Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Wisdom of Duke Ellington: Part II

If the assignment of choosing a quote, reflecting and writing a bit about it is good enough for my 8thgraders, well, why not you? You might have some time on your hands and why not use it getting to know one of America’s great under-sung heroes? With the added bonus of getting to listen to his music while you’re working. Or when you stop and then really pay attention and listen!

So your homework. Read these quotes. Choose one (or two), write about it or discuss with your family. Why that particular quote? What does it mean to you? Did it help you get through your day? Have fun!

“All the musicians in jazz should get together on one certain day and get down on their knees to thank Duke Ellington."      - Miles Davis

On Jazz: 
" To listen to jazz without any knowledge of its history is to miss much of its charm."

"Jazz is based on the sound of our native heritage. It is an American idiom with African roots— a trunk of soul with limbs reaching in every direction."

"When the folksy character of the blues, the fervor of the gospel songs, the rhythmic attack of the New Orleans musicians, and the more sophisticated approach of the East Coast players all came together in New York, jazz was provided with a new springboard. It was also transformed by the genius of Louis Armstrong."

" It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." 

"Although his background seemed to give the black musician the edge, because environment is intensely important as a shaping factor, jazz was so contagious that many white musicians were infected by it and grew close to the black soul. On the other hand, there were black musicians who were impressed by white standards of playing and acquired comparable techniques."

"Some musicians are dancers. Way back, at the Cotton Club, we were always tailoring orchestrations to fit the dances. Chick Webb was a dance-drummer who painted pictures of dances with his drums. The reason why Chick Webb had such command of his audiences at the Savoy Ballroom, was because he communicated with the dancers and felt it the way they did."

On the learning process:
" I was always a terrific listener. I'm taller on one side than the other from leaning over the piano, listening."

"When I wanted to study harmony, I went to Henry Grant. We moved along real quickly, until I was learning the difference between a Gb and an F sharp. The whole thing suddenly became very clear to me, just like that. I went on studying, of course, but I could also hear people whistling, and I got all the Negro music that way. You can't learn that in any school. And there were things I wanted to do that were not in the books and I had to ask a lot of questions. I was always lucky enough to run into people who had the answers."

" I originally began to compose because I wasn't able to play what other composers wrote, so I had to create something that I could play. I remain a primitive artist, extremely primitive. But paradoxically the most sophisticated music in the world is primitive music, and no one is able to penetrate it easily."

"Any time you have a problem, you have an opportunity. All these people were valuable to me, because each one's effective range or scope was limited. If you had just seven good tones, those were the tones that had to be used."

"Roaming through the jungle of 'oohs' and 'aahs,' searching for a more agreeable noise, I live a life of primitivity with the mind of a child and an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats."

On music:
" I suspect that if Shakespeare were alive today, he might be a jazz fan—he'd appreciate the combination of team spirit and informality, of academic knowledge and humor, of all the elements that go into a great jazz performance." 

" It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line, and I see no place for one if my own feelings tell me a performance is good.…When it sounds good, it is good."

"Ours is the responsibility of bringing to the listener some agreeable vibration that tickles the fancy of the eardrum." 

"I don't think people have to know anything about music to appreciate it and enjoy it."

"The audience is the other side of the realm that serves the same muse I do."

" The word 'improvisation' has great limitations, because when musicians are given solo responsibility they already have a suggestion of a melody written for them, and so before they begin they already know more or less what they are going to play. Anyone who plays anything worth hearing knows what he's going to play, no matter whether he prepares a day ahead or a beat ahead. It has to be with intent."

On life:
"What would be a perfect day? Any day I wake up and look at."

"Which of all your tunes is your favorite? The next one. "

"What is the worst problem in America? Brainwashing of children and adults."

" My best self writes and plays sacred music and keeps me honest to myself. My best self also prays for the health and survival or others—and for the forgiveness of others."

" I am an optimist. From where I sit, music is mostly all right, or at least in a healthy state for the future, in spite of the face that it may sound as though it is being held hostage."

" Of all the walls, the tallest, most invisible, and most insidious… is the wall of prejudice."

New World A'Comingrefers to a future place, on earth, at sea, or in the air, where there will be no war, no greed, no categorization, and where love is unconditional, and where there is no pronoun good enough for God."

" I think the artist's true position is that of an observer. Personal emotion could spoil his piece de resistance…Art is a skill."

(" Music must never offend the ear; it must please the hearer, in other words, it must never cease to be music."  —Mozart)

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