"He felt that competition in almost sort of jungle conditions was what brought about creativity," says Duke Ellington's biographer Stanley Dance of the legendary pianist-band leader and composer. "I mean . . . he didn't believe that you had to starve, but he still felt that what had made jazz what it was was the intense competition. Those long journeys were when he did a lot of thinking. When he and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney were driving from Washington to Chicago and planning to stop over in Pittsburgh, he would say, 'Oh, let's go on to Chicago.' "
A glimpse into the grueling circumstances of Ellington's professional life will be provided Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a Birthday Tribute to Duke Ellington at Martin Luther King Memorial Library. The 1967 film "On the Road With Duke Ellington" will be shown along with the 1929 "Black and Tan Fantasy." The films will be followed by a program of Ellington's music performed by the Kevin Toney Trio. Admission is free.
"On the Road With Duke Ellington" has the Washington native talking about his childhood and family, rehearsing his orchestra and performing at the piano. Among the musicians appearing in the film are his son Mercer Ellington, the saxophonist Johnny Hodges and Louis Armstrong. The 58-minute documentary includes a clip from the Columbia musical "Reveille With Beverly" showing the 1943 Ellington band playing "Take the A-Train."