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Duke Ellington Schematic of “Black and Tan Fantasy”

Band Members: Sonny Greer (drums), Louis Metcalf and Bubber Miley (trumpets), Wellman Braud (bass), Joe “Tricky Sam” Nan-ton (trombone), Duke Ellington (piano), Fred Guy (banjo), Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, and Rudy Jackson (saxophones).

First chorus
0:00 – 0:24 Trombone and trumpet sounds played by Miley and Naton respectively, producing a minor mode melody. Rhythm is maintained by drugs, bass and banjo with offbeats adding to the beats towards the ends of phrases.

A transition is marked by a cymbal rash

0:25 – 0:55 There is a sudden change from the harmonic rhythm to a major mode. Sweet rhythm from saxophone; with sultry tone played by Hardwick interludes between the first chorus and the next beat. Complex bits played by different instruments are used to smoother the bit breaks between the two sections. Next the chorus is repeated followed by horns and drums. The chorus is repeated before the drums and horns are played again.
Second Chorus
0:56 – 1:20 Miley plays solo during the major mode section of the chorus, restricting his tone to tight and high notes. Miley progresses playing the tight bluesy noted whose result is almost vocal.
Third Chorus
1:21 – 1:44 The third chorus begins with Miley playing several phrases that achieves blue note. A harmonious response of the cymbal follows the trumpet, and the piano follows closely behind.
Fourth Chorus
1:45 – 2:07 Towards the end of the third chorus, the band drops off and leaves Ellington playing cleverly organized note on the piano. He plays two separate but harmonic octave notes that seemingly anticipate the next beat.
Fifth Chorus
2:08 – 2:31 Solo from a tightly muted trombone is introduced by Nanton. He improves the note but increasing both the volume and the intensity to achieve unusual timbre. Then Nanton increases the intensity of his instrument which in return produces a bizarre sound of a disgusted laughter.
Sixth Chorus
2:32 – 2:51 An explosive rhythmic session with a notable spell from Miley’s bluesy notes. The band is then reintroduced to reinforce the ‘sunken’ Miley.
2:52 – end The band finalises the composition by defining the “funeral march”, done by Chopin. This once again returns the performance to minor mode.


Duke Ellington is considered to be the second most successful jazz artist, just second to Louis Armstrong. Some of his most popular classics include; Black and Tan Fantasy, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and I Get a Song Get Out of My Head. Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born on 29th April, 1899 to James Edward and Daisy Ellington who lived in a suburb region of Washington, D.C. Ellington’s parents would not be considering about race or color, but were rather focused on developing Ellington’s skill as an individual. Artistically gifted, Ellington seriously considers his career goal as a musician after receiving a musical scholarship to stay in New York City, a cultural capitol of the United States. Both white and black musicians were able to perform for an audience; however, the audience would be segregated by race. Caught between a socially progressive upbringing and a still racially divided society, Ellington retains his progressive ethos, and orchestrates “Black and Tan Fantasy” in 1927 as a satirical response to racially segregated society. Ellington loved music especially playing the piano, and by time he attained 14 years, Ellington had already composed 2 pieces. It was during this period that his peers decided to nickname him “Duke” (Blumenthal, 54).

Ellington decided to pursue both educational and career goals at the same time. By 1918 his reputation as a music agent as well a composer had swelled beyond Washington. His musical career took a major lift in 1923 when he decided to move to New York City on permanent bases; this helped him form a working relationship with the Cotton Club located in Harlem, New York. Ellington’s band managed to make its first trip abroad in 1939; immediately after the World War II. The popularity of the band grew between 1939 and 1945, when they made numerous trips to Europe, Australia and Far East. Many of their fans believed they were the best jazz band ever assembled.

To achieve his desired heights in jazz performances, Ellington needed to assemble the best Orchestra possible. His ensemble comprised friends from Washington and schoolmates from various parts of the country. Amongst them were two New Orleans Native, Barney Bigard and Wellman Braud. Others included James Miley who played the trumpet, Harry Carney and Jonny Hodge from Boston who played the saxophone and Joe Nanton from New York who was a trombonist. All members of the orchestra were instrumental in production of various compositions (Berish, 145). Ellington usually came up with the phrases from which his team came up with impeccable pieces of jazz songs. The patterns of the final pieces were usually dependent on the “indigo mood” of Bigard while he was practicing. The sound growls that characterized the entire music arrangements were usually picked by Nanton and Miley from the plungers in the bathrooms that they used for muting their instruments (147). The excellence of final pieces often left critics muttering that Ellington took all the credit that belonged to his Cliché by denying them their due credits. It was obvious that the success of the orchestra’s work was not dependent on ingenious phrases produced by Ellington, but it was as a result of individual excellent of each member of the band.

One of the greatest attributes of the Ellington’s jazz orchestra is that it managed to achieve heights that take other bands more than twenty years to achieve only five years. Some of the compositions done during this period are still considered as the greatest jazz music ever done in the US. After assembling highly talented musicians, Ellington also managed to lift the name of the cotton club, a clubs that hosted the band for a period of about four years (Cohen, 2010).

Duke Ellington always considered his orchestra to be the most important instrument in his music. This helped him produce numerous labels with considerable ease as compared to other musicians of his time. It is estimated that he produced more than 200 albums between 1920s and 1950s. It was typical of Ellington to stay in the production studios event when he was not producing new labels. As a result of his rigorous efforts to perfect his music, he ended up with numerous versions of his music; some labels were released long after he was dead.

Ellington’s musical excellence has never been explained. Although he first tried to learn music when he was seven years; when he started piano lessons, his composition and bandleader skills could not be traced during his development. When he was still very young, Ellington enjoyed listening to music done by ragtime piano musicians, something that might have motivated him to take music as his preferred subject of study. Ellington desire to succeed drove him to form his band when he was still very young and inexperienced. The band, which comprised highly talented individuals, catapulted him to higher heights within a very short time.

Ellington made tremendous contributions towards the prosperity of American music, especially jazz. He constituted an orchestra in 1926 and remained a bandleader until 1974, when he succumbed to cancer. Through ingenious contributions and good leadership, his orchestra was always ranked amongst the top five most prominent jazz bands in the world. It is speculated that Ellington composed thousands of jazz pieces; in fact some of the most impeccable pieces such as “Black and Tan Fantasy” took less than 20 minutes to write. His innovativeness allowed him to write different notes for members of his band. He understood every member of the band. This explains why the different versions of his music were different, for instance the different versions of “mood Indigo” were different because different individuals were involved in the production of the music. Although Ellington is considered to be one of the greatest pianists to have ever lived, he usually considered his orchestra to be his main instrument; a fact that going on to explain his insistence on band excellence even after talented members of this orchestra left.

1927 was an important year for Ellington because it was the year when he finally managed to breakthrough into the realm of the elite jazz musician in the US. During this year he composed some of the most popular pieces such as “Black and Tan Fantasy”. It was during the same year that he was given a slot to be performing at Cotton Club on permanent bases. His fast growth was a testament to his ingenious ability to compose and manage other talented musicians in his ensemble. Duke later in his career participated in production of films, but they were of lesser significance compared to the phenomenon achievements he made in jazz music.

Most of Ellington’s music was based on people places and events. “Black and Tan Fantasy” is one of the greatest pieces which satirize racism that characterized the American society during this era. Although the music itself is educative, it is important to understand the conditions that motivated the artist, Ellington to compose it (André and Gunther 2012). Cotton Club (white Club) unlike other clubs that admitted people from different ethnicities did not allow African Americans to join; this was in contrast to what was the practice in other Harlem Clubs. Clubs that invited people from all races were referred to as “black and tan” due to the skin characteristics of the people they invited. Ellington’s piece resound the notion that the Harlem Clubs absolved the racial issues that divided the society. He propagated the idea of club integration as opposed to the prevalent segregation. Ellington’s music development was instrumental during the period between 1920s and 1940s because it helped dissolve the earlier mentality that jazz music belonged to the blacked; a fact that was important in racial integration.

Ellington was a legendary American musician whose name is inscribed among the greatest jazz composers and bandleaders in history. His music styles impacted the development of the music genre, and the importance of his music to today’s musicians still stands (Duke Ellington and His Orchestra,1927). Ellington received many prizes and honors for his excellence in jazz music throughout his career. The awards received included Grammy awards and honorary degrees from various universities in the US. Ellington will also be remembered as one musician that adapted a music genre that was not contemporary to his traditions, and excelled. He continued to compose music until his death in 1974.


Work Cited

André Hodeir and Gunther Schuller. “Ellington, Duke.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 8, 2012,

Berish, Andrew S. “A Locomotive Laboratory of Place.” Lonesome Roads and Streets of Dreams: Place, Mobility, and Race in Jazz of the 1930s and ’40s. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012. 119-66.

Blumenthal, Bob. “Duke Ellington.” Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends behind America’s Music. New York: Collins, 2007. 53-57.

Cohen, Harvey G. “Chapter four.” Duke Ellington’s America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. #-#.

DeVeaux, Scott Knowles., and Gary Giddins. “New York in the 1920s/Duke Ellington Begins.” Jazz: Essential Listening. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. 89-93.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. “Black and Tan Fantasy.” Rec. 1927. The Best of Duke Ellington Centennial Edition. Victor, 1927.
Gleason, Ralph J. “Farewell to the Duke.” Celebrating the Duke and Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy, and Other Heroes. New York: Da Capo, 1995. 155-68.

Lawrence, Anthony. Duke Ellington and His World: A Biography. New York: Schirmer Books, 1999.