Kennedy Center Dedicates Jazz Season to Duke Ellington’s 125th

Joshua Redman. Photo by Heidi Zeiger

The Kennedy Center is commemorating Duke Ellington’s 125th birthday throughout its 2023–2024 season with institution-wide celebrations of the American icon who changed how the world heard music.

The Jazz season explores the Washington, D.C. native’s wide-ranging genius through extraordinary performances, masterful tributes, and new works that carry Ellington’s legacy into the future.

“Duke Ellington’s music represents so much more than the notes that he played. He represents a culture; he represents Washington, D.C.; he represents innovation and collectivity among artists. He represents humanity,” said Jason Moran, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz. “This season, we are continuing his story and honoring that immense heritage.”

Duke Ellington 125 will be celebrated in all corners of the Kennedy Center with programs presented across jazz, dance, education, the National Symphony Orchestra, the office of VSA and Accessibility, and Social Impact.

Tomeka Reid. Photo by Tony Smith

Jazz at the Kennedy Center’s commemoration launches on March 15, 2024 with Ellington’s very own Grammy Award®–winning supergroup, The Duke Ellington Orchestra. Jason Moran takes on Ellington’s “Grand Canon,” as he called it, in Jason Moran – Solo Ellington (April 10, 2024). Ellington’s spirit of innovation lives on as 2022 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and cellist extraordinaire, Tomeka Reid, presents her Ellington-inspired new work co-commissioned by the Kennedy Center (April 24, 2024). Then, three recipients of the Kennedy Center’s VSA International Young Musicians Award—awarded annually to outstanding young musicians with disabilities—come together in Three Keys to Ellington (April 26, 2024): Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition semifinalist and Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead graduate Justin Kauflin, Kennedy Center “Next 50” leader José André Montaño, and Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead graduate Matthew Whitaker. The festivities come to a head when acclaimed pianist Cyrus Chestnut brings Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (April 29, 2024).

There is much more to be enjoyed over the course of the season, including new jazz artists and the return of exciting favorites.

And audiences are invited to experience the future of jazz with three free performances on the Millennium Stage featuring participants in Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead (June 5–7, 2024), the international two-week jazz residency performance and composition project under the direction of Jason Moran, which discovers and presents the next generation of jazz greats.

For more on the Kenndy Center’s Jazz season, check out the website, and visit the K Street Magazine calendar of events for more cultural offerings.