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Curtain Up: Two Days of the Duke

Celebrate the lengendary music of Duke Ellington with performances by UCLA's Jazz Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble.


By Maya Parmer

Published Apr 1, 2009 8:00 AM

Photo courtesy of Kenny Burrell.

When UCLA students were entranced by Duke Ellington's provocative tunes at a Culver City club in 1937, they asked the budding musical great to play a free concert in Royce Hall. "I've been waiting for someone to ask us!" Ellington exclaimed.

On the day of the concert, Ellington accidentally mixed up the venues and drove to USC instead. He eventually arrived at the UCLA campus and, to apologize for his tardiness, played to the packed crowd for more than four hours. And so, "Sir Duke" and his group played the first-ever jazz performance in a concert venue.

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington wrote more pieces than any other composer — more than 3,000. His oppression and subsequent struggle as a non-conforming, creative African American in Harlem during Prohibition were the roots for timeless tunes that speak to all races, genders and social classes alike.

In celebration, the UCLA Jazz Orchestra and the UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble will perform at the "Duke Ellington 110th Birthday Anniversary Festival of Music" on April 4 and 5 at Schoenberg Hall.

Festival producer and jazz great Kenny Burrell, who directs the UCLA Jazz Studies Program, has taught a course on campus for 31 years titled "Ellingtonia," and he will be both directing and soloing at the weekend festival.

"This man dedicated his life to making high art out of folk material that was all around him," says Burrell about the remarkable man who called his work "American music" and may just have been the American Mozart.

Duke Ellington's 110th Birthday Anniversary Festival of Music. Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5. Schoenberg Hall. Sat. concerts 2-5 p.m., 7 p.m., Sun. concerts 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. Free. Sunday, Friends of Jazz Gala, 3:30 p.m. Price TBA. Call (310) 206-3033 or visit



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