JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"


By comparing Jelly Roll Morton's Dead Man Blues and Duke Ellington's Black and Tan Fantasy, you hint that one piece looks back and the other focuses on the present and the future. Why do you refer to this as a new start for jazz?

Well 1926 and 1927 are very interesting years. Obviously, because of all the recording, and Duke Ellington goes to the Cotton Club and becomes an international sensation and the profile of jazz changes. But we also see a changing of the guard, maybe the first really serious changing of the guard that takes place in front of recording equipment. Two examples that we discuss at length in the book are Jelly Roll Morton's Dead Man Blues, which was recorded in 1926, and Duke Ellington's Black and Tan Fantasy, which was recorded one year later, late 1927. Now, Jelly Roll Morton's piece is great fun, it really hasn't become dated. It's wonderful to listen to. It's a piece of music that's primarily a twelve-bar blues-both of these pieces incidentally are somewhat programmatic. Morton's is an attempt to describe the New Orleans funeral ritual; it begins with "Flee as a Bird," which is a kind of, done in a Dixieland thing. And then, which is sort of somber- bam, bam, bam. And then it becomes trombone, a glissando, and then it goes into a wild sort of Dixieland kind of celebration, and then it actually has three themes that Morton puts into it. It's beautifully done and in a sense it is the climax, an apex of what the New Orleans style was, which is primarily collective improvisation and written interludes.

Duke Ellington comes along, the ultimate East Coast sophisticate and he does a piece, Black and Tan, which first of all is named after the black and tan clubs of New York, and has nothing to do with New Orleans. These were places-the only places in New York, in Harlem-where blacks and whites could hang out together, where they could socialize. He combines themes, which seem to suggest the white theme [Giddins humming]-it has a sort of a corny, country-ish quality-with the black theme, which is played by Bubber Miley on the trumpet, and which is basically bluesy. At the end of the piece they come together to do what? Play an excerpt from Chopin's Funeral March. Which I always thought was a symbolic way of saying, you know what, the black and tan clubs are not the answer to anything. It's just a temporary gap toward the eventual acceptance of black and tans living side by side. So in a sense, Ellington is opening up the door to the future, also because his voicings are so much more sophisticated than Morton's. You know, young composers would listen to that and they would be inspired to think of jazz in a new way. They listen to Morton and they would think, this is sort of a pinnacle of what was.