Dwike Mitchell (born Ivory Mitchell Jr.; February 14, 1930 – April 7, 2013) was an American piano player and teacher. He began his career as pianist for the Lionel Hampton Orchestra before joining Willie Ruff to form The Mitchell-Ruff Duo jazz group.

Mitchell was born and raised in Dunedin, Florida. He began playing piano around the age of three after his father, who had a job driving a garbage truck, brought home an old piano discarded by its owner. With the help of his mother, who made him play exercises and scales, and a cousin, who had been taking piano lessons herself, Mitchell soon displayed an exceptional aptitude for the instrument.

After graduating from the Academy, Mitchell joined the orchestra of the jazz musician Lionel Hampton. Hampton had heard Mitchell play at Lockbourne five years earlier and told him at the time that he wanted him as his pianist. Mitchell had abandoned his given name, Ivory, because of its popular association with piano keys. His new professional name, Dwike, was his mother’s suggestion, based on several family names.

In 1954 Mitchell was reunited with French horn player Willie Ruff, whom Mitchell had befriended when both were stationed at Lockbourne. Ruff had just received a master’s degree in music from Yale and was considering offers from two symphony orchestras. On television, he had seen Lionel Hampton’s orchestra perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and recognized Mitchell when the camera panned to the pianist. Ruff immediately phoned the television station, and in the ensuing conversation Mitchell convinced Ruff to abandon his symphony plans and instead join the Hampton orchestra.

In 1955 the two men left the orchestra to form the Mitchell-Ruff jazz duo. The duo placed an emphasis on introducing American jazz music in parts of the world unfamiliar with the idiom. Among these, were visits to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981. On the former trip they made a pretext of performing with the Yale Russian Chorus, jazz being prohibited at the time by the Soviet government. In fact, they held two jazz concerts at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. In appreciation for the duo’s performances, Mitchell and Ruff were invited to attend the Bolshoi Theater to see the final performance of the Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova. The 1981 trip to China marked the first time Americans had played and conducted workshops on jazz in that country after the Cultural Revolution.

 

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