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Ellington 125

Title treatment reads Ellington 125 next to a caricature of Duke Ellington in a top hat

Beyond Category

Duke Ellington didn’t call it jazz. He called his music “American Music,” and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

But no one deserves that description more than The Duke.

Throughout the 2023–2024 season, the Kennedy Center commemorates Duke Ellington’s 125 birthday with institution-wide celebrations of the American icon who changed how the world heard music. An outstanding musician, charismatic band leader, and prolific composer, the Washington, D.C. native was an innovator across an expansive and eclectic range of styles…from pop and theatrical to swing, fusion, and beyond. See what’s coming and join the party!

Ellington 125 Events

Dorrance Dance: The Nutcracker Suite

Nov. 30 - Dec. 2, 2023

In The Nutcracker Suite, explosive tap dance meets your favorite holiday classic. This Nutcracker boogies, slides, struts, and dives into Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s intoxicating interpretation of the Tchaikovsky classic.

Duke Ellington Orchestra

Fri. Mar. 15, 2024

Performing worldwide for more than 101 years under the guidance of three generations of Ellington’s family, the Grammy Award–winning supergroup has produced more iconic jazz classics than any other band—passing the sound artist-to-artist in the creative spirit of its founder.

National Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Swing! An Evening of Duke Ellington

Mar. 15 - 16, 2024

Swing and sway to the timeless jazz brilliance of The Duke! As part of the Kennedy Center’s season-long celebration of Duke Ellington, the NSO presents a soulful, star-studded tribute to the Washington, D.C.-born icon who changed how the world heard music. Joined by special guest performers who embody the vibrant spirit of jazz’s golden era, the NSO breathes new life into favorites like “Take the A Train,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” and more.

National Symphony Orchestra

NSO Family Concert: Music of Duke Ellington

Sun. Mar. 17, 2024

Take the A-Train to a special afternoon of music paying tribute to the beloved jazz composer and bandleader! Conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, the National Symphony Orchestra performs this swinging session as part of the Kennedy Center’s season-wide Ellington 125 celebration.

Jason Moran – Solo Ellington

Wed. Apr. 10, 2024

Guided by Duke Ellington’s great canon, Jason Moran takes a solo piano climb up “Mount Ellington” in this extraordinary celebration of the composer’s enduring legacy. Experience the timeless genius of Ellington’s music, brilliantly reimagined by Moran and paired with iconic images of The Duke by legendary photographer Gordon Parks.

2024 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

Sat. Apr. 13, 2024

FREE! Join us for a concert honoring the esteemed recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, our nation’s highest honor in jazz. The 2024 NEA Jazz Masters include virtuoso vocalist and pianist Amina Claudine Myers, prolific saxophonist Gary Bartz, Grammy-winning trumpet player and composer Terence Blanchard, and writer and Artistic Director of the DC Jazz Festival Willard Jenkins. Stay tuned for ticket details!

POSTCLASSICAL ENSEMBLE PRESENTS

Beyond Category: The Concert Music of Duke Ellington

Tue. Apr. 16, 2024

Jazz pianist Ellington Carthan takes us on a journey through Duke Ellington’s extraordinary yet little-known concert pieces, including Black, Brown, and Beige, the suite from the ballet The River, and the debut of Scott Silbert’s orchestration of Caravan featuring guest conguero Felix Contreras.

Fortas Chamber Music Concerts

Dover Quartet with Leif Ove Andsnes

Tue. Apr. 23, 2024

A Fortas favorite since its Kennedy Center debut, Dover Quartet joins our season-wide Ellington 125 celebration with an arrangement of “In a Sentimental Mood.” Two piano quintets complete the program, featuring guest pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

Tomeka Reid, Celebrating Ellington 

Wed. Apr. 24, 2024

Described as a “New Jazz Power Source” by the New York Times, cellist extraordinaire Tomeka Reid presents her groundbreaking new work inspired by Duke Ellington. Be among the first to witness this Kennedy Center co-commission as Reid seamlessly captures the essence of Ellington, all while propelling jazz into bold new territories.

Accessibility/VSA

Three Keys to Ellington: Justin Kauflin, José André Montaño, Matthew Whitaker

Fri. Apr. 26, 2024

At this Duke Ellington-inspired piano showcase, we spotlight three ferociously talented award-winning musicians: Justin Kauflin, José André Montaño, and Matthew Whitaker. Join us for an evening that will delight the jazz piano lover in your life. This performance is part of The Rosemary Kennedy Performing & Visual Arts Series.

Cyrus Chestnut: Duke Ellington Sacred Concert

Mon. Apr. 29, 2024

At this once-in-a-lifetime event, Cyrus Chestnut brings his epic interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts to life. Don’t miss a rare performance of this joyful music embracing the gospel, jazz, blues, swing, and classical styles that defined The Duke’s work and spirituality.

A young Duke Ellington gazes off camera with a smile in black and white photo

Meet the Artist

Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia. Simply put, Ellington transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His legacy continues to live on and will endure for generations to come.

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Educational Resource

Ellington Voices: Nnenna Freelon & Harolyn Blackwell

An hour-long lecture/demonstration video for student audiences.

In this Kennedy Center commission, two of today’s top vocalists and an internationally-known composer and pianist explore how classical sounds intertwine with improvisational jazz in the music of Duke Ellington, one of DC’s native sons. Bringing together their respective expertise from the jazz and classical worlds, Nnenna Freelon and Harolyn Blackwell together with music director Mike Garson demonstrate how Ellington's compositions blended European classical traditions with syncopated rhythms and African American work songs, blues, and spirituals.

Sponsors

Ellington 125: Around Town

  • ˪  at The Warner Theater
    Experience an electrifying evening as The Washington Ballet honors DC native Duke Ellington through a world premiere by Silas Farley set to The Duke’s Shakespearean Suite Such Sweet Thunder.