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A new musical direction called jazz was born on the verge of the XIX-XX centuries as a result of the merger of European and African musical cultures. Improvisation, expressiveness, and a special type of rhythm are the peculiar characteristics of this musical style. At the beginning of the twentieth century, new music collectives called jazz bands began to appear. Thanks to talent and an ability to improvise, famous jazz musicians who could subtly feel the music gave impetus to the formation of a variety of musical directions in jazz, which has become the primary source for many modern genres. Duke Ellington holds a special place among brilliant jazz art representatives. This paper focuses on his significant contribution to jazz music, its development and popularization, making this musical genre more academic, but at the same time astonishingly unpredictable and full of unique improvisation.
Duke Ellington was a talented pianist, arranger, composer, and orchestra leader who did not get tired of astonishing listeners with innovation and originality. His unique works are still performed with great enthusiasm by the most famous orchestras. Ellington was a great experimenter and music innovator in the XX century. Once he said that he could never stop what he did. He always wanted to try something new, because he was a progressive person. It was Duke’s idea to use the human voice as an instrument. More than a thousand of his works were recorded to 620 disks. This work focuses on peculiarities of his talent and discovers how his unique jazz techniques influenced the whole world of jazz music.
Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington (1899 – 1974) began his musical training when he was 7. In 1914, he entered the Armstrong High School. In 1917, the future composer was awarded a scholarship to Pratt’s’ Institute of Applied Arts in Brooklyn, where he studied painting, but soon he decided to entirely devote himself to music. To have the means to pay for education, he worked as a barman, made posters and billboards, played ragtime in bars. In 1918, he created a band with Sonny Greer, Toby Hardwick, Artie Whetsol, and Elmer Snowden (Teachout 63). The band successfully gave concerts in New York. In the very first years of his career, he and his musicians played blues and his own piano style resembled ragtime. However, the overall effect of the music Duke Ellington wrote and performed at the time cannot be unambiguously attributed to any of these categories. His musical achievements are doubtless and undisputed, because there was a transformation of basic elements of jazz like never before.
In 1924-1925, the composer made his first records. In 1927, Ellington organized a band for regular concerts at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club and they played until 1932. Later Ellington Orchestra performed under the names Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, The Jungle Band, Lumberjacks, The Harlem Footwarmers, Jungle Band, The Washingtonians, Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra, The Whoopee Makers, The Harlem Music Masters, Traymore Orchestra and others. Since 1933, he repeatedly toured European concert halls and clubs (Lawrence 63).
In January 1943, Ellington Orchestra opened a concert series by a four-part composition Black, Brown and Beige, announced as Duke Ellington’s first symphony at Carnegie Hall in New York. In 1951, there was a concert at the Metropolitan Opera, where his Harlem Suite was presented; in 1955 – the performance of Night Creature at Carnegie Hall; in 1957 – the performance of Such Sweet Thunder in the Town Hall. That composition was created by both Ellington and Strayhorn. 1950s and 1960s was a period of intense concert activity for the Ellington Orchestra. He actively participated in radio programs, films, jazz festivals, and numerous tours across the US, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
The evolution of Duke Ellington’s style is closely related to creative activities of musicians and improvisers who worked with him. Early records, such as Birth of Big Band Jazz (1924) or Trombone Blues (1925), do not show his unique musical individuality. Numerous arrangements for Washingtonials band (Creole Love Call, Camp Meeting Blues and others) show the influence of traditional jazz (in particular, King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band). In 1927, Duke Ellington refused to follow jazz standards, having started his bold experiments in writing techniques, composition, and arrangement. Duke considered emotions to be the most important element of music composing. Joyful, sweet, or bitter emotions that left a trace in his soul were reflected in his works (Anderson 262).
Distinctive Ellington style was formed in the 1930s during the “kotton” period. The orchestra became a team of soloists, who were both composers and improvisers. It is interesting to note that the complete music composition in their work served as a starting point for further improvisatory rethinking. For instance, Ellington Orchestra members Bubber Miley, Cootie” Williams, and Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton worked on creation of specific ways of playing wind instruments using various effects, such as imitation of human voice, extracting rough and growling brass sounds, etc. This approach gave rise to one of the most distinctive Ellington stylistic concepts – so-called “jungle style”. Heavy drums, dark sax textures are easy to recognize as the peculiarities of that style. Another type of Ellington musical expression was embodied in the “mood style”, full of sophisticated lyrical melodies and bluesy sound coloration. The influence of academic music, the attraction to the lush, colorful orchestra, virtuoso soloists, monumental forms and complexity felt in Ellington “concert style.” The famous jazz artist also wrote an incomplete opera Boola (1946) (Teachout 115).
Duke Ellington was a brilliant jazz reformer. He made a great contribution to jazz style formation by using large concert forms in jazz, improving jazz composition techniques and experiences in combinations of jazz and symphonic music. He successfully combined both traditional jazz styles and new original concepts. What is more, he created a special type of jazz band that consisted of improvising soloists. Another important achievement is the interpretation of voice as an orchestral instrument and the expansion and modernization of the expressive means in jazz orchestra (music-making techniques, harmony, polytonality). In his music, Duke Ellington appealed to Latin American and African rhythms, experimented with melodic structures, and rejected the “square” and symmetry of the standard themes in jazz (Martin & Waters 123).
It should be mentioned that Duke Ellington changed the public perception of jazz music by destroying the idea that jazz was only entertaining dance music. Being near the new music wave that appeared in Afro-Americans quarters of New Orleans and New York, Duke Ellington did not follow the spontaneity of dance music on the pop stage and in dance halls. He led a fundamentally new direction in jazz music, gathered an ensemble of great artists, who began to play carefully arranged pieces of serious jazz under his leadership. Ellington took a step towards pure art. The listeners were astonished by his large forms and amazing balance between improvisation and composition or arrangement. Ellington was a brilliant jazz artist. He simply played music without trying to promote any political ideas and people highly appreciated his desire to strive for expressing the true spirit of jazz.
Black and Tan Fantasy (1927) is a three-minute musical drama composed by Duke Ellington and his lead trumpeter Bubber Miley. From the first measures, it is not difficult to recognize who created the music. It is written in “jungle style” with heavy drums, low saxophone textures, and the growling sound of plungermuted trumpet. The name Black and Tan Fantasy symbolizes racial intermingling. It refers to clubs in Harlem, where black and white people came together but in a segregated way. Perhaps it was chosen by chance, but it became extremely relevant to its composition showing opposite moods. It should be mentioned that fantasy is a work in which the composer follows his own desires, rather than a set musical form. That is why Ellington chose that musical form for the work.
The composer has three sections in his jazz orchestra. They werereeds (saxophones and clarinets), brass (trumpets and trombone) and rhythm section (piano, banjo, drums, double bass). Black and Tan Fantasy begins with a throbbing mournful blues in the minor key, performed by trumpets and trombones. The following part is quite intricate, written in the major key and played on alto saxophone. Then comes a trumpet, piano and trombone solo, which returns the melody to the minor key of the entry part. The trumpeter makes strange sounds known as “growl” effect that is produced with the help of a plunger cup over the bell of the horn and a “gargling” noise in the throat. Besides, we hear how the trombonist imitates a whinnying horse. This part of the musical drama makes listeners feel unusually bright emotions, but the conclusion of the whole work is really unexpected. It is a musical citation from Chopin’s Funeral March that looks like a funeral cortège with skeletons dancing behind.
It was an innovative composition for its time. It was a true jazz, complete, and original work. Not only skillful arrangement made Black and Tan Fantasy such an interesting music. We feel the hand of a true master, who knows exactly what he wants to express. What is more, he allowed musicians of his jazz orchestra to show their individuality in improvised solo sections. That is the trace of his unique approach to music composing. When one first hears Duke Ellington’s music, they cannot stop listening to it. In contrast to the strict, concise, well-structured classical music, jazz is a synonym to freedom, lightness, and ease. His music is greatly impressive. It makes people feel that life is a wonderful thing. Duke Ellington was an innovator, but the fresh air he gave to jazz still remains inspiring and life-asserting for all the listeners all over the world.
In conclusion, it should be said that Duke Ellington called his music American music, rather than jazz. Still, he remains one of the most influential figures in jazz and one of the most famous African-American persons of the twentieth century. As a composer and a band leader, Duke Ellington influenced millions of people around the world. He gave jazz music his own, unique sound.