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Untitled Essay, Research Paper

The Life of a Pioneer One of the greatest jazz composers that

has ever lived is, arguably, Duke Ellington. Born Edward

Kennedy Ellington in Washington D.C. in 1899. By the age of

17 was playing professionally. In 1923 he moved to New York

City where he started recruiting people for his orchestra. He

started off with an average jazz band of ten people but

through the thirties and forties that number greatly expanded.

He started playing in small nightclubs, theaters, and on the

radio. His biggest break is considered to be when he got the

chance to play at one of the most popular nightclubs of the

time in Harlem, The Cotton Club, when another performer

(King Oliver) turned down the offer, from that day forward

Duke Ellington become a well known name in the jazz world.

Ellington?s first compositions were considered to be very stiff

and jerky rhythmically as was all jazz music of the era and in

his music you could hear a strong tie to New Orleans music.

In 1924 the first recordings were made, these seemed to be

the recordings of a jazz musician who was headed in the

wrong direction and some did not consider him to be a jazz

musician at all. When we look back on those recordings now

we see that all they were was an inauspicious beginning for

some major talent. With the addition of Bubber Miley a strong

folk influence was added in with the New Orleans sound.

Miley helped Ellington affirm his calling as a leader of the jazz

orchestra. Ellington?s music began to show the expressive

depth and increasing sophistication he is famous for. His

ideas of harmony, melody, orchestral color, and form came

from the music around him. Ellington would listen to the music

of the time and end up turning it into his own jazz style. When

he first started writing music he would devise a harmony and

melody on the piano and from there assign a line to a different

instrument in his orchestra. Over the years he learned how to

write for what some people consider to be his greatest

instrument, the orchestra. This was accomplished because he

realized that he had to take everything he had ever learned

from people such s Miley, Redman, and Henderson, even his

own innate urbanity and sophistication and start over with a

new approach to Big Band Jazz. His approach to the Big

Band Jazz was a new one, even though the idea was not. In

the past people had tried and failed when they would take an

existing orchestra and add a few jazz soloists. Ellington on the

other hand took a small show band or pit band and turned

each person in the orchestra into a jazz artist. In the past jazz

consisted of much improvisational work that at times seemed

out of control. Ellington?s theory was that a song should not

consist entirely of improvisation but should not be very strict

either. His performances turned out to be larger than the sum

of each of its parts because of his discipline of improvisation

and how he extended the orchestration so that they

complimented each other and both became enhanced.

Ellington learned to think directly as a jazz orchestrater, he

was now looking at scores as a whole and not writing for one

main part or instrument. Ellington had made his primary

instrument the orchestra. He had started to become a pioneer

of jazz music. This now was a completely new challenge for

what he was doing there was no presidents to follow and no

models to compare to his music. Ellington also started writing

for the horns themselves. He was not creating a melody on

the piano for them anymore now he wrote so that the horns

could perform with the best sound possible. A final thing he

began doing that had not been done before is using more

flexible rhythms for a newer sound. In his orchestra he helped

the soloists and players alike invent and develop their own

best resources and proceeded to write for those talents.

Some of Ellington?s most famous pieces are as follows, Mood

Indigo written in 1931, Sophisticated Lady 1933, and Solitude

1934. Some of his larger scale works consist of Black, Brown,

and Beige written in 1943, A Concert of Sacred Music 1965,

and Far East Suite 1967. Ellington has also contributed to

movies such as Anatomy of a Murder and Paris Blues, along

with the musical comedies Beggars Opera. and Pousse-Cafe.

Ellington?s most famous song is considered to be Take the A

Train, even though it was written by his longtime associate

Billy Strayhorn it became the theme song of Ellington?s

orchestra. The Music of a Legend In 1937 Ellington wrote two

pieces that complimented each other better than any in the

history of jazz. He named these to pieces the Diminuendo and

Crescendo in Blue. Appropriately named for the style that they

were written. These two songs are considered to be some of

Ellington?s most ambitious efforts and when he first wrote

them they were beyond the capabilities of his band. It took

until 1957 for the full potential of the songs to be realized.

This was one of Ellington?s many pieces written with very little

room for improvisation and it was very demanding, structurally

and harmonically. Starting with Diminuendo in Blue a song

that was based on Blues changes but used elongated 14 bar

choruses with 2 bar subdivisions and modulated through 5

keys. The modulations were very abrupt and hard for the

players and audiences to handle. Its predecessor, Crescendo

is the complete opposite. The beginning of the song starts

quietly and gradually builds to the climax in dynamic levels

along with exploiting the full texture, timbral, and registral

resources of the orchestra. Crescendo also differs from

Diminuendo because it has no modulations. These two songs

are considered to be an important stepping stone for another

famous song Ko-Ko Ko-Ko was written in the crescendo or

bolero form where each chorus builds on the one before it.

Ellington included many different enhancements to add depth

to the song such as dynamics, harmonic density, timbral,

textural augmentation and increasingly expanded range.

These elements were used in such a way as to have a steady

buildup where one element supports and compliments

another. The first chorus (A) is calm and the next two

choruses (B & C) begin the ascent to a more powerful climax.

Chorus B is higher dynamically than the first and played with

a slightly more intense sound. In both A and B the

saxophones riffs remain the same. In chorus D the

saxophones move up a fourth along with the brass chords

moving up thus making the song sound fuller and thicker.

Next the song is lifted to an entirely new level with Ellington?s

piano interjection and dissonant harmonies, with the addition

of the piano the song becomes bitonal. In chorus E the song

moves up yet again with two bars of brass and piano jabs

while the riff raises a third. Next the chorus is divided into four

choirs; trombones, trumpets, reeds, and rhythm Incredibly the

song can still move to a higher level in parts E and F. In F

Ellington adds even more massive chords to the past

choruses and for a finale he saves just enough for a unison

saxophone riff in the middle register that is phenomenal.

Ko-Ko is done with an amazing eleven piece horn section and

a four man rhythm section. The song closes with an abrupt

four bar coda. In the summer of 1938 Duke Ellington recorded

a prime example of the 32 bar AABA song format, Gypsy

Without a song. Gypsy was a collaboration of Mack Gordon,

Ellington, and Tizol. In the first 16 bars the melody is split

between two trombones. The two parts were written to give

the appearance of only one being played throughout the

section. This is doneby using different muting techniques and

further aided with the addition of a two bar open horn trumpet

solo between the two trombone solos. Ellington believed that

the different trombones could better express different moods.

In measures 17-24 saxophones further exploit the reeds and

intensify the mood. The saxophones are also used to proceed

the song to the A2 theme. The third part of the song, B, is a

chorus given to the trumpet to reach the songs highest point

of tension along with three other elements. First, the trumpet

represents an inevitable acoustical intensification over the

alto sax. Second, the eight bar trumpet solo is filled with

expression and depth. Finally, the song returns to the to the

tonic leading into the A3 part. For a finale Ellington uses both

trombones for a duet where one is playing the melody while

the other weaves around it in a variation of the A1 part until

the song relaxes with the return of the A2 part where it comes

to a close. All Good Things Must Come to an End In 1974

tragedy came upon the jazz world, Duke Ellington had passed

away, he had performed sense the age of 18, nearly 55

years. He said he decided to become a musician when, in his

youth, he realized that ?when you were playing piano there

was always a pretty girl standing down at the bass clef end of

the piano.” By the end of his life, he would declare, “Music is

my mistress,” which became entirely true, for it was his love

and his life. Duke Ellington has received numerous honors,

including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and at least

fifteen honorary degrees. The name ?Duke” came from his

personality, it is said he was something of a dandy with a love

of fancy clothes and an elegant style. He retained those traits

throughout his life, but he wore his sophistication without a

hint selflessness, that continued on in his music. Bibliography

1. The Jazz Tradition Williams, Martin ?1970 2. The Swing

Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 Schuller, Gunther

?1989 3. What Jazz Is King, Jonny ?1997 4. Reading Jazz

Gottlieb, Robert ?1996


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