Entering the Pianistic World of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington’s career encompassed the whole history of jazz from the early era of the 1920s all the way into the 1970s. (I say “the whole history” because even most of what’s come after can be found in his music in some way or another.)

Not only did he play music during this whole time, but he embraced all of the new styles that came about along the way:

Stride piano
New Orleans (through the players in his band)
Ballroom dance music
Popular ballads
Swing tunes
Rock (check out “Blue Pepper”)
Avant Garde

Not only is Ellington’s stylistic range vast, but we enter into a whole new universe of music when we embrace his pianistic styles. By immersing ourselves in Duke’s piano playing, we may find ourselves stepping a little bit away from ii/V/I licks and entering a magical world where sophisticated stylings collide with primal chord clusters, steam-whistle imitations abound, and double-diminished 7th chords reign.

We can model our playing on that of Ellington’s big band by using block chords, contrapuntal lines, contrary motion, and then turn back to the roots of piano jazz with stride and playfully broken-up stride patterns.

Yes, Duke Ellington used all of these techniques to express himself musically, and we can too!

Ellington’s tune “In A Mellow Tone” was one of the first jazz standards I ever learned, and over the years I’ve used it to gradually assimilate all of the “Dukish” concepts and technique I’ve mentioned above.

This video holds a special place in my heart, and I’m please to share it with you:

In A Mellow Tone: Journey Through The Real Book #176

Let’s both be inspired by the musical world of Mr. Ellington.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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