In the early 1940s, Allan Eager was a
just a kid trying to master the tenor saxophone in the Bronx. He easily
learned to play the tenor saxophone, with an impressive technique, and he
idolized Ben Webster, who played gruffly, vigorously, and distinctly.
Ben Webster, who played the saxophone
for years, became a major jazz star in 1940 when he joined the Duke Ellington
Orchestra and improvised remarkably on Ellington’s “Cotton Tail.”
When Webster listened to Allan Eager, he
was surprised that he played it so well. He woke up others of the Ellington
orchestra to listen to Eager. Because of that, Webster taught Eager for more
lessons. He never charged him because he was really devoted and definitely a
Bubber Miley, a soloist of the new
Ellington Orchestra, modified his already muted trumpet with a toilet
plunger, developing an “unearthly” sound.
Another important form of jazz
improvisation is the thirty-two-bar A
A B A popular song. From 1925 to 1960, tunes were mostly written by
professional songwriters, including but are not limited to Duke Ellington.
Jam sessions were casual gatherings,
harmonizing different musical personalities together. Duke Ellington was one
of the musicians who gave jam sessions.
One could say that the most upsetting part
of minstrelsy was that it forced white audiences to think that all black
entertainers, including those who were famous even after minstrelsy were
not very famous anymore, to achieve characteristics of the performing fool.
Louis Armstrong crawled his way through a notorious 1930’s one-reeler,
performing the minstrel song “Shine” in heaven,
wearing a leopard skin and standing ankle-deep in soap bubbles. However, when
Duke Ellington made his motion picture debut in a cameo performance with Amos
and Andy, minstrelsy was gone for three minutes; he is the same elegant
Ellington who plays at the Cotton Club and for the next forty years.
Ironically, only a few whites saw these
films. They were delivered almost completely to black theatres, where audiences were pleased to see geniuses like
Ellington and Armstrong on the screen. Those audiences had no struggle understanding
more than their colour, and laughed at Armstrong’s humour, knowing that the sound of his trumpet and the authority
of his vocal delivery removed racist clichés, even turning them into an act
of opposition. If stereotypes could not be removed, they could certainly be modified.
King Oliver is an American cornetist
who was an essential connection between the prehistory of jazz the
contemporary jazz. He was very prominent, Duke Ellington even borrowed
some of his techniques. However, as influential as his music proved to be, Oliver
was only famous for some time. His gums continued to worsen due to
pyorrhea, a disease of the gums, and so he was not able to play the cornet
By 1926, Henderson’s band was famous, it
was considered the best jazz orchestra anywhere. However, it began to lose
the next year, when Duke Ellington and other bandleaders who expanded on Henderson’s
approach and his chief arranger, Don Redman, rises up to fame. Although
Henderson never actually became as famous as Ellington, Count Basie, Benny
Goodman, and other big-band stars, his influence among musicians increased
during the 1930s, as he produced a huge amount of compositions and
arrangements that assisted to define big-band music in the Swing Era. Over
the decade 1924-34, an orchestra grew to an average of fifteen musicians:
typically three trumpets, two to three trombones, up to five reeds, and four rhythms (piano, bass or tuba, banjo or
guitar, drums). This basic big-band instrumentation, notwithstanding numerous
variations, remains unchanged even now.
Even though whites and Jews dominated
the Alley, black songwriters composed some of the most famous classics in the
American songbook, including Duke Ellington.
Like ragtime, stride piano started as a
composed music made up of multiple strains. Then, the East Coast stride
players began to add their own rhythms and twists, making a development that
was faster, livelier, and more energetic. Ragtime’s lineage from Scott Joplin
to Jelly Roll Morton was more than equalled
by stride pianists of the 1920s, who, through their disciples, shaped jazz
piano and jazz composition for decades to come – a lineage that Duke Ellington,
Art Tatum, and Thelonious Monk.”
James P. Johnson is considered to be the
‘Father of Stride Piano. He perfected the East Coast style from its ragtime
roots. Almost every
major jazz pianist who came along in the 1920s and 1930s but are not limited to Waller, Tatum and
Ellington Wilson learned from him. Although he never actually became
famous, stride revivalists consider him
as the most accomplished innovator of the stride style.
One would say the most important
composer that jazz – and arguably the United States has produced is Duke
Ellington. He played a vital role in every decade of its development, from
the 1920s until his death in 1974. His music is probably performed more than
any other jazz composer. Ellington achieved merit in many roles: composer,
arranger, songwriter, bandleader, pianist, producer. He wrote music of almost
every kind, including pop songs and blues; ballets and opera; theatre, film, and television scores; suites,
concertos, and symphonies; music for tributes and public dedications; and
most significantly, thousands of instrumental pieces. All of his music
contains influential aspects of jazz, even where there is no improvisation.
He made thousands of recordings, more than any other composer or bandleader.
Ellington’s early progress in the late
1920’s and early 1930s, defined four aspects of New York’s musical culture.
The first three were strictly music-related:
He clarified the character of
big-band jazz, showing potential beyond Whiteman’s imagination or Henderson’s
He set the influence of the stride
piano as a jazz factor, utilizing it not only as a pianist himself but also
as a foundation in orchestrations.
He showed that most of jazz writing could also be applied to popular
The fourth area involved his character
and was not essential to the existence of jazz and especially its
relationship to the Harlem Renaissance. Ellington, a handsome, intelligent
man, defied beliefs about jazz as a low and unlettered music. Mostly a self-taught
artist Ellington earned his reputable nickname with an intuitive nobility
that musicians, black and white, were quick to embrace. In his protest to
accept racial limitations, he became a
heroic figure to black communities
across the United States for almost 50 years.
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in
Washington, D.C., to a middle-class family who encouraged his talent for
music and art. His first piece, ‘Soda Fountain Rag,’ written at fourteen,
imitated James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout.” As a high school senior, Ellington
organized a five-piece band and found enough work to keep him going until he
prepared himself to go to New York, in 1923.
Duke Ellington, a composer, arranger,
orchestra leader, pianist, is regarded by many as the most accomplished
figure in American music.
Ellington’s career took a huge step on
December 4, 1927, when he played at Harlem’s Cotton Club. Although the club
was believed to represent New York’s sophistication, it actually was related
to minstrel clichés. The bandstand’s design featured a Southern mansion with
huge white columns and a painted scene of weeping willows and slave quarters.
For Ellington, though, the whole experience enlightens him. He learned a lot
about show business by working with other entertainers. As the star for the
next three years, Ellington became a major celebrity in New York and in the
United States. His reputation quickly spread to Europe.
When Ellington’s band grew in size it
gathered a cast of Ellingtonians, musicians who stayed with him for
years decades, and sometimes their entire careers – stylists such as alto
saxophonist Johnny Hodges, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, trumpeter
Cootie Williams, trombonist Joe ‘Tricky Sam’ Nanton, clarinetist Barney
Vigard, and bassist Wellman Braud. Upon leaving the Cotton Club in 1931, the
fifteen-piece band now known as Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra travelled around the world.
In Ellington’s music and others who
achieved success in the jazz world of Prohibition New York, we hear some regards
to jazz’s Southern roots. Their music, along with the city’s cosmopolitanism,
is smart, urban, fast moving, glittery, independent, and motivated. In
freeing jazz from its roots, Ellington’s generation is ready to do everything
in the entertainment business.
Armstrong was one of the most respected
musicians of the twentieth century. He expressed the feeling and pleasure of
jazz to audiences throughout the world more than anyone else. His fame had a cultural and political effect besides music.
He was able to present his music in a willing way that welcomed and cheered
new listeners, even though he was raised in poverty and at a time of racial
segregation. For Duke
Ellington, he was “the epitome of the kind of American who goes beyond
the rules, a truly good and original man.
Every bandleader wanted to hire Louis
Armstrong, from Paul Whiteman to Duke Ellington.
It took ten years for jazz to develop
into a national obsession that crossed geographical, generational, gender,
and racial borders from an often underrated phenomenon, played mostly by young male musicians for black audiences. “Swing” was the new
obsession, which included “hot” orchestras, like those of Duke
Ellington and Count Basie, and “sweet” bands, such as those of Sammy Kaye and Hal Kemp, which had
virtually nothing to do with jazz. A lot of bands played both hot and
sweet in trying to produce trendy dance music that united elements of jazz
with lush instrumentation and lush songs.
Although most of white Americans dance
to an African American beat, they were not exactly interested in the music’s
origins. They did not know
that “Stridin’ at the Savoy” was talking about a Harlem dance
palace, or that Duke Ellington actually invented the word “swing” three years before Benny Goodman made
it a known in America. Blacks and whites could play together in jam
sessions, but racially mixed bands were not allowed. Swing would help to change
Extensive modifications were made in the
rhythm section to help bands adapt to the new groove. While the bass drum didn’t
change and still played a rock-solid four-beat pulse, the tube, which were usually used in large dance bands in the
1920s, was replaced by the string bass. The tuba was able to play a clear,
huffing sound in the early years of recording. However, the string bass had always been a part of New
Orleans, and many players, including Wellman Braud in Duke Ellington’s band, demonstrated
that the instrument produced a special percussive sound when the string was given a pizzicato “slap.” Change came piece by piece in the late 1920s,
when word went around about how well the string bass worked and sounded. Tuba
players came to a realization that they need to change instruments if they
desire to remain working in dance bands.”
Cab Calloway was a jazz bandleader. He
was a very unique figure because he was
white, serving both white and black audiences. In the late 1920s, he created
his own band, the Alabamians, which he took to New York’s Savoy Ballroom. His big break came in 1930
when the Cotton Club asked him to replace Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington’s mature compositions
were especially bold and significant in turning the rules of swing to his own
advantage. Swing allowed him to use his creativity and imagination.
Duke Ellington was a popular jazz
figure, people who know slightly about jazz have heard of him. He went beyond
the Swing Era, partly due to his lengthy
road trips, but also because his music was essential to the development of
jazz. However, without the Swig Era, he probably would not have the joys of
commercial and musical influence that made his impressive masterpieces.
From the late 1920s to the middle 1930s,
Duke Ellington took over Fletcher Henderson as the most outstanding black
bandleader in the world. With the birth of the Swing Era, however, it would
be almost crazy to talk about Ellington racially, despite his view on race as
thematic material. He was America’s great composer and bandleader. He was
known by almost everyone, even internationally.
Ellington disliked the word “jazz”
because he believed it depreciated black musicians’ creativity. Instead, he
claimed that he wrote “Negro folk music,” to emphasize that the blacks are
creative as well, considering the fact that he is one. He described various
black artists as “beyond category,” which he knew that he was one as well. As
a pianist, bandleader, composer, and
arranger, he can write in essentially any category – from ragtime to rock and
roll, from blues to ballet, from stage and film scores to tone poems,
oratorios, and sacred concerts, not including works for instrumental
combinations from piano-bass dues to symphony orchestra.
Classical music composers often work
alone. Ellington worked this way as well. He carries a pencil and paper all
the time, everywhere. He often gets ideas in strange places, such as in
parties, or on the train. The official site of Duke Ellington states that
he had composed more than 3000 songs in his lifetime.
However, to transform his ideas into
actual music, Ellington needed to work
together with his musicians, which can turn sour easily. There were often
disputes and disagreements between him and his musicians. His musical ideas
were very complicated to follow, even Dizzy Gillespie had a hard time
It is quite inevitable that Ellington is
a very reputable composer, but is often misunderstood. In 1965, when he was
nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, it was rejected by the Pulitzer board,
which, for some reason, did not give an award to anyone in that year. In
1999, he finally received one, but he was dead at the time.
In 1935, Ellington established an
ensemble that can be recognized by the
musical traits that inspired him. Ellington meticulously picked his band
members, with said inspired mind. They worked together harmoniously. Despite
their differences, they are suited to
In 1927, Harry Carney, a baritone
saxophonist, was barely seventeen when he entered Ellington’s band. He
remained there for 47 more years. His deep and rich sound was an essential
component of Ellington’s music. Normally, saxophone sections assigned the
leading to the alto saxophone. However, in Ellington’s music, it is the
baritone saxophone that made it one of the
most unique sound.
In 1928, Johnny Hodges, an alto saxophonist,
joined Ellington’s band to be a very crucial part of it. He remained for
nearly five decades (not including a sabbatical that lasted five years).
Ellington had been looking for a stylish and elegant saxophonist with an
intuitive ‘punch.’ In an instant, he found became one of the main soloists of
In 1929, Ellington put Cootie Williams
in Bubber Miley’s position of a trumpeter.
As expected, Ellington never gave any instructions to Williams. He just let
him listen to any voids in the song when
after playing the trumpet for a bit. Williams realized that something was
missing and that it was for him to decide to fill in the void.
Ellington adapted to change very well
and worked with what he had. When recording “Moon Indigo” in a recording studio, there was a faulty
microphone that reacted to the sound of his horns in an odd way that produces
a false pitch that ruined a few takes, but Ellington decided to work with it
and adjusted the horns to reduce the false pitch.
As a black musician, Ellington felt the
need to stand up for African-Americans in the United States. In 1941, he
asserted that blacks were the “creative voice” of the United
Duke Ellington’s “Black, Brown,
and Beige” addressed the African-American history, but it was a very
controversial move. At first, jazz enthusiasts and classical critics
criticized this certain piece. One campaign, however,
increased respect for Ellington. His song, “Come Sunday” was
revised constantly and increased respect for him.
In the middle 1940s, Ellington’s music
declined, along with the falling of the Swing Era, which went on for almost a
decade. Constant touring for twenty years worn out his musicians. Ellington’s
band member, Tricky Sam Nanton, died in 1946 from a stroke. Other band
members left as well to work by themselves, as they are fairly famous as well.
However, Ellington’s music rose once
more when he hired new musicians for his band and Johnny Hodges and Lawrence
went back to his band. Paul Gonsalves took Ben Webster’s place, using some
elements of Bop. He worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie before he joined Ellington’s band in
1950. The band was most famous when it was invited to the third Newport Jazz
Festival, which was one of the first new summer festivals that helped with
the development of jazz.
During the Swing Era, the leading bands
were almost as famous for their star players for their styles as a whole.
They were assigned certain parts that rarely gave them a full chorus, with
usually no more than eight measures. Because of that, their styles evolved
that it can be easily distinguished with their timbres, melodies, and
Considering that, soloists were only a
small part of a larger unit, often restricted by their leaders. They would
often relieve their frustrations from the restrictions by having improvised
jam sessions that were often played after hours. In the 1940s, when the
wartime drafts diminished the ranks of essentially all major orchestras,
stage jam sessions became popular with the public. Soloists also relieved
themselves with small-group bands, which many orchestra leaders, such as Duke
Ellington, formed as additional units.
Two contradictory factors contributed on the growth of jazz abroad. It was
recognized as a serious and rigorous new art. When Armstrong, Ellington, Fats Waller, and Hawkins were in Europe, they were respected just like
any other major artists, even though they were black. With that, many other
black musicians, singers, and dancers followed their lead. In fact, black
entertainers in France were considered elegant.
If swing bands were based on rhythm, it
is then distinguished from its rhythm sections. Each of the notable bands of
jazz presented a unique, well-designed rhythm that complemented its
particular style. For example, Ellington’s rhythm sections were highly
distinguishable from different musicians such as Basie and Lunceford.
Duke Ellington sought for Art Tatum when
he passed through Ohio and encouraged him to go to New York, where the others
would “raise his sights and sharpen his wits,” meaning that he can improve
his skills from other people. Before that, Tatum was already a reputable
musician; he led bands at seventeen and signed a two-year radio contract
before turning twenty.
In the 1930s, the guitar replaced the
banjo in jazz bands, with the exception of those that played in traditional
New Orleans jazz. The guitar emphasized rhythm and harmony. It earned
prominence as a solo instrument in the 1920s, when Eddie Lang and Lonnie
Johnson, which were guitarists, collaborated with Bix Beiderbecke, Joe
Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. The excellent rhythm guitarists
now did little more than just strum a consistent “four-to-the-bar chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk,” asserting
the pulse of the drummer and bassist.
Ellington wrote arrangements in the
1920s where the extensive participation of Wellman Braud, a Louisiana-born
bassist, was needed. Braud contributed to the development of the walking bass
and made the bowing technique famous, heard together with wind instruments.
Ellington’s grandest contribution to the
development of jazz bass was not with Wellman Braud, but with Jimmy Blanton,
who became an essential part of Ellington’s band, which also introduced Ben
For all his emphasis on originality,
Charles Mingus respected jazz traditions. He never failed to cite his core
inspirations such as Duke Ellington, Tatum, Parker, and the church, though
his music were more than that. He was
the first composer of his generation to pay unforgettable tributes to great
figures of the past.
In the 1960s,
jazz has made a complicated history in less than half a century. There had
been so many jazz schools that Duke Ellington spoke for most listeners and
musicians. There were still developments to come: the avant-garde and fusion
jazz. Avant-garde had a lot of different rules, advancing improvisation that
was free of planned harmonies and rhythms. Fusion combined improvisation with
rock’s rhythms and instrumentation. Sometimes, the avant-garde and fusion
even united, such as in the music of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.
When Duke Ellington was denied the
Pulitzer Prize, jazz activists protested by creating schools and exploring
jazz history in books, magazines and public discussions. As in Ellington’s
musical portraits, modernists composed tributes to jazz contributors.