Men of Style – Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

Duke Ellington with an Alcazar Showgirl, Paris 1969
Duke Ellington with an Alcazar Showgirl, Paris 1969

“You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it” ~ Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. In the words of Bob Blumenthal of The Boston Globe “In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.  Ellington defined more than music, more than jazz. He defined cool. He was able to take the brash male need to show-off, of bravado, and distill it down into the visual equivalent of swinging.

Duke Ellington in Large Check Sports Coat with Conga Accessory
Duke Ellington in Large Check Sports Coat with Conga Accessory

A dear friend was expressing a need for more jazz in her life, and that tipped me to think of the greats, and then of course to a great that defines not only incredible jazz, but incredible style. Ellington brought elegance to both his compositions and his stage presence, and we would do well to learn his style lessons. Right from the start Ellington personified dignity and grace. Check his music and dress in this colour video recording of Satin Doll:

Portrait of Duke Ellington in Top Hat and White Tie
Portrait of Duke Ellington in Top Hat and White Tie

Ellington would walk into a room, and simultaneously set the bar higher for both dress and cool. He proved that you cannot overdress for an occasion when dressing with distinction; you become the standard. Ellington was the standard his entire working life.

Duke Ellington in French Cuff
Duke Ellington in French Cuff

A proper shirt and a proper jacket with stylish neckwear. Simple, yet when Ellington put them together they become a lyrical poem. And these were his work clothes. Beats the Hell out of casual Fridays.

Duke Ellington in His Work Clothes
Duke Ellington in His Work Clothes

Indeed, if you have ever doubted that elegant clothing can shape your behaviour look at these images of Ellington while listening to his music. The elegance and sophistication of his dress reflect back to us in his jazz. Dress better, create better.

Duke Ellington Swinging a Charcoal Blue Suit
Duke Ellington Swinging a Charcoal Blue Suit

An excellent way to begin putting an outfit together involves listening to Ellington and letting the jazz move you. Improvise in elegance to take hold of your inner Kingpin.

Duke Ellington As a Rhapsody in Blue
Duke Ellington As a Rhapsody in Blue


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