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Mercedes Ellington




Theater Pizzazz’s own Michael Stever and Marilyn Lester were on hand for the 24th Duke Ellington Study Conference in New York City – and the jazz and theater communities are still abuzz since its completion in May 2016.

The record setting turnout featured music lovers, musicians and leading scholars from around the world for a series of panels and musical events designed to celebrate, preserve and expand the legacy of Duke Ellington, who is widely recognized as America’s most prolific American composer of the 20th century.


The historic reunion was helmed by Duke Ellington Center For The Arts board President (and Dukes Granddaughter) Mercedes Ellington and board chair Michael Dinwiddie. It was also bursting with producers, historians and performers from countless Broadway productions – many of which featured the Duke’s music, such as After Midnight and the Tony Award-winning Sophisticated Ladies.

The week long event kicked off proceedings at St. Peter’s Church, (also known as The Jazz Church) and worked its way to The Mist in Harlem. There were also guided bus tours and excursions to Jazz at Lincoln Center, Cotton Club, The Apollo, the Ellington Statue and memorial site, Duke Ellington Boulevard, plus Harlem speakeasies and clubs frequented by the Duke.

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Mercedes Ellington, Carmen de Lavallade, Tamara Tunie


Screenings of rare footage from documentaries, performances and family archives were also shown, all culminating in a special screening at The Paley Center for Media of Duke Ellington’s ground-breaking 1956 musical allegory A Drum Is a Woman; about Carribee Joe and his drum which evolves into a woman’s persona known as Madam Zajj. The historic event wrapped its proceedings with a special tribute to pioneer dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, who played Madam Zajj.

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Ty Stephens & Orchestra


Celebs, and notable guests and presenters included Tamara Tunie, Antoinette Montague, Frank Owens, George Avakian, Ty Stephens, Alexander Cowings, Adrian Bailey, Art Baron, Frank Basile, PJ Benjamin, Herb Boyd, David Alan Bunn, Philippe Baudoin, Candido Camero, Ray Carman, Dave Chamberlain, Michele Corcella, Kwami Coleman, Kent Drake, Shawn Edmonds, Ethan Fein, Rebecca Fulop, Andrea Frierson, David Gibson, Marcus Gross, Cleave Guyton, Bruce Heath, Patience Higgins, Bobby Lavell, Larry Marshall, Malik McLaurine, Brian Pareschi, Valarie Pettiford, Princess Rivera, Bobby Sanabria, Bob Stewart, Robin Bell Stevens, Eli Yamin, James Deland Zollar and many more.

To learn more about keeping the legacy of Duke Ellington alive visit

Film/Photos: Michael Stever