The year 1973 saw a Belgian edition of the Jazz from Newport event, featuring one of the very last performances that the great Duke Ellington ever gave. He passed away less than a year later and one of jazz’ most important sparks of genius – the one that got the whole world swinging – faded out.
So-named “Duke” for his elegance and debonair image, he’d lost none of his charm by his mid-70s, addressing the audience with the words: “all the kids in the band want you to know that we do love you madly.” Indeed, it was Duke’s charm that held such appeal, but his ease belied a hard journey that began in Washington pool halls where he learnt to play piano as a teenager, and then as a young adult forced to play “jungle music” for all-white crowds on his way up.
The role model status he attained, therefore, was hard-won and he is often considered America’s greatest ever composer by those who see jazz as the nation’s classical music. A glance at this concert’s repertoire confirms it: standard after standard, with Duke penning almost every one. A great figure with an incalculable influence on modern music.