Duke Ellington’s America

From The Telegraph:

Dukestory_1675408f At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe “King” Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century on, from the hothouse stomps of Duke Ellington to the angular doodlings of Thelonious Monk, jazz survives as an important musical voice of America. Ellington was the first jazz composer of real distinction. No other bandleader so consistently redefined the sound and scope of jazz. As a classically trained pianist he fused the hot, syncopated sounds of Jazz Age Harlem with an element of dissonance to produce something unique: a dance music of trance-inducing charm, originality and attack.

Hailed as the “African Stravinsky”, Ellington was born in 1899 in black, middle-class Washington. During the mid-Twenties he was absorbed in the African American arts movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. In Harlem, wealthy white thrill-seekers would dance to “jungle” music at the Cotton Club and bump up against the ragtime of tin-pan pianos. Ellington, suspicious of white tastes for Uncle Tom minstrelsy, forged his own dignified version of the new black sound. In Duke Ellington’s America, a scholarly appreciation of the composer and his times, Harvey Cohen chronicles the “Harlemania” that took hold in Twenties New York. Drawing on a wealth of press cuttings and interviews, he argues that Ellington was motivated always by a belief in black self-empowerment.

More here.

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