Starting his career in Harlem's Cotton Club during the roaring 20s, Duke Ellington developed the style that made him the jazz â€śMozartâ€ť, an American genius who brought depth to jazz. One of his earliest hits, â€śEast St. Louis Toodle-Ooâ€ť, featured the trumpet of Bubber Miley in a melodic piece that shows a certain rawness combined with tight background music. The opening trumpet set a pensive mood but the piece soon moves to a lighter sound as you imagine yourself walking down a dark street toward a nightclub. Mileyâ€™s rough trumpet moves the band away from the sentimental to a more raw sound.
Duke Ellingtonâ€™s genius was combining the raw sounds of the street horn players with a tight playing background band providing unification to the sound. â€śIt Donâ€™t Mean A Thing (If It Ainâ€™t Got That Swing)â€ť showed a be-bop beat and Ivie Anderson belts out the title words with gusto. Her voice is merely an instrument of Ellingtonâ€™s vision of beat, with the voice and words mere props to remind us that it is not the words but the music itself that moves you. Bass provides a beat that undergirds the vehicle for the rest of the band to revolve around. The beat is the thing and dancing is the result.
John Szwed writes, â€śEllingtonâ€™s bandâ€™s rhythmic conception was more like a huge animal coiling up to spring into life.â€ť â€śSophisticated Ladyâ€ť is a smooth piece that has you dreaming of that special one, decked out in an evening gown and ready for a night out on the town. â€śSolitudeâ€ť reeks of loneliness as you feel hopeless in love and your loved one is nowhere in sight. Have you felt so low, so alone? â€śSolitudeâ€ť fits a darker mood where as â€śIt Donâ€™t Mean A Thing (If It Ainâ€™t Got That Swing)â€ť swings. Both songs show Ellingtonâ€™s ability to hit all emotions. Ellingtonâ€™s band took their music to the very edge, leaving the audience waiting for a free wheeling experiment to proceed out of control, but Duke never allowed the band to cross the line into complete chaos.