“Harlem,” By Duke “The Duke” Ellington, Harlem, NY 1950 (Video)

dukeSurfing on Youtube we found this great song about Harlem, composed by the legend Duke Ellington in the 1950’s. Here Duke and his orchestra play a fifteen minute tug of war of the highs and lows of Harlem.

Harlem is a symphonic jazz composition by the American composer Duke Ellington. Originally commissioned by Arturo Toscanini in 1950 to be part of a larger project.

“Harlem” (orchestrated by Luther Henderson and Maurice Peress) was to be part of a group commission by the celebrated conductor, who was not known as a champion of American music. Duke, a master title-giver, described the work as a concerto grosso for jazz band and symphony orchestra.


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In “Harlem”, we see Ellington as having learned from his “Black, Brown, & Beige” experience. It is one completely integrated movement, the first part of which is held together by the word “Har-lem” (a minor third), intoned by the growl trumpet.

The second half is built out of the street funeral dirge (Duke refers to an Elks Band) which begins as an eight-bar blues for three marvelously interwoven clarinets and builds to a climax combining both thematic ideas.

Ellington described “Harlem” in 20 to twenty pieces as follows:

  1. Pronouncing the word “Harlem,” itemizing its many facets—from downtown to uptown, true and false
  2. 110th Street, heading north through the Spanish neighborhood
  3. Intersection further uptown–cats shucking and stiffing
  4. Upbeat parade
  5. Jazz spoken in a thousand languages
  6. Floor show
  7. Girls out of step, but kicking like crazy
  8. Fanfare for Sunday
  9. On the way to church
  10. Church—we’re even represented in Congress by our man of the church
  11. The sermon
  12. Funeral
  13. Counterpoint of tears
  14. Chic chick
  15. Stopping traffic
  16. After church promendade
  17. Agreement a cappella
  18. Civil Rights demandments
  19. March onward and upward;
  20. Summary–contributions coda.

On this recording the musicians are:

  • Jon Faddis – Trumpet
  • Bill Easley – Clarinet
  • Ron Carter – Bass
  • Butch Miles – Drums

Here’s video of this gorgeous music via Youtube:

What do you think?

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