Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Howland, John. “‘The Blues Get Glorified’: Harlem Entertainment, Negro Nuances, and Black Symphonic Jazz.” The Musical Quarterly 90 (Fall-Winter 2007): 319-70.

Duke Ellington’s and James P. Johnson’s concert jazz compositions of the 1930s and 1940s embody an urban-entertainment vision for racial uplift developed a generation earlier that promotes the high art potential of Harlem’s popular music. Ellington’s 1935 concert film Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life exemplifies the glorified entertainment aesthetic and symphonic jazz idiom developed in Tin Pan Alley and Harlem musical theater in the 1920s. An early example of symphonic jazz emerging from entertainment circles is Will Marion “Dad” Cook’s 1924 stage revue Negro Nuances. The production (which predates Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue) presents a version of the Africa-to-Dixie-to-Harlem narrative later used by Ellington in Black, Brown, and Beige. Musically, Negro Nuances is a pastiche of recycled material—some by Cook himself—arranged for Cook’s twenty-five-piece orchestra. The vaudeville aesthetic of the late 1920s and early 1930s was also influential in establishing stylistic formulas for arranging spirituals and vernacular music for an orchestral idiom. J. Rosamond Johnson’s choral arrangements of W. C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues for a 1929 short film of the same name and Rhapsody in Blue for the 1931 review Rhapsody in Black: A Symphony of Blue Notes and Black Rhythms exemplify the shifting textures and spectacle of musical theater arranging. For Ellington and James P. Johnson, both of whom worked in the entertainment space, the leap to symphonic jazz works was relatively small. James P. Johnson’s Mississippi Moan: Symphony Poem, Drums: Symphonic Poem, and Ellington’s Symphony in Black all closely adhere to the production number model and incorporate the sonic tropes of the Harlem stage. A critical understanding of these symphonic jazz works in terms of Afrological vernacular modernism highlights their artistic value and cross-cultural exchange.

Works: Will Marion Cook: Negro Nuances (330-333); Spencer Williams: Moan, You Moaners! (Fox Trot Spirituelle) (336-37); J. Rosamond Johnson: score to St. Louis Blues (337-42), Rhapsody in Blue from Rhapsody in Black: A Symphony of Blue Notes and Black Rhythm (345-47); Duke Ellington: The Blackberries of 1930 (344-45); James P. Johnson: Mississippi Moan: Symphonic Poem (347-51)

Sources: James P. Johnson: Runnin’ Wild (330-333); Anonymous: Deep River (336-37); W. C. Handy: St. Louis Blues (337-42); Stephen Foster: Swanee River (344-45); George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (345-47); Perry Bradford and James P. Johnson: Echoes of Ole Dixieland (348-49), Mississippi River Flood (348-51); James P. Johnson: Yarnekraw: A Negro Rhapsody (350)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Jazz, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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