The Duke Ellington Orchestra2018-10-05T18:23:45+00:00

13 Grammy Awards
And The Pulitzer Prize

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington born April 29, 1899 is regarded as one of the most prolific American composers of the Twentieth century. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Duke Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.” He remains one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music, and is widely considered as one of the Twentieth century’s best known African American personalities.

As both a composer and a band leader, Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia. Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death on May 24, 1974 at the age of 75. At this point, his son Mercer Ellington took leadership of the band. Mercer was an accomplished trumpet player and composer who wrote many songs for his father’s orchestra including the standard “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” In the early 1980s he became the first conductor for a Broadway musical of his father’s music, Sophisticated Ladies. Under his direction he toured and recorded the Orchestra for the next 22 years until his own death in 1996. At this point the baton was passed to Mercer’s youngest son Paul Mercer Ellington who has been leading the orchestra and fearlessly preserving the music and legacy of the great Duke Ellington.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra has been performing worldwide for the past 88 years under the guidance of three generations of the Ellington family and will continue to do so for many years to come. For the past three years while Paul is at New York University studying for his Masters degree in Film Production, Charlie Young the very talented alto sax player and arranger and professor at Howard University has been acting as the conductor touring the world leading the Famous Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Bestowed posthumously in 1999, commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.

“By and large, JAZZ has always been like the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

” A Problem Is Your Chance To Do Your Best.”

-Both quotes by Duke Ellington

Tommy James: Band Leader For The Duke Ellington Orchestra

Tommy James was born in Mt. Pleasant, NY to a family of non-musicians. While other kids were playing baseball, he ventured to his neighbor’s apartment to play on the piano. He learned to play by ear and by mimicking his favorite performers. After high school, he studied at The Manhattan School of Music and majored in composition.

Tommy became a member of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1987 after being personally invited by Mercer Ellington (the son of Duke Ellington). When the band’s piano player couldn’t go on a tour to Europe, Tommy received the call to join the orchestra.

Mr. James has performed or recorded with numerous artists including Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Roy Ayers, Lionel Hampton, and Savior Glover. For The Duke Ellington Orchestra, he recorded Third Generation (2009) and Only God Can Make A Tree (1996) with Mercer Ellington. He has also served as music director for vocalists Marlena Shaw, Maureen McGovern, and Nell Carter. Mr. James has also performed with Patti LaBelle, Roberta Flack, Manu Dibango, The Stylistics and Teddy Pendergrast.

Recent theater credits include Sammy and Me with the Alliance Theater and Scandalous people at NY Fringe Festival. He also performed and was the musical director for the world tours of Classical Savion, Bringin’ da Noise Bringin’ da Funk, and Inprovography.

In 2010 Paul Ellington relinquished his role as the conductor of the Duke Ellington Orchestra to pursue a career in film production and cinematography. Tommy James has assumed the position as conductor and musical director of the band ever since.

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