Surprisingly, Duke found that he enjoyed writing music more than playing the piano. He would often skip his piano lessons to sneak into a poolroom to listen to other pianists. During those many journeys, though, Duke finally discovered the love of piano that his mother had tried to instill in him. Duke would watch and listen to some of the big names in ragtime piano, including Doc Perry, Harvey Brooks, and Claude Hopkins. The more he listened to these great musicians, the easier Duke found to imitate their music. Duke took hold of this desire and set out to become the musician that he continues to be remembered as today.Duke’s formal musical training began soon after his newfound discovery. His high school music teacher gave him private lessons in harmony, and pianist and band leader Doc Perry taught Duke how to read sheet music and present a style of professionalism. With the advice from other well-known pianists, such as Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet, Duke began playing ragtime piano is clubs and cafes throughout Washington, D., becoming so attached to his music that he even turned down a scholarship to the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn. Just three months prior to graduating from high school, Duke dropped out of school, ready to take his talent to professional levels, wanting to share his music with the world.Duke put together his first music group in 1917, and they were known as The Duke’s Serenaders. The group played in Washington, D. and in many cities of Virginia, performing for embassy parties and private society balls. The success of The Duke’s Serenaders was uncommon in those times given the racial division of society. The social acceptance that was abundant wherever Duke and his musicians played speaks, entertaining African-American and white audiences, speaks loudly of how revered Duke was becoming. Despite his racial background, people of all races were anxious to hear the great Duke behind his piano.Only a few years later did Duke make the decision to leave Washington, D. and move to Harlem, eventually becoming a primary figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Duke’s relocation coincided with the new jazz craze, though Duke and the members of his band had difficulty emerging into the scene, finding themselves against competitive talent. At that time, they only success they found in Harlem was a smattering of house parties. After
Ellington, Duke. Music is My Mistress. 1st ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973. Print.
Schuller, Gunther. "Jazz and Composition: The Many Sides of Duke Ellington, the Musics Greatest Composer." Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 46.1 (1992): 36-51. Print.
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