Home / Jazz Workshop: Listening Guide to Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige – Part 2 – Brown

Jazz Workshop: Listening Guide to Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige – Part 2 – Brown

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While I have no idea how many hits I received for my first installment of this experiment in navigating the architecture of Duke Ellington's famous extended composition, Black, Brown and Beige, I do know that it received precisely zero comments.

The implication is that nobody read it or at least cared enough about what I was doing to leave a comment. Granted, this isn't exactly the usual material one would read in a jazz column: it's more like a study aid (which, indeed, it is), and nobody likes it when you ask them to study. So I certainly understand if this isn't a terribly popular piece.

But I'm going to continue it anyway. I think (or hope) it is very helpful for anyone who wants to study BB&B or any other of Ellington's lengthy compositions. It also shouldn't be left dangling and incomplete, as it would if I ended it with part one of three. And most importantly, I'm enjoying it. It is great mental exercise and gives me something to go on when I go into the work of Ellington or anybody else.

Thus we move on to the second movement of Ellington's opus "Brown." Easily the most segmented of the three movements, "Brown" is primarily about the final moments of slavery in the United States.

It contains three episodes: "West Indian Dance," about the influx of black slaves, laborers, and et cetera from the Caribbean, with particular emphasis on Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas; "Emancipation Celebration," which is exactly what it sounds like; and "Mauve," better known as "The Blues, which, said Ellington, was a moment of sadness for the older slaves who found themselves with nowhere to go after emancipation.

Times and performance details are for the January 23, 1943 Carnegie Hall performance, as recorded on The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943 (Prestige).


II – Brown

(0:00 – 1:17)
Duke Ellington’s spoken intro.

i. West Indian Dance

Four-bar drum intro, with clarinet entering at 1:22, trombone at 1:23, and full band at 1:25 – until BOOM at 1:32 leads into theme and variations.

Section 1
Theme 1A – 8-bar with slow, Caribbean groove

Theme 1B – 8-bar quick Caribbean groove

Variation on Theme 1A

Variation on Theme 1B; last two bars (2:08 – 2:10) transition to section 2.

Section 2
8-bar riff

Four-bar passage by saxophones; shout from Ellington at 2:22 announces

Theme 2 – 8-bar plunger-mute trumpet makes two-bar statement, then joined by second trumpet.

New riff – by two trumpets, only 4 bars this time; the rhythm comes from traditional Jamaican music. (Piano, with a groove from the Bahamas, is audible in the breaks.)

Trombone plays 2-bar vamp, drawn from traditional Puerto Rican music; vamp repeats with reeds and trumpet counterpoint at 2:40, then restated as a turnaround at 2:42

One beat on the floor tom kicks off another vamp, this time with reeds playing second, syncopated vamp over top; trumpets still playing counterpoint; continues for 12 bars

(3:00) Restatement, with some alteration, of Theme 2, trumpets and clarinets reaching zenith at 3:13

Saxophones repeat the last six-note phrase of Theme 2, sotto voce, three times

Trumpets and clarinets play same six-note phrase in crescendo, for a cap…but clarinet lingers for the lead into “Emancipation Celebration”

ii. Emancipation Celebration

Lone, low clarinet (Harry Carney) meanders slowly, ponderously, with horns responding at 3:28 with quick “Yankee Doodle went to town” phrase

Carney now joined by tenor sax (Ben Webster) and the two climb to a dreamy partial statement of main theme that’s then punctuated by the horns (3:37); sax and clarinet wind slowly down, then horns again pick up (3:50), joined by reeds and building up to a clarinet crescendo (3:56).

Horns blast, drums crash, repeat, and 7-bar “Emancipation Celebration” theme appears at 4:03 on cornet (Rex Stewart) with reeds underscoring.

Reeds enter the front line and respond to theme for 6 bars, with cornet returning for quick tag on the 7th and 8th bars.

Stewart restates theme, this time full 8 bars with reeds underscoring

Trombone joins trumpet for Variation 1 (8 bars) on theme, reeds still underscoring.

Reeds restate of Variation 1, this time with trombone and trumpet underscoring

Full orchestra enters (and at full blast) for Variation 2 on theme, with all but trumpet and trombone dropping out for last two bars (4:55 – 4:57)

Cowbell signals repeat; reeds restate Variation 2, trombone and trumpet again underscoring, with all but bass (Junior Raglin) and drums dropping out for last two bars (5:04 – 5:06)

(5:06) Two-bar bass turnaround

8-bar bass solo with trumpet and trombone playing riff at two-bar intervals: 5:08, 5:11, 5:13. This is Variation 3.

Repeat Variation 3, with riff much softer (5:18, 5:20, 5:22)

Full orchestra restatement of Variation 3

Trumpet and trombone quietly restate variation 1, reeds underscoring, with repeat, even softer, at 5:46

(5:55) Piano (Ellington), just barely audible, recapitulates main “Emancipation Celebration” theme for 8-bars

iii. Mauve (aka The Blues)

Four-bar horn intro, followed by obbligato by alto sax (Otto Hardwicke)

Begin vocal (Betty Roche) statement:

The blues ain’t nothin’ but a cold gray day,
And all night long it stays that way.
‘Tain’t somethin’ that leaves you alone,
‘Tain’t somethin’ I want to call my own,
‘Tain’t somethin’ with sense enough to get up and go,
‘Tain’t nothin’ like nothin’ I know.

The blues don’t know nobody as a friend,
Ain’t been nowhere where they’re welcome back again.
The low, ugly, mean blues.

(8:13: Clarinet and trumpets at shrill high note)

16-bar tenor solo by Ben Webster; in 8th bar (8:51) Carney’s baritone makes very brief counterpoint.

Horns make soft transition into more forceful, fiercer horn theme (later used for “Carnegie Blues”), repeat, then a two-bar return from Webster at 10:04 that overlaps Roche’s return

Begin second Roche vocal statement, in new theme (with obbligato):

The blues ain’t nothin’ that you sing and rhyme,
The blues ain’t nothin’ but a dark cloud marking time.
The blues is a one-way ticket from your love to nowhere
The blues ain’t somethin’ but a black crepe bell ready to wear.
Sighin’, cryin’, feel ‘most like dyin’,

(Return to original vocal theme)
The blues ain’t nothin’,
The blues ain’t nothin’,
The blues…

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About Michael J. West

  • An excellent analysis. Thank you.

    Michael Palmer

    A Tribute to Johnny Hodges

  • Roland Butta

    Ignore the lack of comments. It could be that no one knew you had done this. I only came across it by chance.

    It actually expands on what has already been done for the whole Ellington oeuvre by Messrs. Massagli and Volonte in their 2 volume tone “The New Desor”, an essential companion to Ellington’s Music.

    Perhaps a bit more publicity would not go amiss.It deserves wiider dissemination.

  • the readers were stunned into silence. 😉

    honestly, this is a very interesting series. i don’t often think about music like this, but it’s fun to read about.

  • Frits Schjøtt

    Thank you for your great work!
    I am looking forward to the third instalment in the series as I am going to spend some time very soon in listening closely to the whole BB&B with your analysis at hand.
    It will be a fantastic experience, I am sure.
    Frits Schjøtt
    (Ellington-afficionado since 1948)

  • Howard L

    I know I’m over two years late to the party here. I stumbled over this trying to learn more about a bargain bin LP I’ve had for 30 years or so called “the Immortal Duke Ellington volume 2”. The close parsing of the album here convinces me that this the same Carnegie Hall concert from 1943. (I googled when I heard Ellington call the third movement “mauve” when I expected “beige”.)