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Ellington Fellowship Turns 30

In 1972, French-horn player, bassist and then-new member of the Yale School of Music faculty Willie Ruff founded the Duke Ellington Fellowship. Over the last 30 years, the award has been bestowed upon over 50 jazz legends including Mary Lou Williams, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and even the Duke himself.

The Fellowship, maintained through ticket sales from Fellowship-produced concerts, along with private donations, uses its influence to bring musical awareness to school children in New Haven, Conn. According to Ruff, over 180,000 New Haven children have benefited from the program, and he “looks forward to another 30 years of expanding musical perspectives at Yale and New Haven, particularly among the children who could grow up to become the next generation of ‘professors’ in the ‘Conservatory Without Walls'”.

On October 25 at 8 p.m., Woolsey Hall hosts the Duke Ellington Fellowship at Yale’s 30th Anniversary Concert. Trumpeter Jon Faddis will lead the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band with Ellington Band alumni Slide Hampton, Frank Wess and Jerry Dodgion through Duke’s “Black, Brown and Beige Suite,” among other familiar tunes. With a bass once owned by Slam Stewart, Yale School of Music grad Sean McClowry will present “Parting the Waters,” described as a “musical interpretation of the history of the American Civil Rights movement.” A screening of videos featuring both Faddis and Stewart performing at the first Ellington Fellowship concert in 1972 is also on the itinerary for the evening.

Tickets for the event are $15, $10. Student tickets are $8. They can be purchased from the Yale School of Music Concert Office by calling (203) 432-4158. For more information, call the Concert Office, or visit

In a related story, the main branch of the New Haven Public Library pays tribute to the legacy of the Ellington Fellowship this month by hosting Reggie Jackson’s photography exhibit, 30 Years of the Duke Ellington Fellowship at Yale. Jackson, a photographer and longtime New Haven resident, has documented the Fellowship’s concerts and its interaction with New Haven schools since its inception. The exhibit runs through October and admission is free. For more information, call (203) 946-8125.

Originally Published