Today I am setting out to compare the lifestyles experiences and upbringing of Duke Ellington and Louie Armstrong. To do this I am not going to limit myself expressly to their musical achievements but am going to take elements from their whole life to provide an in-depth analysis of the similarities and differences in their lives.
Both were born around the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. Duke Ellington, born Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April the 29th in 1899 while Louie Armstrong was born 2 years later on August the 4th, 1901.
Louie Armstrong was born to a poor family, in a poverty and racism filled area. His father worked at a factory on very low income and the struggles this put upon his family caused his mother to leave shortly after Louie was born. Due to this Louie and his sister went to live with their grandmother and uncle. When Louie turned 5 he moved back in with his mother and attended Fisk School for Boys where he first encountered music and began to learn to play the cornet and read music. The family’s financial situation was still desperate, to a point where his mother turned to prostitution. Louis’ interest in music grew when he would hear bands playing in dance halls, he would often join the bands on stage and sing himself. Aged 11 he joined a male quartet who sang in the streets, and he continued to perform in dance halls throughout his teens. His principal influences were always jazz musicians such as Buddy Petit and Louis was always eager to listen to any jazz records he came across.
Due to his success performing in dance halls he built a reputation for himself which led to him receiving a call from Joe King Oliver in 1922 asking him to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. Louis accepted this and moved travelled to Chicago, first recording with the band in 1923. He continued building a reputation and by 1929 he was renowned as a expert musician and was highly in demand, touring America and Europe with various different bands and artists, predominantly as a solo trumpeter. In doing this he built a platform onto which his huge legacy as one of the most important and influential musicians would grow. His innovations on his instrument, technique, feel and his scat singing are and will always be hugely influential to musicians the world over. He died on July the 6th, 1971 of a heart attack.
Duke Ellington was born in Washington D.C. to a fairly middle class family. His introduction to music came at age 7 when he learnt to play piano. This was down to his parents who were both talented musicians. He composed his first piece in ragtime style aged just 15. Duke gained his nickname from his general good manners gentlemanly style.
Their approaches to integrating music from the church into their performances again puts them at opposition and highlights the differences in their cultural backgrounds. Louie’s version of When the Saints Come Marching In*1 is interpreted in a traditional New Orleans jazz style, while Duke Ellington’s more “highbrow” A Concert of Sacred Music*2 is performed in Ellington’s orchestral style. Ellington is quoted as saying “his music wasn’t jazz; it was “American Music.”*3 This contrasts highlights the high/low culture split in their origins.
1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyLjbMBpGDA
2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8T5-AxBUwI
3 – https://blogs.wdav.org/2015/01/honoring-african-american-classical-composers/