This week in history: Duke Ellington surprises Chicagoans with a free concert
Ellington, born April 29, 1899, made train delays pleasant for Loop riders on July 11, 1973, when he played a free concert in First National Bank plaza.
As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication to the Chicago Sun-Times:
Imagine waiting on the Washington/Wells “L” platform and hearing the jazzy sounds of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” drifting over the rush-hour traffic below.
That was the reality for Chicagoans in 1973 when Duke Ellington, who celebrated his birthday this week, played a free concert on July 11, 1973 for over a thousand people in the First National Bank plaza in the Loop.
Ellington, “in rare whimsical form” according to reporter Ray Townley, played an hour-and-a-half set of his favorites that “literally dripped with nostalgia.” The band wasted no time getting the crowd up and moving.
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“A number of people even jumped up on the stage to demonstrate their funky two-stepping before the approving eye of the Duke,” Townley wrote.
At one point, Ellington remarked to the crowd, “Do you know, ladies and gentlemen, that the First National Bank is affording me a chance to indulge in my mistress?”
Ellington paused for a moment to let the crowd “conjure up the wildest scandals,” then he grinned.
“Music...” he said. “Music is my mistress.”