Duke Ellington and Cootie Williams at Nixon’s Grand Theater, Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue, Philadelphia

January 13, 1939
Credit Line
John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

In the 1930s, legendary jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington brought his orchestra to Philadelphia, playing several times at Nixon’s Grand Theater at Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue. Here Mosley captures Ellington’s energy at the piano and the commanding gesture with which he directs his fellow musicians. Cootie Williams, seen at left playing the trumpet, rose to prominence as a member of Ellington’s orchestra.

Ellington composed over three thousand songs during his lifetime. Some of his best-known titles include “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got that Swing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “Solitude,” “Take the A Train,” and “Satin Doll.” He called his music “American music” rather than jazz. When asked what inspired him to write, Ellington replied, “My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people.”


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