Black and Tan fantasy was written for the cotton club, which was a club in New York that was situated in a ‘black’ area of the city, but catered for white people. Black and Tan referred to types of nightclub where they catered for both black and white customers. However, mixing with people from another race was a prosecutable offence at this point in history. Ellington developed jungle style for the cotton club, which involved heavy drums, growling brass and dark sax textures. As it was written for big band, there was less room for improvisation.
This piece was written for big band, so the instruments involved were the reeds, such as sax and clarinets; brass, such as trumpets and trombones; and the rhythm section, which incorporated piano, drums, bass and banjo. The reeds and brass take the melody line in turns, with a different soloist for each chorus. The rhythm section play chords rhythmically throughout the whole extract, which is known as comping. Variety is added through use of a piano break, where the other instruments stop playing. The solos are described as virtuosic as they are technically difficult to play.