Duke Ellington composed many of his best-known jazz standards on a white baby grand piano — “Sophisticated Lady,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
That piano ended up at the home of his sister, Ruth Ellington Boatwright, in the late 1940s; Mr. Ellington’s nephew Stephen James used to play underneath and eventually took lessons on it.
Now Mr. James has consigned the piano — expected to sell for anywhere between $50,000 to $1 million — along with about 300 other items that belonged to the jazz legend, to Guernsey’s. Ellington’s personal belongings will come up for auction on May 18 at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
“This is a collection of things I’ve had for most of my life,” Mr. James said. “I thought it would be good to have it out into the world instead of sitting in a storage facility.”
Because Mr. James was young when his own father left, Ellington loomed large in his life. The young Stephen spent school vacations at his uncle’s house and accompanied him out on the road, eventually becoming a member of his staff. “I was close to Duke growing up,” Mr. James said. “He was like a father to me.”
The cache includes silk jackets Ellington performed in, contracts he signed and musical manuscripts scribbled by hand. “We’re selling the real McCoy — the originals,” Arlan Ettinger, Guernsey’s president, said of the sheet music. “Songs like ‘Mood Indigo,’ ‘Lush Life,’ ‘Flamingo.’”
The auction — also online — includes Ellington’s paintings, like “Satin Doll” and “A Study for a Painting of Billy Strayhorn,” his frequent collaborator.
And there are gold dinner plates, a luggage tag, a monogrammed handkerchief and copyright renewals for pieces like “Harmony in Harlem” and “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).”
“These are part of the American Songbook,” Mr. Ettinger said, “the definition of classics.”
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