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Ellington Items Under The Hammer

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More than 300 personal items owned by the great jazz figurehead Duke Ellington go up for auction today (Wednesday) at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, New York. Auction house Guernsey’s will open bids for personal customers and online at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com at 6 pm local time, after a preview yesterday.

The remarkable collection has been held at the home of Duke’s sister Ruth Ellington, and proceeds from the sale will go to surviving members of his family. Items include his white baby grand piano, on which he wrote many of his best-known numbers, and many of his bespoke dinner jackets and tuxedos.

Scores for such classics as ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and ‘Mood Indigo’ are included along with rare family photographs, posters, awards and keys to various cities awarded to Ellington. Pictured above is a poster for one of the performances that Duke and his orchestra played as ambassadors for the US Department of State, in a series of concerts around the world between the 1950s and 1970s.

“It’s the first ever [Ellington] auction held in Harlem,” notes Guernsey’s president Arlan Ettinger, “which is interesting considering Duke’s career started at the Cotton Club at 142nd and Lenox.”

Above: a dinner jacket made of imported Japanese silk often worn by Duke in concert, with a floral lining and a label reading “Duke Ellington, December 27 1965.”

Also on sale is this box of about 125 of Ellington’s personally designed Christmas cards, containing approximately 125 cards, which he sent each year (well after the holidays, at least once). Duke’s signature is on the front of the cards, which feature his unusual spelling of “Merrie Christmas.”

The programme for Duke Ellington Day in New York on 26 May, 1969, which marked his career-long achievements and his 70th birthday. This lot at the Ellington auction includes a ticket stub to the event, which included performances by Tony Bennett, Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway and Ellington himself.

Explore our dedicated Duke Ellington Artist Page

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