Jazz at 100 Hour 14: Beyond Category – Duke Ellington in the 1930s

In the last hour, we heard Count Basie emerge as an exciting new voice from Kansas City. In this hour, we return to New York to follow Duke Ellington’s innovative path through the 1930s as he experiments with longer musical forms while building one of his greatest bands featuring tenor player Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton.

We are joined in this hour by Peter Spaar – bassist, composer, educator and member of the performance faculty of the McIntyre School of Music at the University of Virginia.

The Suites Begin.
Creole Rhapsody, recorded on both sides of a 78, constituted the first extended piece recorded by Duke Ellington. Breaking through the tyranny of the three minute song liberated Ellington to start thinking in broader terms as a composer. Within the next few years, he would record Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue, a piece that would stay in his repertoire for the next thirty years, followed by Reminiscing in Tempo, Perfume Suite and Deep South Suite in the 1940s. Eventually, he would be composing LP length suites like Black, Brown and Beige, New Orleans Suite and Far East Suite.

Creole Rhapsody – Part 1. Earl Jackson And His Musical Champions
(Freddy Jenkins-tp, Cootie Williams-tp, Arthur Whetsel-tp, Joe Nanton-tb, Juan Tizol-tb, Barney Bigard-cl/ts, Johnny Hodges-as/ss/cl, Harry Carney-bs/cl/as, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-bj, Wellman Braud-b, Sonny Greer-d). 1/20/1931.
Creole Rhapsody – Part 2.
Earl Jackson And His Musical Champions
(Freddy Jenkins-tp, Cootie Williams-tp, Arthur Whetsel-tp, Joe Nanton-tb, Juan Tizol-tb, Barney Bigard-cl/ts, Johnny Hodges-as/ss/cl, Harry Carney-bs/cl/as, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-bj, Wellman Braud-b, Sonny Greer-d). 1/20/1931.

Ivie Anderson and Ethyl Waters.

It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra
(Freddy Jenkins-tp, Arthur Whetsel-tp, Cootie Williams-tp, Joe Nanton-tb, Juan Tizol-vtb, Barney Bigard-cl/ts, Johnny Hodges-as/ss/cl, Harry Carney-bs/cl/as, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-bj/g, Wellman Braud-b, Sonny Greer-d, Ivy Anderson-voc). 2/2/1932. (The Jazz Singers)
“This song helped name the swing era and is one of jazz music’s (and life’s) classic cautionary statements. Ivie Anderson’s performance here marked her recording debut with the Duke Ellington orchestra.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers. Anderson sang with Ellington for the next decade until ill health forced her into early retirement. At ten years, hers was perhaps the longest tenure of any singer with the band; one that was never again associated with a dominant singer.
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.
Ethel Waters With Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra
(Fred Jenkins, Athur Whetsol, Cootie Williams-tp, Larry Brown, Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol-tb, Johnny Hodges-as, Otto Hardwicke-ts, Harry Carney-bs, Barney Bigard-cl, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-g, Lonnie Johnson-g, Wellman Braud-b, Sonny Greer-d, Ethyl Waters-voc). 12/22/1932. (The Jazz Singers)
“Giddens says that [Ethyl] Waters is not a jazz singer and does not swing. Well, she swings here. Indeed, when she wants to, she swings in the jazz manner, and she swings from style to style – from parody to celebration back to parody. And if her impact on singers was ever in doubt, listen to Billie Holiday’s version of the same song.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers

The New East St. Louis Toodle-Oo. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
(Rex Stewart, Athur Whetsol, Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Hayes Alvis, Sonny Greer). 3/5/1937. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
The original recording of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo was a collaboration between Ellington and King-Oliver influenced trumpeter Bubber Miley. “In the 1937 version … the rising performance is a fine example of the true collaboration of composer and his musicians. [Trumpeter] Cootie Williams’s is a subtle, personal development of the plunger-muted trumpet style, and it is beautifully balanced by Ellington’s varied setting … Notice also the keenly played plunger responses by the full trumpet section during the first bridge. And Barney Bigard’s liquid clarinet responses to the trombone-dominated variations in the second chorus, followed by his domination of the bridge.” – Martin Williams from the notes to Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
Diminuendo In Blue And Crescendo In Blue.
Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra
(Rex Stewart, Freddy Jenkins, Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Fred Guy, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer). 9/20/1937. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Braggin’ In Brass.
Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra
(Freddy Jenkins, Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Herb Fleming, Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Hayes Alvis, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer). 3/3/1938
Concerto For Cootie
. Duke Ellington Orchestra
(Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Otto Hardwick, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, Fred Guy, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer). 3/15/1940. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Concerto for Cootie, later re-written as Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me, “… is dedicated to the variety of sounds that [Cootie] Williams resourcefully evokes from his open horn and from the use of several mutes in several ways – manipulated plunger on open horn, plunger over straight-mute, plunger in tight, etc.” – Martin Williams from the notes to Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
“Cootie has a conception of savagery and force on the instrument that cannot be equaled. His work with the wa-wa mute is more expressive than speech.” – Critic Helen Oakley

The Blanton – Webster Band.
“Ellington’s greatest contribution to the jazz bass … came with his discovery of Jimmy Blanton, the man who revolutionized the instrument. Blanton became such a central figure in the edition of the Ellington band that also introduced Ben Webster that the band was later referred to by fans as ‘the Blanton – Webster Band.’ Blanton’s brief life and career parallels that of Charlie Christian (they succumbed to the same illness), and his transformation of the jazz bass was every bit as complete as Christian’s remaking of the guitar. In little more than two years … Blanton changed the way the bass was played and, by extension, the nature of the rhythm section. He expanded the walking bass into a fully evolved musicianship that, while continuing to provide the harmonies and keep tempo, added melodic, harmonic and rhythmic nuances.” – Gary Giddens & Scot DeVeaux

“Ben Webster was simply one of the great musical character actors of jazz: the numbers featuring his gruff but shapely sound became instantly and justly, famous.” – Ben Ratliff

Conga Brava. Duke Ellington Orchestra
(Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Otto Hardwick, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, Fred Guy, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer). 3/15/1940. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
“The opening melody – [Juan] Tizol’s contribution – is admirably suited to his trombone, played here with unfailing classical excellence evocative of Romantic opera … This opening mood, however, is complicated seconds later by [clarinetist] Barney Bigard’s elaborate improvised curlicues and snarling commentary by [trumpeters] Cootie Williams, [and] Rex Stewart and [trombonist] Joe Nanton. Ellington covers a staggering amount of territory in his customary three minutes, from a Kansas City-style blowing session for Ben Webster to a stunning virtuosic soli for the brass.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux
Cotton Tail.
Duke Ellington Orchestra
(Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Otto Hardwick, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, Fred Guy, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer). 5/4/1940. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“’Cottontail’ … did for Ben Webster what ‘Body and Soul’ did for Coleman Hawkins and ‘Lady Be Good’ for Lester Young.” – Gary Giddens

Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton

Pitter Panther Patter. Duke Ellington – Jimmy Blanton duo
(Duke Ellington-p, Jimmy Blanton-b). 10/01/1940.
In A Mellow Tone.
Duke Ellington Orchestra

(Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Otto Hardwick, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, Fred Guy, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer). 9/5/1940. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

Live at Fargo.
Duke Ellington and his band lived on the road. The historical record includes many live performances, none more legendary that the recording from Fargo, ND on November 7, 1940. While not an Ellington composition, the band plays Hoagy Charmichael’s Star Dust arranged as a concerto for Ben Webster. “Webster stepped back from the harmonic acrobatics of Hawkins and the linearity of Young in favor of a celebration of sound. Like a Japanese shakuhachi master, Webster sought the essence of music in texture and timbre, not in well-tempered notes.” – Ted Gioia

Star Dust. Duke Ellington Orchestra
(Wallace Jones, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart-tp, Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol-tb, Barney Bigard-cl, Johnny Hodges-as, Harry Carney-bs, Otto Hardwick-ts, Ben Webster-ts, Billy Strayhorn-p, Fred Guy-g, Jimmy Blanton-b, Sonny Greer-d). 11/7/1940.

In the mid-1930s, jazz orchestras led by drummer Chick Webb and clarinetist Benny Goodman rose to prominence with the arrangements of Edgar Sampson and Fletcher Henderson. After launching the careers of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Webb succumbed to spinal tuberculosis in 1939, at age 34. Goodman launched the careers of Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Harry James and Charlie Christian over a storied run that earned him the controversial sobriquet “King of Swing”. The next hour of Jazz at 100 explores the contributions of these Swing Era pioneers.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Duke Ellington 1937. Classics 675
Duke Ellington 1937 Vol. 2. Classics 687
Duke Ellington 1938. Classics 700
Duke Ellington 1938 Vol 2. Classics 717
Duke Ellington 1938 Vol 3. Classics 726
Duke Ellington – Never No Lament. RCA Bluebird 82876-50857-2 3CD
Duke Ellington. Solos, Duets, & Trios. Bluebird 2178-2-RB13

The Duke At Fargo. Storyville STCD 8316/8317 2CD

Resources.
Cohen, Harvey G. 2010. Duke Ellington’s America. Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
Duke Ellington” by Mark Tucker
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 8. Count Basie and Duke Ellington
Chapter 10. Rhythm in Transition
Giddins, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 12. Duke Ellington (Part 1: The Poker Game)
Chapter 27. Duke Ellington (Part 2: The Enlightenment)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Hajdu, David. 1996. Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn. New York. North Point Press.
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Duke Ellington 1937
Duke Ellington 1937 Vol. 2
Duke Ellington 1938
Duke Ellington 1938 Vol 2
Duke Ellington 1938 Vol 3
Duke Ellington – Never No Lament
Duke Ellington – The Duke At Fargo
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 17. Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band (1940-1942)
Simon, George T. 1981. The Big Bands. New York. Schirmer Books.
Teachout, Terry. 2013. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. New York. Gotham Books.

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