Mercer Ellington had the impossible task of trying to escape from his father Duke Ellington's shadow and he never really succeeded, perhaps not trying hard enough. He studied music early on and made several attempts to lead his own band (1939, 1946-1949, and 1959) that were all ultimately unsuccessful. During the ASCAP strike of the early '40s when Duke was desperate for new material, Mercer wrote several notable songs, including "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," "Jumpin' Punkins," "Moon Mist," and "Blue Serge," but nothing he composed since then approached their stature. Among his many other jobs was working as road manager for Cootie Williams' Orchestra, musical director for Della Reese, a salesman, a record company executive, and a disc jockey. Finally in 1965, he gave up trying to be independent and became Duke Ellington's road manager and a non-soloing section trumpeter. After Duke's death in 1974, Mercer took over the band but within a couple years it had greatly declined. Mercer wrote a biography in 1978 (Duke Ellington in Person), directed the so-so musical Sophisticated Ladies (1981-1983), supervised the release of many previously unavailable Ellington recordings and led the inaccurately titled Duke Ellington Orchestra on an occasional basis, recording a few dates that often had all-stars as ringers.
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