Edward Kennedy Ellington probably did more for American music -and popular music- than anyone. Marrying classical arrangements to the horn movements of Sousa, to the rhythm of blues and field chants and work calls, he made the idiom that we call popular American music: everything before that was disparate and regionalized; everything afterward owes him a giant debt. People may not be able to immediately see what might marry the earliest recordings of just one person’s lone voice to the lushly produced and hilariously Auto-Tuned product of today, but there is a link, and that was Duke Ellington. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
He was another one spoken of largely in superlatives by his peers, even while he was alive. So what do you do with that? It must, as all things occasionally do, become a comic strip of itself. And there’s that other thing about how black people at the time (the time period in American history between the late 1920′s and the early 1970′s) were viewed: even the most talented among them -no matter how many people felt otherwise- needed to be treated as some sort of amusing thing that we can hold at arms’ length. Am I reading too much into this one? Maybe.