Contrary to what the above title may suggest, this post is not a narrative of two nabobs of European nobility in medieval times. Rather, it’s about two giants of jazz royalty in Big Band-era America: one whose birthday, and the other whose expiration day, occurred last week. I refer to Duke Ellington (born 4/29/1899) and Count Basie (died 4/26/1984).
If you’re of a certain age, no doubt you’ve heard of them, but unless you’re a pre-rock jazz buff, that’s probably the extent of it. Permit me, then, to introduce you to these musical titans of yesteryear, and to a sampling of their legacy. After all, it’s not every day that you get to meet a Duke and a Count.
I could get carried away with all there is to say about the former, but in the interest of not getting carried away, I will confine my remarks mainly to this quote:
Ellington has often credited his sidemen with the success of his band. But those who knew Duke and his music best — and this includes those very sidemen — will invariably tell you that what set Ellington’s apart is just one thing: the brilliant conductor-composer-arranger-pianist-bon vivant and leader of men, Duke Ellington himself. –George Simon (from his book, THE BIG BANDS)
Here are two of the Duke’s many compositions, the first from the 1930 film CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK, and the second from a European tour decades later:
Let us now turn to that other distinguished composer-pianist-band leader, Count Basie, whose talents weren’t as multifaceted as the Duke, but whose orchestra likewise outlasted the end of the Big Band era. Quoting George Simon one more time:
For several years [after] the days of the big bands, Basie didn’t do well, and he was forced to cut down his group to a sextet. But then he made a comeback and, aided greatly by support from Frank Sinatra, who helped him get lucrative bookings in Las Vegas and appeared with him in a series of successful concerts, the Basie band [again] rode high.
Let’s jump to a conclusion with this swinging rendition (especially the last seventy seconds) of Basie’s own composition and theme song: