April, 1999, is Year 100 of the era of Edward Kennedy Ellington and certainly the world is taking due note. Nowhere was the why of this outburst of devotion made clearer than in "The Funeral Address" delivered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on May 27, 1974 by Stanley Dance.
"In the truest sense of the phrase, he was a citizen of the world. That is a cliché perhaps, but how few are those who deserve it as he did. He was loved throughout the whole world, by all levels of society, by Frenchmen and Germans, by English and Irish, by Arabs and Jews, by Indians and Pakistanis, by atheists and devout Catholics, and by communists and fascists alike. . . .
"As a musician, he hated categories. He didn't want to be restricted, and although he mistrusted the word 'jazz,' his definition of it was 'freedom of expression.' If he wished to write an opera, or music for a ballet, or for the symphony, or for a Broadway musical, or for a movie, he didn't want to feel confined to the idiom in which he was the unchallenged acknowledged master.
"As with musical categories, so with people categories. Categories of class, race, colour, creed, and money were obnoxious to him. He made his subtle, telling contributions to the civil rights struggle in musical statements, in Jump for Joy in 1941, in The Deep South Suite in 1946, and in My People in 1963. Long before black was officially beautiful - in 1928 to be precise - he had written "Black Beauty" and dedicated it to a great artist, Florence Mills. And with Black, Brown and Beige in 1943, he proudly delineated the black contribution to American history."
Prolific writer about jazz, Stanley Dance - the friend, critic, and biographer of Duke and his men from early in the careers of all - died at age 88 on February 23, 1999. He and his voice for jazz will be sorely missed.
At the end of the month, coincident with the true Ducal birthday (29 April), scholars, musicians, and just plain addicts from all over the world will meet in Washington, D.C., Duke's home town, where celebratory events have been underway all year. Chicago, site of the 1998 get-together, will be blessed with a Duke day almost every day in April, to include the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Members Big Band of Chicago, Jazz Unites' 22nd annual tribute to Duke Ellington, Chicago's Ellington Dynasty at the Jazz Showcase, the UIC Jazz Band led by Richard Wang at the Cultural Center, Bill Russo's Columbia College Jazz band, and others I have overlooked in the rush to go to press.
Sue Markle, a longtime member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago, is a professor of Instructional Technology at University of Illinois, Chicago Circle Campus. This article was originally published on the web site of the Jazz Institute of Chicago.