Duke Ellington’s America

book cover

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra “Echoes of the Jungle” (1931)

(Quotes are from Duke Ellington’s America)

I particularly like how this clip includes Cotton Club artifacts to adorn this Cotton Club-era Ellington track. They demonstrate the stereotyping of African Americans at the club, where almost exclusively white audiences watched black performers in Harlem. “During Ellington’s famous residency at the Cotton Club from 1927–1931, his music was often (though not always) denoted as “jungle” music or given a heavily African connotation in promotional announcements. The distinctive growling, shrieking and moaning sounds of band instrumentalists Bubber Miley and Joe Nanton inspired this characterization, as did the club’s penchant for presenting skits set in Africa, though the permanent décor of the venue purposely resembled a slavery era Southern plantation (hence the name of the club). These skits, usually featuring scantily clad light skinned African American women, often portrayed African Americans as being one step removed (if that much) from a jungle civilization, although Ellington and the band wore elegant tuxedos and were not part of the jungle tableaus.” With this track, one can hear that the term “jungle music” was far from the truth. Listen for the masterful way in which band and composer switch moods and increase the musical excitement as the song unfolds.