Duke Ellington and the Far East Suite

The 60s were a turbulent time in the United States. The decade was significantly interesting, however, when it came to music and what a few countries in the Middle East experienced during a 14/15 week tour of one of the best known jazz pianists of time. Known to be charming and an exceptional leader of his ensemble, Duke Ellington “hit the road” and started a journey of presentation and absorption. Why it was that during a time of political and social clashes between African Americans and white supremacy, Jazz–and especially Duke Ellington–was sent to these strategically chosen locations, is unclear. What is of significance though is that Duke Ellington seems to have come back from this journey enriched just as much as he was going there to enrich others. There are different stories about what he experienced while on this tour, but one that stands out particularly for me is the story of him having a concert in Kabul. The story goes that in the middle of the concert, Duke Ellington noticed people started to walk away in masses, and soon he realized it was time for evening prayer. Apparently, he stopped the concert in respect for the prayer time, and proceeded with it after prayers were over. There is no way to fact check this, specially since when he retells the story, he does not mentions stopping the concert. I have a liking for the first version, and knowing Duke Ellington’s characteristics: faithful, religion, and devotional, it seems like the kind of thing he would do.