In 1940, just as the stage was setting for the Second World War, Duke Ellington returned to the United States after a successful tour of Europe. Upon his return, he penned “Cottontail” and recorded it with his band on May 4, 1940.

“Cottontail” is conspicuous for its avant-garde style, foreshadowing bebop in the rhythmic inflections and melody line.  According to author Francis Davis, “The delight of ‘Cotton Tail’ (based on ‘I Got Rhythm’ in anticipation of bebop) lies in its layered sax-section riffs and Webster’s sinuous choruses (which foreshadowed both the ‘tough’ tenor style and Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’).”

Tune in to First Take with Chavis and Lando – weekdays from 6-9 am MT – for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long!

The lyrics that accompany the tune were written by Jon Hendricks. Hendricks explores the familiar fairytale of Flopsie, Mopsie, and Cottontail, starting the first verse off with, “Way back in my childhood/  I heard a story so true/ ‘Bout a bunny stealing the food/ From the garden he knew.”

Notable recordings of “Cottontail” include a two-piano version by Ellington and Strayhorn, Dee Dee Bridgewater’s scat tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and renditions by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Wycliffe Gordon’s Quartet.

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