington, Scurlock Photographic Collection, National Museum of American History]

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Written by: Gandal Radio Editors

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