Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

If, as an older man, Ellington placed high value on music "beyond category," then his first decade in New York proved the musical and social value of that notion and established career patterns that extended to the end of his life. The categories that both challenged and spurred Ellington were jazz and race. By 1930, he had made the first in a series of claims about striving to develop a new kind of race music. "I am not playing jazz," he said, "I am trying to play the natural feelings of a people." In the later 1930s he noted that his aim had "always" been to develop "an authentic Negro music." He insisted that he did not play jazz because when he began his career, he recalled, "jazz was a stunt." Such insistence served as an antidote to persistent stereotypes about both jazz and African Americans, and the further we get from its original context, and the more the discourse about jazz (from textbooks to television documentaries) treats Ellington's music as jazz, the more difficult it becomes to fully engage with Ellington's stated vision. By saying he wanted to cultivate a kind of music that was more than jazz, "more than the 'American idiom'," and "definitely and purely racial," Ellington articulated a broad vision that implicitly defied the narrow frames of the era's racial discourse. As a musician who strove both to develop the idioms associated with African Americans, especially the blues, and to cultivate a sophisticated, cosmopolitan artistic persona, Ellington was an early exemplar of Afro-Modernism and the New Negro project of redefining the black experience in American life, as a southern and largely rural population migrated en masse to the urban north. And beginning in the 1920s, Ellington proved again and again that he could at once fulfill and foil the expectations that audiences placed on black musicians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington
EditorsEdward Green
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages85-105
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139021357
ISBN (Print)9780521881197
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2015

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Music

Fingerprint

1920s
Modernist
Jazz
Music
Musicians
Discourse
Idioms
African Americans
End of Life
Negroes
1930s
Television Documentary
Textbooks
Blues
Persona
Stereotypes
Margaret Sanger
Rural Population
Social Values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Magee, J. (2015). Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s. In E. Green (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington (pp. 85-105). (Cambridge Companions to Music). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139021357.010

Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s. / Magee, Jeffrey.

The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. ed. / Edward Green. Cambridge University Press, 2015. p. 85-105 (Cambridge Companions to Music).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Magee, J 2015, Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s. in E Green (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge Companions to Music, Cambridge University Press, pp. 85-105. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139021357.010
Magee J. Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s. In Green E, editor, The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. 2015. p. 85-105. (Cambridge Companions to Music). https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139021357.010
Magee, Jeffrey. / Ellington’s Afro-Modernist vision in the 1920s. The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. editor / Edward Green. Cambridge University Press, 2015. pp. 85-105 (Cambridge Companions to Music).
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