Composers Datebook®

Ellington's "Money Jungle"

Composer's Datebook - September 17, 2022


In 1962, American jazz composer, performer, and bandleader "Duke" Ellington was 63 years old – an acknowledged master, but trends in American jazz were changing, and there were much younger figures emerging, with more challenging styles.

Take, for example, the bassist Charles Mingus, Jr, a master of collective improvisation, and drummer Max Roach, a pioneer in the Be-Bop movement. Despite their age and stylistic differences, these three jazz titans went into a recording studio on today’s date in 1962 and, while tape rolled, using bare-bones charts provided by Ellington of melodies and harmonies, the three jazz titans improvised. The results were issued the following year as a classic LP entitled, “Money Jungle.”

Despite his fame, Ellington did not have a recording contract in 1962, and, perhaps after decades experiencing the highs and lows of life as a Black jazz musician in a segregated society, “Money Jungle” reflects a certain bitterness. Along with the charts he gave Mingus and Roach, Ellington also provided poetic story lines for each track, like: "Crawling around on the streets are serpents who have their heads up; these are agents and people who have exploited artists. Play that along with the music.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Duke Ellington (1899-1974), Charles Mingus (1922-1979), and Max Roach (1924-2007) –Money Jungle: Blue Note 31461

On This Day


  • 1795 - Baptismal date of Italian opera composer Saverio Mercadante, in Altamura, near Bari;

  • 1884 - American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes, in Elmira, New York;

  • 1917 - Korean-born German composer Isang Yun, in Tong Young (now Chung Mu);


  • 1179 - German mystic, writer and composer Hildegard von Bingen, age c. 81, in Rupertsburg (near Bingen);

  • 1762 - Italian violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani, age 74, in Dublin;

  • 1803 - Austrian composer Franz Xaver Sussmayr, who studied with Salieri and Mozart; Sussmayr completed Mozart's unfinished "Requiem";


  • 1872 - American premiere of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" at a Central Park concert given by the Theodore Thomas orchestra;

  • 1931 - Delius: "A Song of Summer," in London;

  • 1957 - Cowell: "Persian Set," at the Gulestan Palace in Tehran, Iran, by the Minneapolis Symphony, Antal Dorati conducting;

  • 1982 - Steve Reich: "Tehillim" (orchestral version), by New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta;


  • 1966 - German tenor Fritz Wunderlich dies, age 35, from a fall in his home in Heidelberg.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®