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Duke Ellington: at the Cotton Club

The Ellington band’s Cotton Club residency is one jazz history’s legendary episodes

Between 1927 and 1931 the Ellington Orchestra played its most famous residency. At the Cotton Club in Harlem, the band backed ‘jungle’ dance-theatre routines in spectacular variety shows, part of a new popular interest in African-American culture later known as ‘the Harlem Renaissance.’

During the Cotton Club years, the Ellington band went from strength to strength. With the earlier Black and Tan Fantasy Ellington had used two quite different themes, key-change leaps not usually heard in popular songs, changing emphases in the accented notes, and a conclusion on a Chopin quote.

After 1927, encouraged by his new popularity at the Cotton Club and the demands for new material for the spectacular cabaret shows, a stream of increasingly adventurous composing followed. New soloists enriched Ellington’s sound-palette - like alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges (a Sidney Bechet student) and clarinetist Barney Bigard. Pieces like The Mooch, Rockin in Rhythm, and Sophisticated Lady changed jazz forever.

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