It’s always fascinating to me to find out about the sources of inspiration for creative artists, whatever their field. That’s why I was so touched by a remembrance of Duke Ellington by that amazing balladeer, Tony Bennett. At 86, he’s recently released a new record and is still performing.
In his story, Tony talked about the impact that Duke Ellington’s song,”(In My) Solitude” had on him. Duke wrote the music to this simple, but haunting song; the lyrics were by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills. It was first recorded in 1934, but Tony heard Duke play it live in the late 1940s.
As Tony describes the song’s structure, “‘Solitude’ is an expressive confessional — a song about lost love, the hurt and the yearning to get it back: ‘I sit in my chair/I’m filled with despair.’ Some of the lyrics are directed at the lost love: ‘In my solitude, you haunt me.’ But there’s also an appeal to a higher source: ‘In my solitude/I’m praying/dear lord above/Send back my love.'”
Tony notes that these somber lyrics are contrasted with “Duke’s hopeful, uplifting melody.” He added that when he was a young artist, one of his teachers told him, “never to be influenced by another singer — to learn how to phrase by listening to musicians instead.” What a wonderful gem of wisdom!
Tony took this advice to heart and learned his craft from a number of gifted musicians. But as he put it, Duke Ellington was “my heart. His music and playing have a special vulnerability that helped me reach deep for my own emotions.” Tony also said that he doesn’t sing “Solitude” much anymore, but whenever he did, “audiences related. The song tells a story about someone’s life and loneliness. Everyone identifies with that. Everyone’s been there.”
“Solitude” tells the story of one person’s pain and loss: it’s intimate and personal — and yet, it’s also everyone’s story. That’s what makes it a classic. To combine the personal and the universal in one creative package – what a gift to the world! Surely this is something to strive for in our own work. Write on.