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A piece of jazz music – its structure, form, instrumentation and method of performance

Duke Ellington's East St Louis Toodle-oo is one of the most important works of Ellington's early period and was considered his signature tune from 1926 to 1941 (Rattenbury, Duke Ellington, 105). East St Louis Toodle-oo is a key representative for the so-called 'Ellington Effect' (Billy Strayhorn, Down Beat, July 1952). His unique and at the time, contextually radical treatment of orchestral and essentially socio-orchestral color is said to have been largely responsible for "restoring, within the confines of a single band, the social character of New Orleans music" (Finkelstein, Jazz, p.191.), a sound and style which is perhaps more widely identifiable by its alternative name of 'Dixieland' jazz. This paper will analyse the music and background of the East St Louis Toodle-oo, its context within Duke Ellington's early years, and its implications in his continuing compositional career.

Bubber Miley possessed a gift for uncluttered melodic invention, nowhere more apparent than in the main theme of East St. Louis Toodle-oo, a tune of simple, arpeggio construction with a pronounced folksiness. Ellington's scoring, for three low-register saxophones and tuba, provides a rolling, somber, almost funereal accompaniment to Miley's simple yet subtle invention. (Rattenbury, Duke Ellington, p.18.)

New timbral blends were also explored by Ellington, as would be heard in the simultaneous improvisations of Dixieland jazz. In the East St Louis Toodle-oo, standard Dixie instrumentation of trumpet, trombone and clarinet with piano and tuba rhythm section applies, although there is notably no platform for a three-way improvisation. When the three solo players do come together in the final repeated 'C' section, they follow a uniform triadic part structure, emphasizing Ellington's distinct new instrumental blend over the free melodic invention typical of standard Dixie style.

Ellington thus broke important new ground in the 1920s with charts such as the East St Louis Toodle-oo. He reinvented the understanding of jazz as a stylistic melodic phenomenon to newly incorporate an appreciation of the deeper tone qualities such as unusual instrumental colours and effects and mixed timbral experimentation. It is unclear whether or not Ellington was aware that these very same tone colour experiments were being simultaneously explored in the classical musical world by people like Arnold Schoenberg, Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen or whether this can be put down instead to the inexplicable serendipity of cultural and artistic evolution.

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