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The Duke appeared a little bored. He was being asked a lot of routine questions about his favorite sports, hangouts, and orchestras. He made a gesture of impatience. "I don't get 'round to hearing those other bands much," he declared. "I don't have time. I 'live' my music!"
That is the keynote of Duke Ellington's attitude towards his work. He is deeply absorbed in it, much more involved in his life-work, music, than other musicians of his type. For his favorite writer is the late English composer, Delius, while he prefers Gershwin's and Kern's music among the popular melodies. Also, he has made an extensive study of American negro music, such as spirituals.
"And I don't like to mix spirituals with dance tunes," said the Duke. He was pretty firm about this. While he said that the spirituals had an African rhythm with an American touch, he refused to associate them with modern "swing," about which he was rather disdainful. Because, according to the Duke, swing is a very simple thing that can be developed if the composer is capable enough. But most of them aren't.
"You get a really well-developed swing piece and those jazz critics will pan it right off. Why, they don't even understand it!" he said indignantly. The Duke holds that a fine swing tune can be interpreted in exactly the same way as classical music is delved into. He said, though, that it was too much a commercial thing. "They's a lot of money being made out of it." Used too much in an elementary form, too, he said.
Duke was asked to define swing, if he could. He didn't ponder very long over his reply. "Swing is an emotional element that happens after the music has stopped," he observed, "and it happens in both the audience and in the players." The Duke stopped speaking for a moment and shook his head sadly, "They's a lot of people who don't know anything about it!"
Duke's a serious fellow. Outside, a few of his boys were making a racket about something. He went out and told them to shut up. He came back resentful. He dislikes the jazz critics who write for music trade magazines. In their school of thought, the average musician is too much told what to play.
He consented to answer a few more questions. His real name is Edward Kennedy Ellington, and he hails from Washington, D. C. His method of composition is simple: he gets in a mood and just writes, or he comes upon a harmony construction that he likes. He never forces anything in his writing.
Just now, the Duke is on the stage at the Metropolitan Theatre. After he finishes there, he may go to Hollywood or go back to the Cotton Club in New York. But before that, he's going to play at the Crimson-Green Ball at the Somerset, before the Dartmouth football game.
"Solitude," "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," "It Don't Mean A Thing strongest factor in making a song a hit. (if it ain't got that swing)" are the most successful tunes among the 200 that the Duke's written. He isn't at all conceited about his success--he maintains that good publicity is the
Duke Ellington likes Boston, as do other visiting orchestra leaders. "You know," he remarked, "Boston is really musically intelligent." And then he commented that he has never played for a Harvard dance . . .
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