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Jazz history course, open to all grad & UG concentrations: Duke Ellington

An intensive, topics-oriented survey of the music of bandleader, songwriter, film composer, and pianist Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

MUHL 4300-003 (49844) / MUHL5313-001 (34632)

Professor: Dr Christopher J Smith (

Course Facebook “Event”:

Meets TR 12:30-1:50pm M218 School of Music.

Open to undergrads and grad students from across the TTU campus. Permission of instructor required. Fulfills upper-level Music History requirement for music majors. Students from a range of disciplines (history, political science, music, mass communications, FADP) welcome & encouraged to enroll.

Requirements include mid-term and final essay exams, a research project, attendance, and participation.

This seminar is an intensive, topics-oriented survey of the life and music of composer, pianist, and bandleader Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974). Born in Washington DC, Ellington is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in the history of jazz.

His accomplishments were immense. He composed for everything from the big band which bore his name, to small groups, theatrical shows, and film scores. His many hundreds of compositions include iconic works in the American popular songbook like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Take the ‘A’ Train,” as well as program works (“Daybreak Express”), extended tone-poems (“Black, Brown, and Beige”), musical theater (Jump for Joy), films (Anatomy of a Murder), and sacred works (The First and Second Sacred Concerts). But beyond his work as a composer, Ellington led one of the great big bands in the history of jazz, which he kept on the road (sometimes subsidized via his song royalties) for over fifty years, as a compositional laboratory tailored to his remarkable stable of distinctive soloists, sometimes writing a piece for specific soloists one night on the road, premiering it the next night, and then revising again in continued performance. He was one of the first bandleaders to broadcast regularly live on radio, from Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club in 1930, and with Jelly Roll Morton is widely regarded as the most influential composer in jazz.

But his influence extends even beyond music: he was an icon of African American accomplishment, an inheritor of the intellectual traditions of the Harlem Renaissance, a subtle yet effective liberalizing influence on USA racial relations, a worldwide ambassador for the power and import of jazz music, and an example of artistic self-sufficiency as the USA entered the Civil Rights Era. As a result, understanding Ellington’s career and the social/cultural contexts to which his art responded in turn helps us understand art, politics, culture, and race relations in 20th century history.

We will approach Ellington as musician, composer, multimedia artist, and political figure, studying a range of his works, in jazz, chamber, orchestral, theatrical, and film contexts, with a particular focus on his compositional process, shaped as it was by both the experience of African American touring musicians and the distinctive musical characteristics of his players, many of whom stayed with his Orchestra ford multiple decades. We will develop familiarity with a range of social, cultural, historical, economic, and biographical factors which shaped Ellington’s musical vision. Our emphasis will be upon understanding the interaction of “content” (musical structure, procedure, aesthetics versus agendas, biographies, and writing, etc) and “context” (times-places-peoples from which Ellington’s works originated), and upon the exploration of the little-theorized, yet highly influential creative role of “bandleader” in 20th-century American culture.

Drawing on lectures, reading, listening, audio/visual sources, in-class performances, and individual research, this course provides students with an enhanced learning experience combining approaches from musicology, ethnomusicology, cultural history, performance studies, culture studies, geography, and more.



Spring 2017 Musicology course: The Music of Duke Ellington




School of Music

Event Information
Time: 12:30 PM - 1:50 PM
Event Date: 1/19/2017

M218, School of Music