Duke Ellington and George Gershwin

Duke Ellington and George Gershwin

Musical interdisciplinarians.

George Gershwin and Duke Ellington were some of the most famous and influential jazz composers of all time. Their most lasting accomplishments have been in the field of interdisciplinary music, or the sampling of classical and popular music in their jazz compositions. Let’s learn a bit more about Gershwin and Ellington:

George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in 1898, and began his performing career at the age of 15, after dropping out of school. Throughout his career, Gershwin wrote a dozen Broadway shows with his older brother Ira, as well as orchestral compositions like An American in Paris (1928). During the time when Gershwin was composing, the realm between jazz and classical music was very fluid, and the influence of both forms is found in both types of compositions. Gershwin, who was originally interested in pop music and then became primarily a jazz guy, entered the classical world through the success of his Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. Gershwin’s classical success and the connection between the forms was symbolized in Austrian Ernst Krenek’s 1927 opera Jonny spielt auf which illustrates a jazz guy stealing the violin of the classical performer, which is representative of the jazz musicians and classical musicians stealing musical stuff from each other. Gershwin died in Hollywood in 1937.

Duke Ellington was born in Washington D.C. in 1899, and started taking piano lessons at the age of seven. Ellington led his legendary band from 1923 until his death in 1974. Ellington didn’t explicitly label his style as jazz; instead, he thought that all genres of music could borrow from each other and make a sort of post-genre kind of music. But there are some aspects of individual genres that just wouldn’t work together—like a country music theme with a jazz progression even if they were messed with—just wouldn’t work that well. Genres seem to exist for a reason, aspects of some music belong and should only belong to the genre, although are probably “good.” However, Ellington used a number of different styles, and borrowed aspects from many different styles that worked very well. Ellington’s ideas relate to the borrowing of some musical techniques from one genre, with a healthy amount of messing, is usually a good idea, and certainly was good for him and his innovations. Ellington died in New York City at the age of 75.

What are your favorite George Gershwin and Duke Ellington tunes?