No one had a band like Duke Ellington. No one made music like Duke Ellington. And no one led a life like Duke Ellington. He was truly one of a kind, beyond category. . . . The more I've studied him, the more in awe I am of his genius, his perseverance, his charm, his wit, his intelligence, his ability to create beauty and give great pleasure to people. . . . In a world of sameness, blandness, and predictability, his life and music celebrate individuality. By stressing the strengths and unique contributions of each band member, he fashioned those special qualities into something greater. . . . Ellington gave us grand style and first-class music that will never grow old.
---J. E. Hasse, author of Beyond Category
Tuesdays & Thursdays in M121
Instructor: Dr. Christopher Smith
Office: Music 203
Office Hours: Posted and/or by arrangement
Office Phone: 742-2270 x249
This course will concentrate on the life, context, and compositions of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974), the preeminent composer of music based in African-American musical and cultural expression. Ellington's career began with playing solo ragtime in the early 'Teens, continued with recording and leading dance bands in Harlem in the 1920s, criss- crossing the country playing for swing dancers in the '30s and '40s, and culminated with touring Europe and the world into the 1950s and '60s, and the reception of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and a (posthumous) Pulitzer in 1999.
Ellington's career thus forms a
nearly-identical parallel with the history of jazz itself. But Ellington, who
preferred to avoid the term "jazz" entirely, represents much more
than just a successful dance band leader. In over 2000 compositions, written
alone or with distinguished collaboration from his band members and his
assistant Billy Strayhorn, Ellington created an enormous body of work whose
breadth, melodic and coloristic invention, and bedrock foundation in the
experience of Black Americans has never been equalled. Like his fellow
In this course, we will examine Ellington's life, works, and social context as illuminations of one another, seeking to deepen our understanding of the works by familiarity with the environments in which they were created, and the experience of a composer of "Great Black Music Beyond Category" through a deeper understanding of the genius inherent in the music.
Our theme will be the special problems and
cultural issues that confronted Ellington as an African-American composer in
the complex racial and social climates of 20th-century
This website is your guide to the semester. Here you will find a detailed description of the course objectives and notes on course requirements and expectations, with links to a complete course schedule , a list of books on reserve and in Reference , the listening list for the semester, and instructions on the journal and the group presentation, which are important parts of the course. This website and these links are also available in a handout, passed out on the first day of class.
Finally, you should be able to take new facts and plug them into the framework you have learned, showing that you can apply a general view of Music of Duke Ellington in your future work.
You will demonstrate your achievement of these goals in four principal ways: (1) class preparation and participation; (2) keeping a journal; (3) two examinations; and (4) working with others in the class to prepare and lead a class session. Your grade will be based 50% on the exams (25% each), 30% on day-to-day work, including class participation and your journal, and 20% on your paper presentation. Separate handouts and linked websites provide more specific information on the journal and presentation .
The textbooks for this course are John Edward Hasse's Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington and Mark Tucker's Duke Ellington Reader; a glance at the course schedule will show the scope of the reading list. However, our main "text" is the music itself, and we will always treat the music as our primary source. A secondary "text" is a series of readings, drawing on the enormous mass of critical writing on the topic of Ellington, as well as a good deal of primary source material (newspaper reviews, journals from various periods, and so on), and a number of articles that will serve as starting points for discussion.
Reading and listening assignments for each class session are listed in the course schedule. Readings are available either in our 2 textbooks, on reserve in the Music Listening Room (M250), on Electronic Reserve, or (occasionally) in the stacks of the Main Library. Listening assignments are available on CDs in M250, and scores, translations, and other helpful materials are on reserve. Be sure to obtain the libretto or score excerpts for any work for which they are available. If you cannot find something, ask!
You are expected to do these assignments before each class, listening to the assigned music, reading the readings, and writing about both in your journal. You should come to class prepared to answer and to ask questions about the readings and music for that day and to share what you have written about them in your journal. On occasion, this may include showing your journal entry to one or more of your classmates. Needless to say, you should do all assignments on time.
But come to class, even if you are unprepared. The core of this course is in what we do together in class. Missed work can always be made up; a missed class is gone forever. Because being in class is so important, attendance will be taken, and your grade will be affected if you miss class.
I strongly recommend that you study together. Talk with each other about issues raised in class or in the readings. Share hints about what to listen for in the music. Compare notes from class or the readings. Read each other's journals (but don't copy from someone else; do your own work, then compare). Are you getting the same main points out of an article or class session? If you don't understand something, ask a classmate to explain it to you. If you know something well, find someone who doesn't understand it and teach it to them; by the time you're done, you will either know it inside out or will realize that you don't know it as well as you thought (both common experiences among teachers!).
Remember, the goal is to learn the material. The more you share your knowledge with others, and the more you listen to what they have to say, the more you will learn. If you don't learn more from your classmates than you do from me, I will be very surprised.
Much of your study time will be devoted to listening. Listen to each piece at least twice, perhaps before and again after it is treated in class. You are expected to listen to each piece and to write about it in your journal before the class in which it is discussed.
Listening cannot be hurried, so allow enough time for it. Ask yourself how the piece is put together, how it is like other pieces you know and how it is different, and how it fits into the traditions we are studying, and write your observations in your journal.
Remember that the music is more important than all the talk about it, even what is said in class. Try not to approach music you have never heard through the fog of what others have said about it (even what the composer says!), for much of what is said and written about music can be misleading until you know the music itself. This is one reason for listening to the music before we discuss it in class.
However, many pieces will be unfamiliar, and you may not understand them without an explanation. Liner notes on the CDs are often helpful (though sometimes misleading). If a piece interests you, go to The New Grove Dictionary of American Music or to the books on reserve and in Reference for more information about it. Make sure to obtain translations for the works with text; if they are not on the score or available on reserve please let me know.
If you have a diagnosed medical condition that affects your ability to perform standard college-level work such as papers and examinations, please inform the instructors of this situation as soon as possible. While privacy laws do not require you to inform the instructors of the specific nature of the medical condition, it is important that reasonable modifications of the work be made as soon as possible to meet these situations. You should present appropriate verification from Disabled Student Services in the Dean of Students Office.
Similarly, if an examination or assignment is scheduled on a religious holiday you observe, or conflicts with a School of Music ensemble engagement or a major professional obligation (such as an international competition), please inform Prof. Smith during the first two weeks of class so that reasonable accommodations can be made.