|Visit Us On FB
THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
tennial, Blue Belles of Harlem, Blutopia and The Tattooed Bride. During the 1950s there have been a few works of a similarly expansive and experimental nature: the Harlem Suite, played at an Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1951; Night Creature, for which the Ellington orchestra was combined with the Symphony of the Air at Carnegie Hall in 1955; the Newport Jazz Festival Suite, premiered at that event in 1956; a unique, oratorio-like work, using guest singers and Ellington as narrator, A Drum Is a Woman, ofEered as an hour-long television presentation in 1957; and Such Sweet Thunder, comprising twelve short cameos inspired by characters from Shakespeare.
What Ellington has accomplished in this third phase of his career must be viewed in the context of what others had tried and failed to achieve ever since the earliest attempts to extend jazz, to dress it in a tuxedo and place it on display. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue had its premiere at the Aeolian Hall in February 1924, played by Paul Whiteman's orchestra. Whiteman was very much concerned with "making a lady out of jazz." But as Wilder Hobson pointed out in American Jazz Music, **White-raan drew very little from the jazz language except some of its simpler rhythmic patterns . . . there was little more than a trace of the personal expression, improvisation, counterpoint, or rhythmic subtlety of natural jazz. . . . Whiteman s band included fine jazz players, but their improvising talent was subordinated in the 'symphonic* orchestrations/' Gershwin, as a composer, similarly skimmed the surface of jazz.
Every Ellington work, whether a casual three-minute riff tune or a half-hour suite in four movements, has always drawn its strength from within the essential qualities of jazz itself; even the most ambitious pieces have remained essentially and fundamentally jazz. While Whiteman, Gershwin and others tried desperately to make a lady out of jazz, Ellington achieved a much worthier and more logical goal; he made a man of it.
The big bands of the 1920s, aside from those of Ellington and Henderson, offered very little of lasting orchestral value. Ben Pollack and, to a lesser extent, Jean Goldkette, gave white musicians a jazz haven while Whiteman was holding his jazz stars down to an occasional brief solo. Pollack, who organized his band