Last time we commemorated the anniversary of the birth of the legendary Duke Ellington, born April 29, 1899, with his famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”; this time we celebrate with one of his classic hot jazz records of the 1920s. Ellington’s life has already been covered in that post, so I needn’t go over it again in this one.
Duke Ellington made his motion picture debut in 1929, along with Fredi Washington of Imitation of Life fame, in the Harlem Renaissance jazz film Black and Tan (see here for an exceptional transfer of the film on YouTube). In it, Ellington plays a down-on-his-luck bandleader, whose ailing girlfriend—played by Washington (whom he was reportedly dating in real life at the time)—finds him employment at a nightclub, where she succumbs to her illness while performing a dance routine. Ellington and his band play such jazz classics as the titular “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Black Beauty”, “The Duke Steps Out”, and “Cotton Club Stomp”. Not too long after, Duke and his band traveled to Hollywood for their first “big time” movie appearance in the Amos ‘n’ Andy feature Check and Double Check. One of only a handful of films of that type, I fully recommend viewing Black and Tan.
Victor V-38079 was recorded on May 3, 1929 in New York City. Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra is made up of Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.
First up, Ellington and the boys get hot on the outstanding “Cotton Club Stomp”. This stomp is one of the pieces played by Ellington and his orchestra in Black and Tan, in which it is danced by Fredi Washington.
Next, they play a late oriental fox trot, “Arabian Lover”, from the Cotton Club Revue.