Stories of Standards: C Jam Blues by Duke Ellington

Jun 24, 2018

Duke Ellington

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“C Jam Blues” was introduced as a 1941 Soundie short film called “Jam Session” with melody by Duke Ellington. Soundies were three-minute features on a jukebox-type player, generally showing bands with previously recorded music. This twelve-bar blues in the key of C is best-known as a showpiece for improvised solos. While the melody may have been based on a tune by clarinetist Barney Bigard, the origins are not entirely clear and Ellington almost certainly arranged it for orchestra. In the late 1950s, words were added by Bill Katz, Ruth Roberts and Bob Thiele and recordings made under the title “Duke’s Place”.

Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974) acquired the nickname “Duke” when very young, the result of his impeccable sense of style and manner, characteristics which he displayed throughout his life. While he was a brilliant pianist, he generally preferred conducting and arranging, regarding the orchestra rather than the piano as his primary instrument. Ellington’s Orchestra first became famous as the house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club after King Oliver turned down the job. Radio broadcasts from the venue made the band known nationwide, but Irving Mills’ management ensured their financial wellbeing. Ellington’s remarkable ability to tailor arrangements to display the musicians’ greatest talents and skills was a major factor in the musicians’ loyalty, with many staying with the band for much of their musical lives. He wrote over 3,000 songs, was awarded honors including the President’s Gold Medal in 1966, thirteen Grammy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 (posthumously, for his lifetime’s work) and the French Legion of Honor in 1973.