Ellington Analysis: 'Black and Tan Fantasy'

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Ellington: Structure:

1.    ‘Black and Tan’ refers to segregated Harlem venues. Composer follows own fancy in a fantasy.

2.    Opening 12 bar blues in Bb minor followed by 16 bars in Bb major which features chromatic harmony.

3.    Last chorus interrupted by a pessimistic coda which quotes Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ (87-90).

4.    Opening 12 bars are an adaptation of the chorus of the ‘Holy City’.

5.    The ‘head’ is a 12 bar blues played 6 times in total.

6.    Concludes with a coda, again in Bb minor (87-90). 

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Ellington Tonality:

1.    Begins and ends in Bb minor, piece in parallel major of Bb major (bars 13-87).

2.    Trombonist refers to the composed head theme, such as the cadential pattern (bar 75).

3.    Head has a severe minor key mood (1-12).

4.    Complete change of mood (13-28) occurs with a transition to the major mode.

5.    Chromatic substitution chord (Gb7 instead of F7, 13-14; 21-22).

6.    Series of secondary dominants – G7, F7 and C7 (bars 76-90). 

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Resources/Performing Forces

Ellington: Resources/PF:

1.    3 sections of the orchestra: reeds, brass and rhythm (piano, banjo, drums and double bass).

2.    Jungle style is used, featuring heavy drums, low sax textures and a growling plunger-muted trumpet.

3.    ‘Dark sonorities’ are used and a focus on individuality during solos – a fingerprint of Ellington’s mature style.

4.    Techniques show virtuosity: pitch bending (Db in bar 7); slides, growls and wah-wahs (29-52); and a horse whinny (65-76).

5.    Piano solo (53-64) is in a ‘stride’ style. It features a florid right-hand melody and a wide range.

6.    ‘Sweet’ sax interlude (13-28) has thick vibrato and pronounced glissandi. 

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Ellington: Texture:

1.    Predominant parallel 6ths in trumpet and trombone in the opening and closing sections.

2.    Saxophones provide a sustained chordal accompaniment in the interlude (13-28) and from 84 to the end.

3.    Choruses 1, 2, 5 and 6 feature a simple melody-dominated homophonic texture, with the accompanying instruments providing harmonies.

4.    The piano texture in chorus 4 features a ‘stride’ style of accompaniment, commonly used in Harlem piano music.

5.    During the piano solo (52) a break (an unaccompanied solo) occurs, allowing freedom.

6.    Piano parallel octaves in bars 52-54. 

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Ellington: Rhythm:

1.    Quadruple time throughout – 4/4.

2.    Medium slow (steady swing) tempo.

3.    Seriousness of the opening is underlined by constant crotchet accented chords which accompany the head.

4.    The sax interlude (13-28) is enlivened by triplets and syncopated swung quavers.

5.    Miley’s solo (29) introduces more complex rhythms – triplet crotchets and long upbeat dotted crotchets (36, 40 and 42).

6.    The piano solo introduces more crotchet movement in the bass and quaver and sometimes semiquaver movement in the treble. There’s also a swung rhythm and syncopation. 

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Ellington: Melody:

1.    Head melody (1-12) is based on the chorus of the ‘Holy City’. The rhythm has been changed and the tonality moved to minor.

2.    Sax interlude melody is more optimistic, it starts with a shocking passage based on the whole tone scale (bars 13-14).

3.    1st trumpet solo has a ‘bluesy’ style using notes that clash with the diatonic Bb minor harmony of the 12 bar sequence. Also uses blue minor 3rds and 7ths (33 and 48).

4.    Miley’s solo covers a large 2 octave range (bars 29-52).

5.    The piano solo is mainly diatonic, with the use of some chromatic passing notes to mimic blue notes (52-64).

6.    The trombone solo has a small (only a 10th) but high range. Uses blue 3rds (74) and a horse whinny effect (72-73). 

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Ellington: Harmony:

1.    Most of the piece is based around the 12 bar blues sequence.

2.    ‘Advanced’ Classical progressions are used, such as the cycle of 5ths (19-20).

3.    ‘Foreign’ Gb7 chord at bars 13 and 21 is both a substitution for the tonic Bb chord and fulfils the function of a German augmented 6th.

4.    Parallel harmonic movement (27-28).

5.    Substitution chords replace harmonies in the ‘standard’ 12 bar sequence of 37 and 49.

6.    The coda contains repeated plagal cadences (unusual for jazz) in Bb minor. 

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