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Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist and bandleader of jazz orchestras.
Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onward, and gained a national profile through his orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured in Europe. Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington himself embraced the phrase "beyond category" as a "liberating principle", and referred his music to the more general category of "American Music", rather than to a musical genre such as "jazz". He led his orchestra from 1923 until his death, his career spanning over 50 years.
Some of the musicians who were members of Ellington's orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are still, in their own right, considered to be among the best players in jazz, but it was Ellington who melded them into the best-known orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Some members of the orchestra remained members for several decades. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington often composed specifically for the style and skills of his individual musicians, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Hodges, and "Concerto for Cootie" for trumpeter Cootie Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics.
Often collaborating with others, Ellington originated over a thousand compositions and his extensive oeuvre is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, with many of his extant works having become standards. Ellington also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, for example Juan Tizol's "Caravan", and "Perdido", which brought Spanish tinge to big-band jazz.