Honoring Maestro Duke Ellington in Midtown Houston

Join us on Saturday, April 20th, from 10 am to 4 pm at Midtown Art in the Park 2024. We will honor National Jazz Month and celebrate the life and music of Maestro Duke Ellington in Midtown Park Plaza (902 McGowen at Travis).

Edward Kennedy Ellington, known in popular culture as Duke Ellington, was an American pianist and one of the greatest jazz composers of all time. He was one of the originators of Big Band Jazz. 

Duke grew up in a secure middle-class family in Washington, D.C., with parents who supported his interest in art. At the age of seven, he began taking piano lessons. As a youngster, he was inspired by Ragtime performers such as Scott Joplin, Louis Chauvin, and Thomas M. Turpin. Although Ragtime was relatively short-lived, it had a powerful influence on Duke and the development of jazz in America. 

At the age of 17, Duke began his professional career. By the time he was 24 years old, he had moved to New York City and would call the city his home until his death in 1974. He would lead his band to performances in Broadway nightclubs, and four-years later, he had an extended residency at the Cotton Club in Harlem. He was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance. 

So that he could expand his compositional scope and arrangements, he had a large band of 14 musicians. He hired band members for their exceptional talent and musical expression. As he composed more and more, he would write music to highlight the abilities of musicians taking into account harmonies and creating subtle moods with unusual combinations of instruments.  He also began writing extended works. He didn’t limit himself to innovating jazz, he also wrote popular songs of the time and composed jazz in a classical form.

He toured worldwide and worked with the most gifted artists, such as John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and more. He influenced many of today’s musicians: Dave Brubeck, the late Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and countless others.  Mr. Ellington was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Grammy National Trustees Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion of Honor by France, its highest civilian honor, and a posthumous Special Pulitzer Prize for his lifetime contributions to music and culture.

Local artist Chris Robinson designs this special public art project. It honors the life and legacy of Edward Kennedy  “Duke” Ellington on what would have been his 125th birthday year. 

Duke Ellington Song Book: We encourage you to search for his music online and listen for a while!

Midtown Houston has been a catalyst in supporting art in every form. Our community is a designated State of Texas Cultural Arts and Entertainment District (2012). We are known for our many attractions, including picturesque park spaces, long-standing cultural arts organizations, impactful public art, and national award-winning public art. This is a project of the Midtown Cultural Arts and Entertainment District in association with the Midtown Management District. We are proud to celebrate the birth of Maestro Duke Ellington.