|drawing by Naiel Ibarolla|
"The worst thing about Duke Ellington's death," lamented Whitney Balliett "was that he, of all people, turned out to be mortal." Now it may sounds a cliche of I state that his music, forty years after his death, continues to live. No, that's somehow too obvious and not so dukish.
Another way of proving that the "profound, ageless, ongoing joyousness and originality of his music" doesn't seem to be retired is listening to the countless number of tribute albums and songs, recreations of his work, and tracing the influence he left on people who came after him and also his contemporaries. (He even awed musicians before him too - listen to what Willie The Lion Smith says, as my fifth choice.)
For that purpose, let's start with a list of ten tribute songs to this "brilliant eccentric," Duke Ellington. The list can expand in every imaginable direction and I hope some of you dear readers name your favorite "for Duke" songs at the end of this post.
Duke loved telling stories, so let's have one for the end. When Ben Webster (one of the guests of this tribute playlist) - who was playing with Teddy Wilson and dreaming to be a part of Duke Ellington Orchestra - received a message from Duke to go and see him, he felt twenty years younger: "I was drunk at the time, but the news sobered me up in a second. I went to see Ellington in the dressing room of the theatre he was playing at the time. He said, ‘Why don’t you come to the rehearsal tomorrow morning?’ Then I realised I had to tell Teddy Wilson that I was leaving him. To be able to do that, I had to get drunk all over again."
This anecdote tells something about Duke's music that can make you emotionally drunk, and then few minutes later, leave you totally sober. This is the feeling evident in the homages I've gathered here: they all alter between ecstasy and calculated movements. Or both are the same?