Top 10 Duke Ellington Songs [Jazz Legends] (2023)

Edward Kennedy "Hertog" EllingtonBorn April 29, 1899Washington.

Many believe that he did not just conduct his famous orchestra from a piano chairgreatest jazz composer in historyIn fact, he is probably one of the best American composers, regardless of genre.

Duke Ellington's discography includes many all-time classic albums, and while his music is often described as "anachronistic," Ellington's own compositions have proved immensely popular among jazz musicians of all genres and continue to be extensively performed and recorded. repertoire.

In this article, we take a look at 10 of Ellington's best songs and learn more about the life and career of the artistic giant.


Top 10 Duke Ellington Songs [Jazz Legends] (1)

indigo stemming

Duke Ellington showed musical talent at an early age, although he initially did not believe music was his calling.

At age 15, while working as a soda salesman, he wrote "Soda Fountain Rag," even though he couldn't read music.

Later, after moving to New York and managing his own company, he obtained a dancer residency at Harlem's famed Cotton Club, a position he held from 1926 to 1931.

Ellington and Cotton Club in the middleRenesas Haarlem, an explosion of culture, art, and intellectualism targeting the African-American community in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood in the 1920s.

Mood Indigo is one of the band's early classics.

Ellington has always been inventive and unconventional with orchestra, and on this clarinet he inverted the expected clarinet by playing a mostly higher clarinet at the bottom of the front with three horns and a mostly lower trombone at the top Instrument effects and creating unusual timbres.

Clarinettist Barney Bigard is solo clarinet on the original recording and is credited as co-composer. The lyrics were later added by Owen Mills, Duke Ellington's manager at the time.

It means nothing (if there's no swing)

This uptempo dance track perfectly captures the gritty vibe of the 1930s swing era.

The song's title is apparently a quote from trumpeter Bubber Miley, an early member of his orchestra, who died of tuberculosis in 1932, the year the song was released.

Ellington described it as"Expressing the emotions of the jazz musicians of the time."

An explanation for this, in the context of the song and its lyrics, could be that jazz can be complex or technically impressive without these magical, hard-to-define ingredients: real feeling, attitude and swing. , jazz remains essentially worthless.

Ivie Anderson, who sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for ten years, provided vocals on the original recording.

Ellington recorded "It Don't Mean a Thing" several times, including with Louis Armstrong andElla Fitzgerald.


Caravan is one of Duke Ellington's most famous songs and a classic example of "Spanish colors" in jazz.

The phrase was coined by New Orleans innovator Jelly Roll Morton to refer to the influence of Afro-Latin and Cuban music on jazz since the music's birth in the melting pot of New Orleans.

Ellington often develops a phrase or melody played by one of his assistants into a complete piece, while trombonist Juan Tizol is credited with writing "Caravan".

Originally from Puerto Rico, Tizor brought Latin influences to the ensemble on his other compositions, including "Perdido," "Jubilesta," and "Conga Brava."

The original dominant chords of the 1936 "Caravan" run for 12 bars at a time, likely presaging the static harmonies of the coming modal jazz revolution of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

foreplay to kiss

In 1938, Duke Ellington was a musical star at the height of the swing era.

The "Prelude to the Kiss" created that year was a stylistic departure for the composer.

He forgoes the laid-back feel of swing dancing for the complex, chromatic sounds here, perhaps thanks to the meditative atmosphere of Impressionist classical music.

The transition of this piece (relative to the middle piece) is characterized by a particularly effective melody, wide intervals and a rich choice of notes.

This section of the song's lyrics references Ellington's famously eclectic tastes, likening his penchant for "Schubert melodies with a Gershwin accent".

Ellington was uncomfortable with the word "jazz", deeming it "anachronistic" - a phrase coined by his colleaguesBilly'ego Strayhorna— This is the greatest compliment to his music.

cottontail rabbit

Duke led his orchestra from 1923 until his death in 1974, and as might be expected after such a long time, musicians have come and gone.

One of the most famous versions for the orchestra is now known as the Blanton-Webster Ensemble, recorded extensively circa 1940-41, including:tenor saxophone giant ben websterOn double bassist Jimmy Blanton.

Blanton had a huge influence on his instrument, pioneering the bass as a solo instrument, among several other innovations, but he died of tuberculosis in 1942 at the age of 23.

"Cotton Tail" is a sped-up song recorded in 1940.

based onChord progression to "I Got Rhythm"Composed by George Gershwin, featuring Webster's classic tenor solo and two choruses and the famouszon(Recommended ensemble section unison for the big band section) of all saxophones.

Like many of the songs on this list, Cotton Tail started out as a jazz instrumental before becoming a song.

Ellington wrote the lyrics himself before vocal duo Lambert, Hendricks and Ross wrote a new album for its 1960 release.

C Jam-blues

Duke Ellington's music is always steeped in the blues, but he also composed some true 12-bar blues tunes.

The most famous of these is "C Jam Blues".

Its extremely simple melody makes it ideal for budding musicians and jam sessions: in its most basic form, it contains just two notes - C and G. The original riff-based melody was probably created by clarinetist Barney Bigard.

In the late 1950s, simple lyrics were added, making it a song called "Duke's Place."

come on sunday

Ellington wrote an ambitious trilogy called Bnone, brown and beige- His first concert, at New York's sacred Carnegie Hall, in January 1943, was an extended work of the sort usually performed by classical rather than jazz composers. He described it as "parallel to the history of black people in America."

"Come on Sunday" is beautiful and dynamicTrouble, is one of the main themes of the first part of the work.

After his performance at Carnegie Hall received negative reviews, Ellington reworked the suite and re-recorded much of the material from his 1958 self-titled album, which included civil rights activist and "Gospel Queen" Mahalia Jackson.

The song is also repeated in a different tempo on the 1965 albumsacred music concertEllington described it as "the most important thing I've ever done".

The profound religious text begs:

"Lord, look down on my people"

satin doll

"Satin Doll", co-written with Billy StrayhornHe was a close associate of Ellington for nearly 30 years.

Strayhorn is trained in classical music and provides lyrics, composition, arrangements and the occasional piano for orchestra.

The informal and intimate nature of their working relationship meant that it was not always clear who wrote what, and it has been argued that Strayhorn's work did not always receive adequate acclaim.

However, he composed many of Duke Ellington's favorite songs, including "Chelsea Bridge" and "Take the 'A' Train", the theme song for the orchestra.

The original version of "Satin Doll", recorded in 1953, was instrumental, with a somewhat angular piano interlude composed by Ellington himself; later, famous American lyricist Johnny Mercer added the line.

Ellington used the piece as the last piece in most of his concerts and described Strayhorn as"My right hand, my left hand, all the eyes are in the back of my head, my brain waves are in his head, his in mine."

I'm wrong (and not right)

Ellington is known for writing songs with the individual members of his band in mind, to match their voices and personalities.

The song of unrequited love has long been associated with saxophonist Johnny Hodges, whose vibrating alto solo isjazz-bigband.

Hodges starred in a short solo feature in which Avi Anderson sang andalto saxophonePlayer takes center stage in heartbreaking style in live instrumental version1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

This recording is believed to be from the Newport Jazz Festivalbest jazz album of all time, and Tymor Paul Gonsalves' legendary 27 choral blues solos in 'Blue Crescendos and Crescendos'.

Duke Ellington wrote a number of songs especially for Hodges, nicknamed "Rabbit" and sometimes "Jeep," including "Jeep's Blues" and "Hodge Bodge." After Viola's death, Ellington said:

"Never the liveliest performer or the greatest stage persona in the world, but with a voice so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to his eyes - that's Johnny Hodges. That's Johnny Hodges.

Never complain (don't go too often)

"Never No Lament" was recorded as an instrumental in 1940, but lyricist Bob Russell wrote the lyrics two years later and is now better known as "stop walking too much”。

Russell wrote the lyrics for many Ellington songs from this period, and his lyrics are written from the perspective of a rejected lover who would rather stay home than go out and reminisce about happier days.

start songElla Fitzgerald zingt Duke Ellington songbook, featuring Duke and the orchestra's amazing singers, everyone from Ink to Willie Nelson, George Schilling to Paul McCartney has recorded.

Thanks for watching Duke Ellington's countdown to the 10 greatest songs of all time.

Of course, as a prolific composer you can discover much more, we recommend that you take a lookIn-depth biography of Duke EllingtonAs the next step or directly in our in-depth investigationHis classic ballad In a sentimental mood.

You can also check out some of the most fnice album tribute to Duke Elington.

If you're looking for more advice on great tunes, you might want a rundown on some of themThe most famous jazz compositions in history.

You can use ourExplore the Jazz website.

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