CMS Visits the Duke

In 1988 the Division of Musical History, National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution acquired the musical estate of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, a purchase made possible by the generosity of his son Mercer and the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congress as a whole. (The full extent of this collection is detailed in John Edward Hasse's article in the fall 1989 Jazz Educators Journal.) The Smith sonian has developed an exhibition, "Duke Ellington, American Musician," which contains manuscripts, concert posters, the Presidential Medal of Free@om awarded to Ellington, and other items. A video jukebox allows viewers to choose any of seven vintage Ellington performances from 1929 through 1952. The Smithsonian is now in the forefront of Ellington research, cataloguing the collection, undertaking an oral history project, producing historically based concerts and preparing Ellington manuscripts for publication in their new Jazz Masterworks Editions (co-sponsored with Oberlin College).

Since recent CMS national conferences have highlighted music indigenous to the host city or geographic region, it was natural that the 1990 meeting in Washington should devote an entire afternoon and evening (October 27) devoted to Ellington, one of the two greatest composers born in the capital city. (The other, John Philip Sousa, was neglected during this conference. Hosted by the Smithsonian and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the symposium "Duke Ellington -- A Retrospective," held in the Smithsonian's Hall of Musical Instruments, gave CMS members the opportunity to hear lectures by prominent Ellington scholars, stunning performances of Ellington works, and educational strategies for integrating Ellington's music into the classroom.

Keynote speaker for the CMS symposium was Gunther Schuller, who co-authored the entry on Ellington in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music and wrote extensively about him in his books Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. In his address, "Duke Ellington as a Major American Composer," Schuller expounded his view that Ellington was not only the most important and outstanding jazz composer but also one of America's greatest composers. Ellington's total compositional output has not yet been tabulated, but Schuller estimates its total to be equal to that of Telemann or Villa-Lobos. Even more remarkable than its vastness is the fact that virtually all of Ellington's music depended upon realization by his own twelve- to fifteen- piece orchestra, which survived for five decades. Schuller astonished most of his audience with the information that of this massive output, only four Ellington works can be purchased in full score. Schuller identified five categories of Ellington works: dance numbers, jungle- style and/or production numbers for the Cotton Club, "blue" or "mood" pieces, popular tunes or ballads, and abstract/absolute works. Schuller traced the evolution of Ellington's style, illustrating his points with recorded examples from Black and Tan Fantasy (1927) through Clothed Woman (1947). SchuIler's perceptive style analysis supported his thesis that Ellington was at least a decade ahead of all other jazz composers in his harmonic language and utilization of timbres.

Following Schuller's presentation, James Early, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Service at the Smithsonian, welcomed those in attendance. John Edward Hasse, curator of the Duke Ellington Collection, and Deborra Richardson, music manuscript archivist, then provided an overview of the contents of the Smithsonian's Ellington collection. Holdings include over 2500 Ellington compositions, works by other composers for the Ellington orchestra, sound recordings, correspondence, business records, over 200 photographs, scrapbooks, posters, and other items related to Ellington's career. The acquisition of these materials was detailed, as were cataloguing procedures, the current status of Ellington scholarship, and procedures for undertaking Ellington research at the Smithsonian. Conference attendees were provided with a detailed preliminary listing of the contents of this collection.

Martin Williams, editor of special projects for Smithsonian Institution Press, has long been one of America's most perceptive jazz critics. In his lecture, "The Value of Jazz Repertory Orchestras in Higher Education," Williams offered thoughts and visions on what jazz education should be. His provocative remarks offered food for thought to those involved in jazz education. Williams seconded the concern of many other jazz historians over the stylistically restricted, puerile repertory of most high school and college jazz bands, stating, "No student in any ensemble needs to train on trendy trash. We're not there as educators to confirm the tastes that students already have." Decrying the dearth of authentic published editions of the music of Ellington, his predecessors, and his contemporaries, Williams warned, "Any music which we treat as if it has no past will have no future." Since very few authentic Ellington editions are published, most students who do play Eflington encounter his music in homogenized arrangements. Since Ellington had a unique mastery of timbre, Williams feels that reorchestrating his music makes no more sense than reorchestrating the music of Ravel or Stravinsky. Williams believes that any graduating musician should be able to improvise in the styles of past jazz greats, just as they should master correct Baroque and Classic ornamentations. He predicted that major arts centers will have jazz repertory orchestras in residence along with symphony orchestras and opera companies within the next decade.

Following a brief refreshment break and exhibit tour Mark Tucker (Columbia University) enthralled the audience with a lecture/performance, Ellington Solo Piano. Tucker, author of Ellington: The Early Years performed five of Ellington's approximately two dozen solo piano pieces: Swampy River (1928; Ellington's first solo piano recording), Soda Fountain Rag (early 1910s), Solitude (1937 solo piano version), Clothed Woman (1947), and New World A-Coming (1965 piano version). Four of these were exclusively Tucker's own transcriptions, Clothed Woman being a collaborative effort by Schuller, David N. Baker, and Tucker. Tucker's sensitive and virtuosic interpretations not only demonstrated that Ellington's genius extended to solo piano writing but also confirmed that a first-rate musicologist can maintain top-notch performance skills.

Although the title of their session was "Recreating Ellington's Masterworks," David N. Baker and Gunther Schuller addressed the larger issues of jazz education and the development of repertory awareness. Baker outlined three stages of jazz learning-imitation, assimilation, and innovation-and commented on how jazz repertory aids in this educational process. Baker's jazz band at Indiana University annually performs at least one repertory concert dealing with the years 1928 through 1950. In addition, the five jazz ensembles at Indiana University integrate this repertory into all their concerts. In preparing those works, Baker dubs cassettes of all works the group will play, in order that the musicians can practice their own parts with the tape. The entire band then rehearses with the tape, in order to attain appropriate stylistic nuances. For these repertory concerts, Baker has his musicians recreate the solos, playing with a passion that is their own.

Schuller urges that the performing of jazz repertory should extend forward through George Russell, Charles Mingus, and others. However, he feels that pieces that are wholly improvisatory or that feature only a single performer (such as Coleman Hawkins's Body and Soul are pointless as jazz repertory. Schuller believes that music which exists only on recording, as many jazz masterworks do, will eventually die. Begging for the use of authentic editions, Schuller remarked that jazz repertory must be played with correct timbres or it will be inappropriate.

During the final afternoon session, Baker and Andrew Homzy (Concordia University of Montreal) offered their thoughts on "Integrating Ellington into the College Music Curriculum." Both spoke on the universality of Ellington as a composer, and the importance of including his music in the classrooms of higher education. Homzy, who has made numerous Ellington transcriptions, given many presentations at Ellington related conferences, and written liner notes for recent releases of Ellington recordings, teaches a course dealing with Eflington's music. He detailed some of Ellington's compositional characteristics, including his frequent use of the octotonic scale.

Baker, who integrates Ellington into a course on the Harlem Renaissance, spoke of Indiana University's other Ellington offerings, including a course devoted to his music and a jazz styles analysis course. Baker echoed the belief of many in attendance at Ellington's music should be performed swing choirs, jazz choirs, and orchestras. He urged educators to include Ellington in all music study.

The CMS Ellington symposium ended with an evening performance in the Carmichael Auditorium of the National Museum of American History by the Indiana University Jazz Ensemble, conducted by David Baker. Titled "A Concert of Duke Ellington Masterworks: 1927-1967," this chronological survey of two dozen works not only demons"W the breadth of Ellington's creativity but also verified that earlier jazz classics have a rightful place in the repertories of collegiate jazz bands. Hearing these literal transcriptions also made non-expert listeners aware of the gradual transformations in the evolution of the Ellington orchestra and his compositional style. Hasse's valuable program notes heightened listener enjoyment by providing not only a brief synopsis of Ellington's achievements but also historical data on each work performed. The IU Jazz Band, performing with obvious enthusiasm for this music, demonstrated impressive mastery of Ellington's sound.

This entire retrospective was an eye-opening experience, which heightened the interest of many in Ellington's music and confirmed its greatness. The opportunity for non-jazz specialists to hear outstanding performances and lectures by some of the luminaries in jazz history was unequalled. It is to be hoped that this inspirational event inspired many to use Ellington's music in a variety of educational settings. Several who attended, myself included, felt that this mini-symposium was the highlight of the entire CMS conference. The success of this well-balanced, informative event whets one's appetite for next year's CMS national conference, which will feature a similar symposium devoted to Native American Indian music.

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Last modified on Friday, 03/05/2013

Craig B. Parker

Craig B. Parker has been on the faculty at Kansas State University since 1982, where he teaches music history and plays trumpet with the KSU Faculty Brass Quintet. He earned his B.M. in trumpet performance from the University of Georgia and his M.A. and Ph.D. in historical musicology from UCLA. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan and Harvard University as the recipient of NEH grants.

Professor Parker has published over 40 articles and reviews in a variety of scholarly journals. His research interests focus primarily on American topics, particularly on those related to Sousa and his band and to music since 1945. Parker served as an assistant editor of the International Trumpet Guild Journal for four years and of American Music for twelve years. He received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Society for American Music in 2011.

Professor Parker has presented numerous papers at regional, national, and international conferences of the CMS and many other scholarly organizations. While president of the CMS Great Plains chapter, he established the Paul Revitt Award for the most outstanding paper by a student presented at the chapter’s annual meeting. Dr. Parker is currently the CMS Board Member for Musicology.

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