Introduction to U.S. Popular Cultures
Introduction to U.S. Popular Cultures AMST 80
Popular in Course
Popular in American Studies
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iswitwllgwx A k g Willa Uma ffla l a l Tli New CHAPTER 7 The Renaissance Education of Duke Ellington Mark Tucker Harlem was home to Duke Ellington for many years He arrived there unknown in 1923 a ragtime pianist and aspiring songwriter seeking his way in a world both fasterquot and more competitive than the one he had known growing up in the District of Columbia Yet like the heroes of the Horatio Alger stories he had admired as 39a child Ellington slowly scaled the ladder of success His ascent took him from 39the basement obscurity of the Hollywood Cafe to the elevated grandeur of Harlem s Cotton Club where he began leading a tenpiece orchestra late in 1927 By the early thirties he was famous as the composer of quotMood Indigoquot and quotSophisticated Lady and was living high on Sugar Hill Harlem s most prestigious neighborhood Even when touring took him away from home which from the midthirties on was often Ellington con tinued to celebrate Harlem in music His compositions described its ech oes and air shafts boysand blue belles His songs advised people to drop off there and to slap their soles on Seventh Avenue His signature piece even told them which train to take And he paid tribute to his adopted community in quotBeigequot from the extended work Black Brown and Beige 1943 and in A Tone Parallel to Harlem 1950 a joyous evoca tion of Harlem s sounds streetlife and citizens Ellington s initial rise to fame in New York during the 19205 coin cided with the owering of black creative expmssion that has come to be called the Harlem Renaissance While Ellington honed his skills as a bandleader Alain Locke was proclaiming the arrival of the New Negro Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes were publishing their first vol umes Of poetry leesie Fauset and Charles S Johnson were energetically editing The Crisis and Opportunity and Aaron Douglas was placing his drawings in magazines like Harlem and Fire It is tempting in retro spect to view Ellington s arrival as part of that cultural explosion and to 112 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance see his career as fulfilling the dreams39of Renaissance theoreticians For after the 19205 Ellington came to embody the ideals of the New Negro artist in his dignified manner and cultivated persona his social con SCiOUSneSS his use of vernacular sources as the basis for original compo sitions and his deep pride in the AfroAmerican heritage More than a glamorous showbusiness celebrity like Cab Calloway or a popular danceband leader like Jimmie LunCeford or Count Basie Ellington be came a crusader who took on what Nathan Huggins has described as the New Negro s mission quotto discover and define his culture and his contribution to what had been thought a white civilization Huggins 1971 59 39 Harlem may have strengthened Ellington s resolve to carry cut this mission In the midtwenties it was rich in black talent and ripe with possibilities for the many yOung writers painters and musicians who 39made their pilgrimage to this Negro mecca But like most of the major Renaissance gures Ellington came to Harlem after being trained for his mission elsewhere Long before he had glimpsed the Tree of Hope or set foot on Seventh Avenue Ellington had received the basic framework of a Renaissance education in a place over two hundred miles tothe scuthz the black community of Washington DC It was there that he spent his early years gained experience as a pianist and bandleader and met mu sicians who guided and inspired him And it was there that he first formed ideas about who he was what he might achieve and how he could succeed as a black composer in a profession and a society demi nated by whites 39 The city into which Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in 1899 had the nation s largest urban black population at the turn of the century it was accordingto Constance Green Washington s chief historian the quotundisputed center of American Negro civilizationquot Green 1963 viii Support for such a claim rested on the educational and economic oppor tunities available to Washington s black residents on the high number of black professionals especially teachers doctors and lawyers on insti tutions such as Howard University the M Street High School later39 Dunbar High the Howard Theater and the Washington ConservatOry and on the social cultiVation and intellectual distinction of the black upper class This was the city that produced writer Jean Toomer poet Sterling Brown scientist Charles H Drew scholar and diplomat Mercer V Cook physician and teacher W Montague Cobb and lawyerCharles Hamilton Houston It boasted strong civic organizations and indepen dent churches It was a place that fired black ambition fostered black pride and honored black achievement 39 39 Although his family did not belong to the top stratum of black wash Duke El lington l 13 ington society Ellington grew up in a secure middleclass home and was exposed early to people who were successful His maternal grand father ames William Kennedy was one of the city s few black police officers1 His father James Edward Ellington earned enough as a butler and parttime caterer to buy a house in 1920 at 1212 T Street NW a good neighborhood near fashionable LeDroit Park Both parents taught their two children to aim high in their goals assuring them they could quotdo anything anyone else can do Boatwright 1983 They encouraged Edward when he showed talent in drawing and continued their support when his attention turned to music The Ellington family s high expectations seem to have been common among Washington s middle and upper class blacks Pianist and educa tor Billy Taylor b 1921 a Dunbar High alumnuS has described the advantages of a Washington upbringing I had much reinforcement in terms of who I was what I was about and the tremendous contributions that black people have made to science music art government Black accomplishment was very visible in Wash ington what with the judges lawyers and other overachievers l was led to believe that any field that I wanted to go into I had the possibility of success Clarke 1982 182 A Barry Rand another Washington native and in 1987 one of the top black executives in America corporate vice president at Xerox has echoed Taylor s words I have always wanted to show that blacks can perform as well as or better than their white counterparts If you re raised in an environment where you have developed a lot of confidence in yourself you View the racism you encounter as their problem and not your own Hicks 1987 4 Like Taylor and Rand Ellington inherited a drive to excel and a resil ient optimism from Washington s black community Wherever he was in nightclubs or recording studios on the road or behind a deadline he somehow always managed to turn difficult circumstances to his advan tage His philosophy held that quotevery problem is an opportunity and quotgray skies are just clouds passing over Ellington 1973 468 He never lost his Washingtonian worldview late in life it was there when he re called his initial motivation as a composer quotThe driving power was a matter of wanting to bcL and to be heard at the same level as the best Ellington 1973 457 Together with ambition and optimism another trait Ellington exhib ited throughout his long public career was selfconfidence the solid core of belief in one s ability and potential that makes possible the high est aspirations Ellington traced the origins of this attitude to Washing 114 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance ton He felt provided for by a father who quotraised his family as thOugh he were a millionaire Ellington 1973 10 whose speech was elegant and manners impeccable He experienced quota wonderful feeling of secu rity from attending church and from hearing his mother Daisy Ken nedy EllingtOn tell him quotEdward you are blessed You don t have any thing to worry about Ellington 1973 15 And he credited Miss R A Boston his eighth grade English teacher also the principal of Garrison Junior High School with promoting proper speech and deportment as well as pride in self I think she spent as much time in preaching race pride as she did in teach ing English which ironically and very strangely imprOVed your En glishshe would explain that everywhere you go if you were sitting in a theater next to a white lady or you were on a stage your responsi bility is to command respect for the race West 1969 10 Although Ellington grew up in a community that encouraged even pressured its residents to succeed as a young man he did not seem destined to become one of black Washington s overachievers He showed more interest in playing the piano and frequenting Frank Holliday s pool room next to the Howard Theater than in his Studies He attended not Dunbar High but the Armstrong Manual Training School where he took courses in freehand and mechanical drawing perhaps anticipating a career in commercial art and which he left in the winter of 1917 several months before graduating2 During this time and after he does not appear to have been involved with any of the black community s numerous civic fraternal religious or literary organ izations Instead he found work as a soda jerk messenger boy sign painter and danceband musician Nevertheless Washington exposed Ellington to various influences that would shape the course of his extraordinary musical career Three of these came from professional black musicians he encountered there from the community39s emphasis on black history and from the example of others raised in Washington who went on to compose lead orches tras and champion the cause of black music WASHINGTON S BLACK PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS The community that produced Duke Ellington was distinguished by the quality and diversity of its professional musical life In his memoirs Ellington dwells primarily on one facet of the scene the popular music played by pianists and small instrumental ensembles But black Wash ington also spawned choral societies and glee clubs military bands a symphony orchestra chamber musiegroups and one of the nation s earliest black opera companies the Original Colored America Opera Duke Ellington 115 Troupe Young black musicians could receive instruction at the Wash ington Conservatory founded by Harriet Marshall Gibbs see McGinty 1979 at Wellington Adams s Columbia Conservatory and from many private instructors among them Marietta Mrs Harvey Clinkscales Ellington s first piano teacher Recitals concerts and other musical events were regularly reviewed in the Bee the city s main black newspa per3 Several periodicals The Negro ournal of Music which in 1903 be came the official organ of the Washington Conservatory Wellington Adams s The Music Master and The Negro M llsifi n COVCTOd local as well as national activity in black music Ellington seems to have kept a distance from the formal world of black music in Washington His piano lessons with Mrs Clinkscales did not last long or mean much later he said they all slipped away from me Ulanov 1946 1975 6 and quothad nothing to do with the thing that followed when I became fourteen quotCBC IntervieW 1965 His experi ences as a edgling ragtime pianist took him to informal hops and teen dances then as leader of a small group the Duke s Serenaders to embassy receptions and Virginia hunt balls But Ellington did meet up with musicians who combined formal training with an interest in popu lar music Ellington called them the quotconservatory boys as opposed to the self taught quotear cats Ellington 1973 26 One of these was Oliver Doc Perry 1885 1961 a pianist who may have had conservatory training and who was a p0pular black band leader in Washington during the 19105 and early 192054 Perry s musical versatility and personal refinement put him in demand at fancy func tions Ellington began visiting Perry at his home on U Street occasion ally filling in for the older man at dances when Perry had to play dOWn town at the Ebbitt House Ellington 1973 33 From his piano parent as he called Perry Ellington developed elementary reading skills and a professional attitude toward performing Perry later claimed that he quottrained Duke for public work Perry 1983 And when Ellington de picted Perry in Music Is My Mistress as a man who spoke quotwith a sort of semi continental finesse who was quotextremely gifted dignified clean neat and who was quotrespected by musicians show people and the lay men as well Ellington 1973 26 he hinted at traits the piano parent may have passed on to his young prot ge In Louis N Brown ca 18891974 another schooled pianist Ellington met a musician active in many different sectors of the black community Brown played ragtime and popular piano for dances dance classes and parties also organ at the Lincoln Theater on U Street He directed church choirs and appeared as piano soloist on concert programs Tucker 1986 9495 Besides admiring Brown s technical facility and en gaging personality Ellington may have perceived how Brown moved 1 l6 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance fluidly from one performing situation to the next as did other black professional musicians in Washington5 Even after he had become a sea soned concerthall artist Ellington kept an open mind about where and what he played and resisteddrawing lines between high and low art and entertainment His orchestra might turn up Friday in a concert hall Saturday in a high school gym As he told Stanley Dance quot1 like going from one extreme to another Sometimes we play for the Elks club and it s Melancholy Baby all night but 1 love it Dance 1970 1981 11 A third professional black musician who in uenced young Ellington was Henry Lee Grant Son of the singer Henry Fleet Grant he was edu cated at Livingston College and New York University and received an Artist s Diploma in piano from the Washington Conservatory in 1910 Grant was a major figure in Washington s black musical life Like Louis Brown he was a many sided musician composer conductor director of choirs and glee clubs concert pianist and teacher at Dunbar High He assisted Will Marion Cook in leading the AfroAmerican Folk Song Singers played in a trio with violinist Felix Weir and cellist Leonard Jeter and in 1919 helped found the National Association of Negro Musi Clans When Ellington was about seventeen Grant apparently invited the young piano quotplunkerquot tovbecome his pupil Ellington 1973 28 N0 written record survives of what Ellington later called his quothidden course in harmony that lighted the direction to more highly developed compo sition But this colorful description may disguise the fact that Grant s student simply needed some basic instruction Ellington implies as much when he writes of his lessons quotWe moved along very quickly until I was learning the difference between C flat and F sharp Elling ton 1973 33 Grant too seems to have realized that despite a certain experimental bent Duke was anxious to learn the fundamentals Ul Vanov 1946 1975 9 In addition to teaching theory Grant represented musical ideals dif ferent from those Ellington would have encountered in the workaday world of society gigs dances and hops Grant not only proselytized for the cause of Negro music but believed that popular music could show seriousness of purpose and meet standards of excellence In 192 while serving as editor of The Negro Musician he announced his inten tion to interview successful Negro composers organizers leaders and performers in the popular music eld listing the names of Ford Dabney John Turner Layton Jr and Will Vodery Grant 1921a 9 That same year he enthusiastically reviewed Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake s Shuf e Along and revealed that Blake was one of his expupils Grant 1921b 13 Grant s broad musical background his solid musicianship his belief in the genuine art possibilities of popular music and his Duke Ellington 1 17 active work on behalf of black music and musicians may have im pressed a young bandleader Grant offered Ellington not just keys to commercial Success J1 had to study music seriously to protect my rep utationl Ellington 1973 33 but values he would later embrace and embody as a black artistquot A PEOPLE PROUD OF THEIR PAST In his 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington T he Hot Bachquot Richard O Boyer wrote that the bandleader thought it quotgood business to conceal his interest in American Negro historyquot since Duke doubted it would help quothis popularity in Arkansas say to have it known that in books he has read about Negro slave revolts he has heavily underlined parav graphs about the exploits of Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey Gammond 1958 1977 49 But if Ellington kept his reading habits pri vate his music made public a passion for black history The year before in 1943 he had premiered at Carnegie Hall his massive tone parallel to the history of the American Negro Black Brown and Beige Earlier he had celebrated the emancipation of black entertainers from racial stereo types in jump for joy 1941 and explored the Afro American heritage in Symphony in Black 1934 and Creole Rhapsody 1931 Stimulating awareness of the Negro s past was a goal pursued by var ious Harlem Renaissance figures in the 19205 among them Countee Cullen Alain Locke James Weldon Johnson Aaron Douglas Richmond Barth and Marcus Garvey Yet Ellington s hometown was filled with people equally dedicated to preserving and promoting black culture In 1915 Howard University professor Carter Woodson founded the Associ ation for the Study of Negro Life and History which soon began pub lishing the journal of Negro History The Bethe Literary and Historical Association and the MusSoLit Club provided forums for discussing black politics social issues and literature And in the schools Ellington recalled quotNegro history was crammed into the curriculum so that we would know our people all the way back Ellington 1973 17 Another source that focused attention on black history was the pag eants put on by church school and civic groups The most extravagant one during Ellington s youth was quotT he Star of Ethiopia presented in October 1915 at the American League Ball Park In 1913 it had been produced in New York for the National Emancipation Exposition by WEB Du Bois The Star of Ethiopia 1913 Du Bois 1915 quotReview of The Star 1915 The program for the Washington production gave the following description The Story of the Pageant covers 10000 years of the history of the Negro race and its work and suffering and triumphs quotin the world The Pageant 18 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance combines historic accuracy and symbolic truth All the costumes of the thousand actors the temples the weapons etc have been copied from accurate models quotProgram of 139 he Star of Ethi0pia 1915 The historic drama had five scenes quotGift of Iron quotDream of Egypt quotGlory of Ethiopia quotValley of Humiliation and quotVision Everlasting In addition to acting quotmusic by colored composers lights and symbolic dancing accompany the story and emphasize and explain it Elzie Hoffman s band took part as did a thousand actors and a chorus of two hundred quotThe Horizon Guild Pageant 1915 5 The music director was J Rosamond Johnson A spectator would have heard his brother James Weldon Johnson s song Walk Together Children and Verdi s Celeste Aida We don t know if the sixteenyearpld Ellington attended He did work at the ball park as a youngster and some rehearsals for the pag eant were held at his high school But surely he heard about it the pageant seems to have been a major community event and nearly scv enty years later Dr W Montague Cobb spoke of it as quotvery impressive Cobb 1984 Other musicaldramatic treatments of black history themes were pro duced in Washington In 1921 horn player and bandleader Russell Woodingonc of Ellington s first employers put on his opera quotHal cyon Days in Dixie an quotattempt at music drama based on themes of Negro life and music quotReview of Halcyon Days in Dixie 1921 18 The work featured Wooding s Jubilee Quintet and violinist Joseph Douglass grandson of Frederick Douglass An earlier production was quotThe Evolution of the Negro in Picture Song and Story put on at the Howard Theater in 1911 Henry Grant directed the L Allegro Glee Club accompanied by Mary Europe sister of James Reese Europe later a col league of Grant at Dunbar High The program drew upon American texts William Dean Howells and Paul Laurence Dunbar and European music von Supp Chaminade and Brahms But perhaps most in triguing was the structure of the presentation Overture Night of Slavery Sorrow Songs Dawn of Freedom Day of Opportunity quotProgram of The Evolution 1911 Like quotThe Star of Ethiopia this event brought together music and sto ries to dramatize the history of black Americans Such endeavors could strengthen the pride of Washington s black community and may have left their mark on Ellington In time he would compose works that treated similar themes using similar forms His Symphony in Black writ ten for a Paramount music short has an Overture a section titled quotThe Laborers and a quotHymn of Sorrow Black Brown and Beige moves from a on um Duke Ellington 1 19 past to present and again features work songs and a hymn Come Sun day WASHINGTON S BLACK COMPOSERBANDLEADERS In describing qualities that made Ellington and some of his associates different from other musicians Barry Ulanov has identified a quotWashing ton pattern that involved a certain bearing a respect for education for the broad principles of the art of music a desire for order for design in their professional lives It gave them from the very beginning a line of development a sense of growth toward a larger and more meaningful expression Ulanov 1946 1975 13 Ellington himself alludes to the pattern in describing Doc Perry LOuiS BFOWI I Henry Grant and two of his Washington reared band members trumpeters Arthur Whetsol and Rex Stewart A great organization man Whetsol would speak up in a minute on the subject of propriety clean appearance and reliability If and when any member of our band made an error in grammar he was quick to correct him He was aware of all the Negro individuals who were contributing to the cause by commanding respect He knew about all the Negro colleges and he also knew all the principal scholastic and athletic leaders person ally Ellington 1973 54 Stewart came out of the same Washington school system that i did and his intellectual ambitions were typical of the Washingtonian of that time when people believed that if you were going to be something you ought to learn something and know something He had been taught the responsibility of commanding respect for his race and to this end he main tained a dignified decentsortof Chap image and he never strayed from it Ellington 1973 124 25 The quotWashington pattern however produced not just a different breed of quotjazzmen as Ulanov notes but three AfroAmerican musi cians whose careers in some respects may have served as models for Ellington s Will Marion Cook 18691944 James Reese Europe 1881 1919 and Ford Dabney 1883 1958 All three combined roles that El lington himself later assumed composer songwriter successful band leader and performer who earned the respect of both black and white audiences Like Ellington they were champions of black musical tradi tions syncopated jazz ragtime show tunes Negro folk songs arrange ments of spirituals and drew upon black vernacular idioms for their original compositions 39 120 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance Did Ellington encounter these men or hear their orchestras before heading to Harlem Europe Cook and Dabney brought their large in strumental ensembles to Washington in the period 1917 1922 when El lington was actively pursuing his musical career Ellington lists Dabney and Europe as two of the quotgreat talents in New York he had quotheard of while in Washington Ellington 1973 36 But he may have actually seen 39 Europe at the Howard Theater in 191Ellington later claimed that as a boy he went there quotalmost every day to hear the good music Ellington 1973 104 And Ford Dabney s local appearances between 1920 and 1922 were well publicized especially an October 1921 concert in Convention Hall where Ellington heard James P Johnson that same year Ellington s connections with Will Marion Cook were closer He may have seen Cook s Southern Syncopated Orchestra featuring Sidney Bechet as early as 1919 Cook 1983 His main contact with the older 7 man however came a few years later in New York There he would follow quotDadquot Cook as he made the rounds of music publishers around Times Square then take a cab with him back to Harlem In this taxi classroom Cook gave advice to the young Washingtonian He sug gested that Ellington pursue formal training at a conservatory to which Ellington answered quotDad don t want to go to the conservatory be cause they re not teaching what I want to learn West 1969 9 Cook also may have passedalong some general points of compositional method or perhaps some ideas for a programmatic work in 1944 El lington said that quotsome of the things he used to tell me I never got a chance to use until I wrote the tone poem Black Brown and Beigequot Gammond 1958 1977 54 Beyond any direct contact Ellington may have had with Cook Eu rope and Dabney however he shared with them as a mature musician several traits that bore the outlines of a common quotWashington pattern One was a public persona that commanded respect by its inherent dig nity and decorum Cultivating these qualities was essential for blacks working in popular music who wanted to be taken seriously not only by whites but by those blacks who considered popular songs and dance music lower artistic forms Lawrence Gushee has de5cribed the dilemma faced by the AfroAmerican who considered himself and was a civi lized musician but who almost necessarily survived by working in show or dance music as leader arranger or musical director often with a seriousness or dignity that seems out of place Gushee 1978 2 El lington seems to have reconciled his image as an artist and function as an entertainer more gracefully than his predecessors Even so his pol ished manner and aristocratic bearing were characteristic of Cook Eu rope and other black professional musicians who belonged to New York s Clef and Tempo Clubs Noble Sissle recognized tliese qualities Duke Ellington 121 when he called James Reese Europe the Duke Ellington of his time Anderson 1982 76 A second trait linking Ellington to Cook and Europe was a distaste for labels that might limit the scope of his achievements in the public eye Ellington s lifelong battle to do away with categories is well known His objections to the term jazz mirror Europe s to ragtime perhaps this attitude reflected their origins in quota section of the black middle class that strove to gain the highest standing for black cultural endeavors An derson 1982 78 Will Marion Cook could even show resentment at being labeled as an Afro American musician In a well known anecdote Cook responded to a critic who called him quotthe world s greatest Negro violinist by smashing his violin and crying out quotI am not the greatest Negro violinist I am the greatest violinist in the world Ellington 1973 97 When Ellington relates this story he seems to identify and sympathize with Cook s indignation Yet while demanding to be judged by artistic not racial criteria El lington and his Washington forerunners still dedicated themselves to ex pressing in music the feelings aspirations and ideals of black Ameri cans In pursuit of this goal these musicians discarded the conventions of minstrelsy and vaudeville and refused to emulate white performers Cook according to James Weldon Johnson believed that the Negro in music and on the stage ought to be a Negro a genuine Negro he declared that the Negro should eschew quotwhitequot pat terns and not employ his efforts in doing what the white artist could always do as well generally betterquot Anderson 1982 34 Europe agreed In 1912 after his orchestra s first concert at Carnegie Hall he took credit for developing quota kind of symphony music that is different and distinctive and that lends itself to the playing of the peculiar compositions of our racequot Southern 1983 288 When he re turned from abroad in 1919 with his 369th Infantry quotHellfighters Band he proclaimed I have come back from France more firmly convinced than ever that ne groes should write negro music We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies Will Marion Cook Wil liam Tires Tyers even Harry Burleigh and ColeridgeTaylor are only truly themselves in the music which expresses their race Southern 1983 289 Ellington endorsed these black nationalist aims in word and deed Later he would characterize himself not as an entertainer working in a commercial field but as a composer for his people quotI don t write jazz 1 write Negro folk music Gammond 1958 1977 26 In 1937 he called 122 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance for the founding of a Conservatory of Negro Music which would teach principally the melodies and harmonies and teachings of our ancestors Ellington 1937 Steeped in the black conSCiousness of Washington DC he composed works that celebrated AfroAmerican culture and its outstanding contributors from Florence Mills to Martin Luther King He sought to educate audiences in works like Black Brown and Beige and My People 1963 rouse them with social commentary in Jump for joy and instill hope for the Negro s future in New World AComing 1943 Ellingtonquots crusade for the cause of AfroAmerican music rested on a conviction that it deserved a place of importance next to the greatest products of the European musical tradition This belief was manifest in the programs offered by Europe and his Clef Club orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1912 1913 and in concerts featuring Cook and his Afro Ameri can Folk Song Singers in which Negro spirituals folk songs and Cook39s original compositions might appear side by side with European classics quotIn Retrospect 1978 quotAfroAmerican Folk Song Singers 191309 When Ellington took his orchestra into Carnegie Hall in the 19405 he pre sented his own extended compositions together with original dance pieces concertos songs and blues all derived from the rich loam of Afro American traditions But he rejected the view of those who claimed he had been influenced by Europeans In his most forceful statement on the subject written in 1944 for the classicalrecord magazine Listen he attempted to set the critics straight Jazz swing jive and every other musical phenomenon of American musi cal life are as much an art medium as are the most profound works of the famous classical composers To attempt to elevate the status of the jazz musician by forcing the level of his best work into comparisons with classical music is to deny him his rightful share of originality Music like any other art form re ects the mood temperament and environment of its creators Ellington 1944 6 Such words would have made Henry Grant and Will Marion Cook beam with pride They show a man sure of himself true to his tradi tions and proud of his place in history And they reveal a composer stamped with the imprint of the quotWashington pattern someone with quota respect for education for the broad principles of the art of musicquot who was moving ever moving toward a larger and more meaningful expressron Mercer Ellington has claimed with some justification that his father s quotearly training in Washington had really been slight and rudimentary Ellington and Dance 1978 1979 19 It was in New York that Ellington stepped up his ability to read music learned to write it down advanced Duke Ellington 123 his pianistic skills through listening to Harlem stride pianists developed an orchestra with a distinctive style and sound and emerged as a major composer The performers he worked with at Barron s the Kentucky Club and especially the Cotton Club were probably of a higher caliber than those he had encountered in Washington And New York espe cially Harlem stimulated Ellington to accomplish some of his best work At the same time Ellington admitted that Washington quotwas a very good climate for me to come up in musically West 1969 1 There he found a supportive network of pianists and an environment in which elverybody seemed to get something out of the other 5 playing E1 1ingt0n 1973 26 He developed aural skills that he would rely on throughout his career He got his start in the band business He gained performing experience in cabarets and theaters in fancy ballrooms and funky dance halls But Washington s most important gift to Ellington may have been a set of attitudes and beliefs that allowed him to realize his artistic ambi tions in a way that no other Afro American composer had been able to do Growing up black in Washington trained Ellington to overcome the destructive effects of racism with patience an iron will and the sure conviCtion that any goal was within his grasp It made him aware of the rich traditions of AfroAmericans respectful of their past and confident of their future Perhaps most significant for a black composer seeking his vocation in the field of popular music it gave him a sense of being part of a historical procession By 1931 when he wrote in the British periodical Rhythm that sense had been sharpened by Harlem s Black Renaissance I am proud of that part my race is playing in the artistic life of the world Paul Robeson Roland Hayes your OWn ColeridgeTaylor are names al ready high in the lists of serious music that from the welter of negro dance musicians now before the public will come something lasting and noble I am convinced Ellington 1931 3922 In the same article Ellington voiced his concern that quotwhat is being done by Countee Cullen and others in literature is overdue in our music The thirtyone yearold bandleader vowed to take up the cause himself by writing a rhapsody that will portray the experience of the coloured races in America in the syncopated idiom I am putting all I have learned into it in the hope that I shall have achieved something really worth while in the literature of music and that an authentic record of my race written by a member of it shall be placed on record Ellington 1931 22 124 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance The quotrhapsodyquot of course appeared twelve years later as the tone parallel Black Brown and Beige But the desire to leave quotan authentic record of my race became in a way Ellington s life s work Few Amer ican musicians have brought to their work such fervor determination and uncompromisingly high standards Few were as well qualified to succeed as this resident of Harlem who received his early education in the proud privileged black community of Washington DC NOTES 1 In 1910 when there were nearly 95000 blacks in Washington only forty were policemen Henri 1975 167 2 His Armstrong transcript available from the District of Columbia Public Schools shows grades that were good to excellent in drawing average in English history and math and poor in the sciences The only grade for a music course on his transcript which he received in his first year at the school 1913 1914 is a D ie deficient 3 During the period 191471917 the Bee reports several recitals and programs of Mrs Clinkscales s students This was after Ellington s study with the teacher however 4 Many advertisements for Perry s band appear between 1917 and 1922 in the Bee and the Chicago Defender in J Le C Chestnut s column quotUnder the Capitol Dome No recordings by Perryor by any other Washington pianist mentioned by Ellington in Music Is My Mistressmare known to exist 5 This versatility was partly a byproduct of discrimination Since for mally trained black musicians could be faced with severely limited job opportunities they may have undertaken work in theaters public schools cabarets and restaurants as a matter of economic survival The presence of someone like Henry Grant on the Dunbar High faculty at tests to the plight of the black concert musician who could not sustain a career outside the black community The problem was not unique to musicians before she began her work as literary editor for The Crisis Jessie Fauset BA Cornell MA University of Pennsylvania taught at M StreetDunbar High from 1906 to 1919 As Billy Taylor has said about Dunbar quotThere were five teachers there with doctorates they were in high schools simply because there was no room for them at colleges Clarke 1982 181 6 Grant s respect for popular music was tempered by a belief that its quotpotential for art possibilities was limited by its quotrestricted form and transitory appeal Next to his glowing review of Shuffle Along he of fered a warning about ragtime quotTherefore embrace study improve and utilize its values Teach its source history and in uence but point to its limitations and instruct of its harm as a lone medium of expres Duke Ellington 125 sion Grant 1921b 13 Despite the cautionary tone such a statement coming from a black classical music advocate could seem enlightened next to the view of a critic like Wellington Adams who in reviewing a Clef Club orchestra concert a few years before had asserted that there is as great a difference between the music of the jazz and the art of Beethoven as there is between the sounds by which lower animals ex press their feelings and the language of Goethe Adams 1919 6 7 Cook s works include the musicals Clorindy Or the Origin of the Cakewalk 1898 In Dahomey 1903 Bandana Land 1908 and Darkeydom 1915 and the songs quotDarktown Is Out Tonight quotSwing Along Exv hortation and quotRain Song He led and toured abroad with the South ern Syncopated Orchestra for several years beginning in 1918 Carter 1988 Riis 1981 Among James Reese Europe s instrumental pieces are Castlehouse Rag quotCastle Walk and quotToo Much Mustard After moving from Washington to New York ca 1905 Europe worked in musical theater conducted orchestras and founded the Clef Club a protective associa tion for professional black musicians Around 1914 he left the Clef Club and organized the Tempe Club with Ford Dabney His society orchestra was associated with Vernon and Irene Castle from 1914 to 1917 During World War I his 369th Infantry Band gained fame abroad Charters and Kunstadt 1962 1981 quotIames Reese Europe 1955 Ford Dabney was court pianist to the president of Haiti from 1904 to 1907 In New York his orchestra played for Ziegfeld s Midnight Frolic Show at the New Amsterdam Theater from 1913 to 1921 His works include the musicals The King s Quest 1909 and Rang Tang 1927 the instrumental piece The Pensacola Mootch 1910 and the song quotThat s Why They Call Me Shine 1910 Southern 1982 quotFord Dabney 1955 More is known about Europe and Cook than about Dabney accord ingly my discussion focuses more on the former two figures 8 This may have been a matter of temperament not just the different conditions under which Ellington worked or the later time Also man ager Irving Mills s successful efforts to present Ellington as an artist and composer helped pave the way for his public acceptance under these terms 9 This concert given November 21 1913 at the Metropolitan AME Church featured songs by Cook a choral piece by Coleridge Taylor folksong arrangements by Tchaikovsky and Dvorak and Men delssohn s Rondo Capriccioso performed by Henry Grant REFERENCES Adams Wellington A 1919 The musical world The Bee May 316 Afro American Folk Song Singers program 1913 Vertical files November 21 Moorland Spingam Research Center Howard University Washington DC l26 Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance Anderson Jervis 1982 This was Harlem A cultural portrait 1900 1950 New York Farrar Straus Giroux Boatwright Ruth Ellington 1983 Interview with the author October 21 Carter Marva39Griftin 1988 Will Marion Cook AfroAmerican violinist composer and conductor PhD diss University of Illinois Urbana CBC interview 177 April 1965 Ellington clipping file Institute of am Studies Rutgers University Newark New Jersey Charters Samuel and Leonard Kunstadt 1962 1981 jazz A history of the New York scene New York Da Capo Clarke Catherine K 1982 Conversation with William Billy Taylor The Black Perspective in Music 10 no 2117988 Cobb W Montague 1984 Telephone conversation with the author May 29 Cook Mercer 1983 Interview with the author August 19 Dance Stanley 1970 1981 The world of Duke Ellington New York Da Capo Du Bois WEB 1915 The star of Ethiopia Crisis 11 December9L94 Ellington Duke 1931 The Duke steps out Rhythm Marchz2022 1937 Interview in The Call December 31 Vertical file quotEllington 1930s Moor landepingarn Research Center Howard University Washington DC 1944 Certainly it39s music Listen October 19445 6 1973 Music is my mistress Garden City NY Doubleday Ellington Mercer with Stanley Dance 1978 1979 Duke Ellington in person An intimate memoir New York Da Capo Ford Dabney 1955 Record Research 1 no 217 8 includes discography Gammond Peter ed 1958 1977 Duke Ellington His life and music New York Da Capo Grant Henry 1921a The theatrical and popular music world The Negro Musician 1 no 2 Febniary9 1921b In the field of popular music The Negro Musician une13 Green Constance McLaughlin 1963 Washington Capital city 18794950 Princeton NJ Princeton University Press Gushee Lawrence 1978 Liner essay Duke Ellington 1940 Smithsonian Collection R 013 Henri Florette 1975 Black migration Movement north 1900 1920 Garden City NY An chor Press Doubleday Hicks Jonathan P 1987 A black s climb to executive heights New York Times May 225ec D 1 4 The Horizon Guild pageant 1915 The Bee October 95 Huggins Nathan Irvin 1971 Harlem Renaissance New York Oxford University Press In retrosPect Black music concerts in Carnegie Hall 1912 1915 1978 The Black Perspective in Music 6 no 171 88 James Reese Europe 1955 Record Research 1 no 63 5 includes discography McGinty Doris 1979 The Washington Conservatory of Music and school of expression The Black Perspective in Music 7 no 159 74 The Music Master 19191920 Held at Moorland Spingarn Research Center Howard Uni versity Washington DC The Negro journal of Music 1902 1908 1970 Westport Conn Negro Universities Press The Negro Musician 19204 921 Held at MoorlandSpingarn Research Center Howard Uni versity Washington DC Perry Mrs Delia 1983 Telephone conversation with the author November 17 Program of quotThe evolution of the Negro in picture song and story 1911 Vertical file Washington DC programs box 4 Moorland Spingarn Research Center Howard Uni versity Washington DC Program of quotThe star of Ethiopia 1915 Vertical file Washington DC programs box 1 MoorlandSpingam Research Center Howard University Washington DC Review of quotHalcyon days in Dixie 1921 In The Negro Musician 1 no 2 Februarylslli I Rew ew of quotThe star of Ethiopia 1915 The Bee October 164 quot
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