Year: 1988
First Aired:7/18/1988 and 7/25/1988

aka:"American Masters: A Duke Named Ellington"


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Produced and Directed by: Terry Carter

Written and Co-Produced by: Leonard "Skip" Malone

Edited by: Beate Glatved

A Production of: Council for Positive Images, Inc.

Commissioned by: WNET (PBS American Masters Series)

Genre: Documentary

Plot Summary: Council for Positive Images, Inc. presents the award-winning, universally acclaimed musical biography of one of the world's most influential composers and musicians, Duke Ellington.

A Duke Named Ellington had its world premiere on network television in the United States, on the PBS American Masters series. It has since traveled the world, garnering praise. The documentary was selected for screening in international festivals at Cannes, France; Gijon, Spain; Spoleto, Italy; Banff, Ontario, Canada; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Warsaw, Poland; and Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.

For the first time, the full panorama of the life and artistic accomplishments of that musical giant, Duke Ellington, has been brought to the television screen. A Duke Named Ellington is a unique study of Ellington's life and works, capturing the genius and charisma of a cultural phenomenon that transcended time, space and musical form. This extraordinary two-hour program, is a blending of previously undiscovered archival performance footage with recollections of Ellington and his work, spanning half a century, on the American and European continents.

PART ONE: Includes the Ellington early years, from the gilded 20's through the Great Depression of the 30's, when his emergence as a dynamic musical force inspired and uplifted an entire generation. Performances ranging from the rare to the classic, from Timon of Athens and Ad Lib on Nippon to Rockin' in Rhythm and The Opener, are interlaced with the anecdotes and early recollections of vocalists Adelaide Hall and Herb Jeffries, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, bassist-composer Charlie Mingus and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, providing the audience with intimate, first-hand insights into the Ellington experience. Outstanding artists who knew him as a peer, from pianist Willie The Lion Smith to pianist Teddy Wilson, recall Ellington's unique approach to his creative artistry, his tireless search for new musical sounds and forms, his foibles, his passions, and his spirituality.

PART TWO: The Ellington renaissance of the 1950's, ignited by the spectacular Ellington triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival, his irrepressible experimentation, his development of extended works, including suites, religious music and ballet scores, his strong influence on yet another generation, are all recounted by music critic Leonard Feather and artists such as pianist-composer Herbie Hancock, Sweden's foremost vocalist Alice Babs, and legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey. Also captured for this production are the remembrances of outstanding musical artists and others who reflect on how their lives and their professional experiences have been deeply influenced by the Ellington phenomenon, including drummer Louis Bellson, trumpeter Clark Terry, and more. Musical selections include Ellington orchestral performance excerpts from Black, Brown and Beige, The Sacred Concerts, The Far East Suite and climactic dance sequences, choreographed by Alvin Ailey, from Night Creature and The River.

One unique feature of A Duke Named Ellington is the presentation of Ellington abroad, in concert performances across Europe. Highlights include great solo moments by celebrated virtuosi among the Ellington conglomerate, including saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Russell Procope, Harry Carney, and Ben Webster, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, trumpeters Cootie Williams and Cat Anderson, and violinist Ray Nance...

Throughout the program, Edward Kennedy Ellington reminisces about some of his earliest professional experiences, reflects on his unique method of music-making, and reveals, through anecdotes, his keen sense of humor, his ambitions, his love for humanity, and his uncommon philosophy.

It becomes evident, in viewing A Duke Named Ellington, that not only was Ellington a protagonist in the historical development of American music, blazing a path for other musical artists to follow, but that he continues to provide inspiration for composers, arrangers and musical performers, in shaping the future of modern music. The program demonstrates how Ellington contributed to the elevation of jazz from the level of folklore to the realm of music that lives far beyond its time and place.

Notes: A Duke Named Ellington was nominated for an Emmy Award as "Outstanding Informational Special" and was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle, The Golden Antenna, First Prize at the Bulgarian International TV Festival.



A Duke Named Ellington was acclaimed by the critics as:


  • "A masterly portrait of a master." (Politiken, Denmark)
  • "In a class by itself... a triumph of film and tape research... what can you say but that it is achingly good..." (Los Angeles Times)
  • "Can't be beat... a superb two-parter... the perfect example of just how an in-depth profile of an artist should be done..." (New York Daily News)
  • A Duke Named Ellington accomplishes something that very few documentaries of this sort ever accomplish. It leaves the viewer and listener with a deep sense of Duke Ellington's genius. No small achievement." (New York Post)
  • "Much more than a documentary about the Duke... an essential testimony about the music of our century." (Jazz Magazine, France)


    A Duke Named Ellington, the extraordinary, classic two-hour musical biography, recently made its debut on DVD.


    A Duke Named Ellington on DVD

    A Duke Named Ellington on DVD


    If you'd like to read more or want to order the DVD, please read the official press release: Press Release: A Duke Named Ellington on DVD or visit the official website: A Duke Named Ellington on DVD

    A Duke Named Ellington will be screened at the Lincoln Centerís Walter Reade Theater in New York on April 29th, 2007, to commemorate the 108th birthday of Duke Ellington. Terry Carter will be there to present it.

    If you'd like to read why Terry Carter made this film, read this article: Why I made A Duke Named Ellington.


    October 9, 2006: A Duke Named Ellington was screened at the National Music Center and Museum in Washington DC, and was followed by a Question & Answer session, with Producer-Director Terry Carter, jazz scholars and experts on the Ellington legacy participating.

    July 5 - 17, 2007: A Duke Named Ellington was screened aboard the MS Rotterdam, on the first-ever North Sea Jazz Festival Cruise.

    April 29, 2007: A Duke Named Ellington was screened at the Lincoln Centerís Walter Reade Theater in New York City, to commemorate the 108th birthday of Duke Ellington.