Today is Duke Ellington’s birthday (1899). He must be counted as one of a handful of the most relevant and influential musicians, not only in Jazz, but in all 20th Century music. His compositions, and the way he tailored them to the specific strengths of his big band musicians, were innovative and masterful.
So, when I decided to make a bas-relief sculpture of a big band I chose to make “Duke” its pianist. Most of the players in the band are generic faces, but I also put Charles Mingus on bass; Max Roach on drums; Charlie Parker on alto sax; Sidney Bechet on soprano sax; and Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax. I consider them the quintessential and/or most historically important players on their respective instruments (I know! Lots of room for debate and I welcome it).
Someday I will do another big band sculpture and make every player a specific portrait. Who would you choose to be the best representatives on their axes? Ya gotta have Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis in the trumpet section, but there is room for two more (Chet Baker? Lester Bowie? Clifford Brown? Wynton Marsalis?) The two tenor saxes are a big challenge too: Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, are the most obvious candidates. And I don’t know where to begin with trombonists! Feel free to chime in with your candidates for the ultimate big band.