DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On December 4, 1927 Duke Ellington opened at the Cotton Club in Harlem.
In 1923, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington first began to make his mark
in New York with his band The Washingtonians, which took its name from
his home city. He soon assembled a remarkable corpus of talented
instrumentalists, whose qualities he exploited not only by showcasing
them in dynamic solo passages, but also by joining them in
astonishingly varied and colorful combinations of a kind never before
heard in jazz. These achievements, in addition to Ellington's expertise
as an originator of intellectually satisfying musical structures, made
him the most celebrated and critically acclaimed of all jazz composers.
Ellington's orchestra began its four-year residency at Harlem's famous
Cotton Club in 1927, providing music for sumptuous stage routines in
which exotically dressed black dancers performed for an exclusively
white audience. The band developed a new style of "jungle" music for
these dances, which featured a growl technique of brass playing
developed by trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist "Tricky Sam" Nanton.
Ellington's other notable sidemen in these early years were alto
saxophonist Johnny Hodges (famous for his sensuous tone), baritone
saxophonist Harry Carney (whose agility on his potentially ponderous
instrument was phenomenal) and clarinetist Barney Bigard (who
personified a direct link with old New Orleans). In 1929, the virtuoso
Cootie Williams succeeded Miley as principal trumpet. A succession of
popular radio broadcasts from the Cotton Club brought Ellington
national fame, and his name became known around the globe after the
successes of "Mood Indigo" (1930) and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it
Ain't Got that Swing)" (1932). In 1933 he took his band on their first
tour of Europe. By this time singer Cab Calloway had succeeded
Ellington at the Cotton Club, and Calloway was in turn succeeded by
Jimmie Lunceford in 1934.
Racial unrest in Harlem in the following year forced the club to close
down temporarily, but it re-opened in a different location in the
autumn of 1936 and remained in business for a further four years. In
the 1980s, the legendary venue inspired a movie by director Francis
Ford Coppola .