Life and Career of Duke Ellington

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1) Give a detailed description of the early life and times of Duke Ellington. Why do you think he is considered one of America’s most famous composers?

Duke Ellington, birth name was Edward Kennedy Ellington, the name of Duke named by his childhood friend when he was around seven for his casual and grateful manner and the dapper dress that he wore. He was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C, both of his parents were pianists, his mother mostly played parlor songs and his father focused in operatic arias. Ellington learned piano since he was seven to eight years old, and he fell in love when he was fourteen and began listening, watching and imitating ragtime pianists. Ellington followed his passion for ragtime and began to play professionally at age seventeen, as he got many inspirations from piano players, such as, Doc Perry, Cliff Jackson, Luis Brown, and Blind Johnny.

He wrote first composition “Soda Fountain Rag” while he was working in Poodle Dog Café. He started his career and joined Harlem Renaissance in New York City in 1923. Even though the career start of Ellington was not very good. But after he made an agreement with agent-publisher Irving Mills in 1926, he joined the film work with Black and Tan in 1929. “Take the A Train”, “Sophisticated Lady”, “Rocks in My Bed”, “Don’t Get Around Much Any More”, and “I Let a Song Go out of My heart” are the popular songs that written by Ellington. Some of those songs were sung by Ivie Anderson who was the favorite female vocalist of Duke’s band.

Ellington was one of the most important figures in 20th century American music. As his original jazz music came in the age of the dawning of jazz in 1920s, his creative output was huge and varied. He consistently straddled the line between commercial and artistic achievement and challenged listeners with an expressive and sophisticated collection of works, often drawing comparisons to classical music. Moreover, he helped define the African-American experience through his art, also the Cotton Club was the ideal for a band composed of all people of African descent to gain huge success.

2) What instruments make up the rhythm section in a jazz group? How do they produce sound? Name at least three famous rhythm sections players, what they play, and why you like them.

Many of the rhythm section instruments, such as keyboard instruments (most important because of its popularity and range) and guitars, banjo, electric piano, organ, vibraphone are used to play the chord progression upon which the song is based.

The bass instrument plays the low-pitched bassline that supports the chord progression, typically by emphasizing the roots of the chords. More than one harmony instrument may be used. A popular combination is guitar and piano. The most common rhythm section is bass, drums, guitar, and piano.

Freddie Green, who was an American swing jazz guitarist who played rhythm guitar with the Count Basie Orchestra for almost fifty years. I like him as his style is very unique, he played the guitar rapidly changed chords, often with every beat, rather than every measure.

Dizzy Gillespie, he was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser, building on the virtuoso style of Roy Eldridge but adding layers of harmonic and rhythmic complexity previously unheard in jazz.

Herbie Hancock, he’s a keyboard player which he shortly thereafter joined the Miles Davis Quintet, where he helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section.

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3) What is the importance of Ragtime to Jazz? Give a short history and definition. Name at least two of the most famous Ragtime composers and two famous Ragtime pieces.

Ragtime is primarily a piano solo style and was the immediate precursor to jazz, and it’s an African American invention, source of pride to African American composers, musicians, and listeners. The term probably came from “ragged time”, a colorful description of African American polyrhythm. At the time of the Civil War, “ragged time” would have been heard on the banjo, the black instrument par excellence. But over the next half century, black performers found their way to the piano. Th e very symbol of middle-class gentility, the piano was also sturdy enough to find a place in the lower-class saloons catering to black people.

One of the famous Ragtime composers is Scott Joplin, who was an African-American composer and pianist. During his brief career, he wrote a lots of original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas; Another famous composer of Ragtime was Wilbur Sweatman, who was an African-American ragtime and dixieland jazz composer, bandleader and clarinetist. He was one of the first African-American musicians and a trailblazer in the racial integration of musical groups.

One of the most famous Ragtime pieces is Coon Song, which yoked polyrhythmic accompaniments to racial stereotypes. While the song’s rhythms convey the excitement of ragtime, its subject matter was so offensive that whistling the melody within sight of black men was enough to start a fight. Coon songs were so reckless in their stereotypes that by 1905, the popular song industry felt the need to retreat, toning them down and calling them “ragtime songs” instead. Another famous Ragtime piece is cakewalk, although the American cakewalk dates back to the early days of slavery, the cakewalk as a distinct music and dance style had its formal beginning in the 1870's and reached its peak of popularity at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.

4) Why is Bessie Smith so important to the history of jazz? Discuss her life, her music, and her influence. To answer this properly you will need to do some outside research. Make sure to use reliable sources and quote them properly.

Bessie Smith was the most popular blues artist of the era, as known as the “Empress of the blues”. She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, according the website of Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Bessie started performing on the streets of Chattanooga in order to pursuit a better life, and she left the place in 1912 to join a traveling minstrel and vaudeville show as a dancer and singer. Then her recording career as a blues singer start in 1923 with OKeh Records.

Smith recorded with a variety of accompanists during her ten-year recording career. They included pianists Fred Longshaw, Porter Grainger, and Fletcher Henderson; saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Sidney Bechet; trombonist Charlie Green; clarinetists Buster Bailey and Don Redman; and cornetist Bessie Smith. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation.

Bessie Smith. she recorded 'St. Louis Blues,' 'Cold in Hand Blues,' 'Careless Love Blues,' 'Nashville Woman's Blues,' and 'I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.' Her talent of singing has a huge influence on popular American singers, such as Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin and Norah Jones have all given her credit as their inspiration.

5) New Orleans is arguably the birthplace of jazz. Explain the New Orleans style. Name as many of the famous early players as you can and comment on how they contributed to the development of jazz.

Many black people pouring into New Orleans from nearby plantations encountered a racially mixed group known as the Creoles, who tied their sense of social superiority to musical standards drawn from European culture. Jazz resulted from a struggle between the two groups and drew its strengths from its own mixture of European and African traditions. At the same time, jazz represents a triumph for African American musicians who refused to be cowed by pressures to conform to European gentility and insisted on the importance of their own homegrown musical principles. Traditional New Orleans jazz is band music characterized by a front line usually consisting of cornet, clarinet, and trombone engaging in polyphony with varying degrees of improvisation and driven by a rhythm section consisting of piano, guitar, bass, and drums delivering syncopated rhythms for dancing.

Manuel Perez, he was famous for his work in New Orleans' brass bands. He was playing in the Onward Brass Band before the turn of the century and put together his Imperial Orchestra. Perez was in great demand for parade and dance work in the years leading up to the First World War.

Buddy Bolden, he rearranged the typical New Orleans dance band of the time to better accommodate the blues: string instruments became the rhythm section, and the front-line instruments were clarinets, trombones, and Bolden's cornet. Bolden was known for his powerful, loud, 'wide open' playing style.

Freddie Keppard, who was an important musician who succeeded Buddy Bolden as 'king' of the cornet players in New Orleans. He started playing around 1906, leading the Olympia Orchestra and playing in marching bands, funerals and Storyville clubs. He also played with Bill Johnson asked him to round up a group of musicians and come to Los Angeles with the promise of work. This band became known as the Original Creole Orchestra and from 1914 to 1918 it toured the country in vaudeville shows, giving northern audiences their first taste of authentic New Orleans Jazz.

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