Did you know that Jazz Age leader Duke Ellington can be considered a Crossover musician? While known as the leader of the house band at the Harlem Cotton Club during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Duke did not want to be recognized as a jazz composer and arranger. He hoped to stretch people’s concept of jazz, from dance music to art music. To do this, he would rehearse arrangements ahead of time with his band, rather than improvising. Many of these arrangements had an alternating, concerto-like feel between the ensemble and the soloist.
While Duke loved jazz, he also enjoyed the music of many classical composers and longed to break down the barrier between the two types of music. He even arranged several classical favorites for jazz band, including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Enjoy these two pieces below:
Besides his arrangements of classical pieces, Duke also composed several of his own jazz suites, drawing from classical characteristics. One example is his Black, Brown, and Beige (1943), his first attempt at this type of composition. Black, Brown, and Beige traces the history of African American culture in the U.S. It was debuted in Carnegie Hall, a first for a black composer.
Can you hear any quotations from popular American tunes in this work?