So who was the Duke of Ellington.?
Well, of course, there was no such person.As we all know the Wmericans don't have an aristocratic hierarchy, although no doubt they would like to have. However they do know style when they see it. And so did a pal of Edward Kennedy Ellington - Edgar McIntree - at their high school in Washington, who thought him to be "a pretty fancy guy", deserving of a title. And so he was dubbed Duke by his buddies, and it seems to have stuck.
Style? What is style?
A tuxedo? Charisma? Being black?
These are nothing mre than the trappings of style.
We are looking here at musical style par excellence.
Jazz is a form of music which you here tonight are clearly not only familiar with, but also thoroughly comfortable with. Jazz started at the beginning of the 20th century, and by the 1930s Duke Ellington was at the eye of the hurricane.
Let's go back. Let's look at the beginning of this century: in 1897. William Krell wrote and published a piece entitled Mississippi Rag, generally credited with the first to use the word 'rag' in the title. Krell was a white bandmaster. It dovetailed with a popular dance of the time - The Cakewalk, so called because it involved couples, always in the South, strutting about the dance floor, alternating with gyrating high-spirited antics, the prize for which was a large cake donated by a plantation owner, and which in fact had probably been cooked in the first place by one of the dancers. It was then cut amongst the dancers, and shared out.
The Cakewalk started in Florida, and is said to have originally derived from the Seminole Indians - well do you believe that?
In the old days the likes of Mozart and Beethoven composed music that could be comprehended by the classical audiences of the day, and of course, two centuries later, it still is.
Mozart wrote music that resonated with the human mind's natural rhythms and because of its continued popularity has earned its title - classical. And also, of course, let's not forget it, like Shakespeare and Dickens, wrote for large amounts of money. It was a living. The German composer Stockhausen wrote music that resonated with nobody's mind, and probably never will.
But jazz? Jazz lies in a different domain altogether. It's often said of jazz that you'll never hear the same piece interpreted the same way twice - improvisation is one of its hallmarks. Improvise with Beethoven and you'd be shot. Yet Duke Ellington is revered as one of the most sophisticated and prolific composers of this century. It's like crossing a river: you can see were you want to get to, and get there you do, but according to the swirls and eddies of the current, by a slightly different route each time.
Jazz, almost by definition, doesn't resonate with the mind's natural rhythms either, but in quite a different way to Stockhausen, which is precisely one of its attractions. You might describe it as a kind of human syncopation - the emphasis within it showing its head in all the unexpected places. The word jazz is reported to be derived from the 'Original Dixieland Jazz Band' during their engagement with Schiller's Café in Chicago in 1916. They were then billed as 'Jonny Stein's Band'. The word jass was originally associated with the emerging style of music, a Negro word from the South, and one having strong sexual connotations -Negroes in 1900 were not famous for feminism - rather the reverse. Jass meant something along the lines of excitement, titillation.
Need I go on?
European classical music could only have been nurtured in Europe, and of course was -Jazz could only have been nurtured in North America, for irreverent innovation is integral to America's nature. If you want to build house on stilts you build one: you don't mess about with planning permission. Nobody expects it, and it's precisely the same with America's tradition of music. The asset of the multicultural musical community, not unique to America, but certainly dominant, gives a leg-up to the evolution of new kinds of music. And so it was with jazz.
The grow-bag for the seeds of jazz was a fusion, most importantly, of African and American folk music. So, make no mistake about it - it could have only happened in America. Not so much because America has a more creative culture - but simply because it so happened that that's where the most prominent national and social elements that were to make jazz happened to merge. But there's more. Louisiana has been ruled by Spain and was once a French colony. Scotland and other settlers from the British Isles and other European counties such as Hungary with their deep-rooted musical folk tradition, also merged. So you're looking at a cultural, musical melting pot
Let's go back a bit. Most of us are familiar with the Renaissance - the great change from the Middle Ages to modern civilisation, which in Italy, reached its height in the 15th and 16th centuries.
But, you see, there was another renaissance, which not so many are aware of, but nevertheless did happen.
Harlem is in the Northern part of Manhattan Island, and originally was a middle-class suburb of New York City. But by the early 20s things were different - it had become a crowded ghetto, almost, of black migrants, mostly from the South. But with them they brought their own cultural rest and recreation. The glittering example of which has to be an establishment most of whose musical performers were black, whose operators were gangsters, and whose main attraction was an exotic collection of girls who wore very little.
Need I say more?
The Cotton Club opened in 1923. And the renaissance? Was the Harlem renaissance.