Duke Ellington as Composer: Two Pieces for Paul Whiteman


Duke Ellington as Composer: Two Pieces for Paul Whiteman
Jazz Perspectives
1749-4060, 1749-4079
Paul Whiteman commissioned two compositions from Duke Ellington: Blue Belles of Harlem (1938) for his Eighth Experiment in Modern Music, and Blutopia (1944) for the Contemporary Composers radio series on the Blue Network. These two works are among the earliest compositions that Ellington wrote for an ensemble other than his own, and thus offer insight into his compositional process.

Blue Belles of Harlem shows Ellington thinking on the level of the motif, building themes from smaller fragments and in some cases leaving the construction of the strain to the discretion of Whiteman's arranger Fred Van Eps. Several years later, Billy Strayhorn cast the work as a quasi-concerto for Ellington's piano, making significant changes to the realization of Ellington's sketchy original.

Blutopia is more fully realized, existing in two essentially finished versions: a short score for Whiteman, and a full arrangement for Ellington's own orchestra. Differences between Whiteman's and Ellington's versions are minimal, consisting mainly of minor re-arrangements of the sequence of main themes and the interpretation of the score in performance.

Both of these works confirm certain aspects of Ellington's compositional process, including the use of the three-strain “symphonic jazz” model as a structural framework and a tendency to take a collaborative approach to the finished work (including an avoidance of definitive introductions and codas).
Duke Ellington as Composer
DOI.org (Crossref)