With a career spanning over six decades, most of which he spent in the New York City, Duke Ellington has managed to influence many music genres, including gospel, blues, popular music and, most notably, jazz. He was a renown pianist, composer and big-band leader. The latter comprises the vast part of his accomplishments as a musician; he had a creative approach to his orchestra, making performances inventive and unique. This characteristic of his to a large extent helped elevate jazz into new artistic heights and turn it into a true art form, just like classical music. He is considered to be one of the greatest band leaders of all time. He is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, 13 Grammy awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom among others.
Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful voices of the 20th century. Although she herself didn’t write many songs, her performances were charged with intimacy and emotion, as if every song she sang was written deliberately for her; her recording of “Strange Fruit” is often named as one of the most important songs in all music history because of the exceptional style, themes and delivery. She experimented with tempo and phrasing a lot, which amounted to impressive performances. Her vocals were evidently inspired by the sound of popular jazz instruments. She was awarded multiple Grammy awards, all post-humous, and her place in the Grammy Hall of Fame is undeniable.
A widely acclaimed bandleader, composer and bass player, Charles Mingus, just like Charles Parker, was widely known for his notorious character. He suffered from clinical depression and anger management issues, which oftentimes lead to his outbursts off stage as well as on it. He was known to threaten his fellow band members and once even punched a trombonist in the face. All of the band members knew what they were getting themselves into though when they decided to join Mingus’ band. He was famous for his ability to write spectacular pieces for medium-sized ensembles, altering the compositions to allow all of the players to show off their skill, talent, and, most importantly, unique character. Over the years of his career, he developed a style that encompassed elements of hard bop, gospel, free jazz and classical music, which made him one-of-a-kind when it came to performances.
A pianist like Thelonious Monk has never and probably will never walk on this planet. Complex harmonies, percussive attacks, sudden pauses, dissonance – all that characterized his highly unique style of playing piano, which had an immense influence on bebop music. On top of that, he assisted the popularization of jazz with his outspoken, charismatic and eccentric personality as well as his looks that complemented the uniqueness of his music. Sometimes, he would stand up from the piano and begin dancing while the rest of the band kept playing, which is an image that most accurately represents him as an interesting person and an exceptional musician.