DukeDuke ellington

MilesMiles Davis

The Business, the Critics, Artistic Expression and the work of
Duke Ellington and Miles Davis
by OHRiley

Jazz is a business.  As in any business one of the main motivating factors is profit.  No one works without pay, not the players, not the writers, not the promoters, and not the record companies.  Jazz is also an art form, or so its champions would have the public believe.  If we are to dissect the behaviors of a musician, to measure the depth of his art, or to discern the degree of honest artistic expression it is incumbent upon us to define the central character of the activity in which he is engaged.  If we hope to qualify the worth of any object or activity there must be a prior understanding of what we believe the activity is hoping to accomplish.  This is fundamental.  In attempting to determine if an artist has reached a certain level of achievement in his work we must know, or at least be in pursuit of the constituent parts that, when put together, provide us with the end product, the so-called work-of-art.  It is therefore somewhat disconcerting to one engaged in this type of study to find that there is such a fractious debate currently raging as to what constitutes the central tenets of jazz.  This debate about “what jazz is” has often left the elements of the music and concerned itself with the social issues of the jazz scene, past and present.

Early “scholarly” efforts that focused primarily on the elements within the music include works such as Andre Hodeir’s Jazz: It’s Evolution and Essence (1956) and Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz: Its Roots and Developments (1968) are two classics in this area.  Works focusing on the cultural aspects of jazz include Amiri Baraka’s Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1983) and Frank Kofsky’s Black Music, White Business: Illuminating the History and Political Economy of Jazz (1998).  Still other writers take a measured approach and attempt to meld the socio-musical aspects of the music.  Examples of books taking this approach are Stomping the Blues (1976) by Albert Murray and The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History by Scott DeVeaux (1997).

Lawrence Kramer has written in Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge that in the traditional form of analysis “reason, a function of the subject, operates as objectivity by assuming a sovereign detachment from its subject (Kramer, 6).  This type of “modern” analysis espouses a detachment from one’s subject and abject reliance on strict interpretations of the scientific method, which postmodernists claim to be a mere chimera.  Kramer continues, seemingly with a paradox, “postmodernist reason always serves interests other than truth and by that means enables itself to serve truth“ (Kramer, 7).  In this study of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, one must follow the postmodernist view and study the context of their work, the intent of their careers, the pressures under which they toiled, and the purpose of their music to discern the “truth” of their art.  This paper will examine the business side of music, it will examine how critics influenced the music, and it will look at Ellington and Davis and the way that these forces might have affected their careers.  It is an attempt to determine if these men were true to the spirit of their creative convictions.  This paper is not an attempt to define jazz or to determine if these men were “true” to those venerated and ethereal spirits of the music.  It is an attempt to determine if these men were true to the spirit of their creative convictions.


In any endeavor that is pursued on a full-time basis the primary goal is to earn a living.  Unless unlimited resources are at one’s disposal pursuing an activity without regard to its ability to pay one’s expenses is at best ill advised and perhaps more accurately can be described as foolhardy.  Martha Bayles writes that the notion that an artist is beyond this simple economic fact is a “modernist shibboleth” (Early, 153).  She goes on to write that a “high” art form must retain its connection to the popular art or it loses its audience and therefore its vitality.  Bayles quotes Henry Pleasants in writing that Bach and Beethoven both were concerned with connecting to a large popular audience and that they did so successfully and repeatedly.  To assume that the modern day music business is any different in its concern for popular approval and thus economic sustenance is not realistic.  Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz musicians of the second half of the twentieth century, recognized that music was a business and to be successful in his occupation he had to reach the record buying public.  In discussing his work and success in the 70’s and 80’s Miles acknowledged as much when he told Quincy Troupe that “Old people don’t buy the records but the young people do” (Troupe, 138).  Troupe, who wrote Davis’s autobiography also reports that from Miles’ earliest days in the jazz business he wanted to reach a wide, racially diverse audience, that he wanted to be on the cutting edge of the music and that he wanted to be popular (Troupe, 131).  Clearly, Davis understood that in order to reach the top one needed to connect with as many people as possible, that one needed to “sell” the music and not just create it and, though this may seem to go against the cool veneer of the bebop musician, Miles’ recognition of this fact of economic life must certainly be considered as one of the key elements of his success.

Modern popular music is a cutthroat business and has been for many years.  Like so many other businesses in modern America the vast majority of the marketplace is controlled by a handful of corporations.  Today the five major companies Universal, Warner, Sony Music Entertainment, BMG, and EMI account for over 83% of the sales (Scelfo 62).  Currently of the thousands of albums released each year by these five major record companies less than 5% become make a profit (Ordonez, 1).  It has been estimated that today for a major label release at least 500,000 copies must be sold for the recording to become profitable.  In 2001, of the 6,455 new releases, 60 albums sold one million or more copies, 52 sold from the half million to the one million mark, another 95 made it to the quarter million threshold, and 208 sold more than one hundred thousand but less than a quarter of a million, according to SoundScan, a music sales monitoring and marketing corporation (Ordonez, 1).  SoundScan goes on to report that sales last year had the steepest drop in a decade falling more than 5%.

In our era, as in days gone by, this type of sales environment has caused unrest between the major labels and the performing artists such as Don Henley and Sheryl Crow.  Today’s performers are claiming that the high failure rate of releases is caused in part by the marketing and production methods that are used by these corporations.  Henley has said that the performers are expected to indefinitely fund the record companies; that unfair labor practices, including long-term contracts binding an artist to a record company, are harming the industry (Ordonez, 1).  The group represented by Henley, Recording Artists Coalition has embarked on a series of fundraising concert in order to be able to fight the evil recording empire.  Indeed, sales figures for concerts that were reported during the week ending March 16, 2002, show that this group headlined two of the top ten grossing concerts in America.  On February 26 a concert in Long Beach, California grossed $638,050 and on the same day a concert in Universal City, California grossed $474,615 (Boxscoretm, 1).  On a single day over one million dollars were grossed in an effort to set our musicians free!  To anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the history of jazz all of this discussion of unfair labor practices, inflated production costs, and unfair contracts might sound eerily familiar.

Frank Kofsky has reported similar, albeit much reduced, claims from the recording industry in regard to the number of units of jazz records that had to be sold in order to reach profitability.  John Hammond, one time director of talent acquisition for Columbia Records, claimed in his 1977 book, John Hammond on Record, that his company needed to sell 15,000 units per year in order to break even on any recording.  Kofsky strongly disputes this amount claiming that the analysis that he was privy to showed that a medium size record company would reach the break even point after two thousand records had been sold, while a larger company, such as Columbia, needed to sell between five and seven thousand copies (Kofsky, 63).  Furthermore, these figures are total and not the annual sales that Hammond claimed was needed.  Obviously, both men cannot be correct in their analysis and in many ways this dispute points to the heart of the problem of creative accounting and accountability that musicians have had to endure for years at the hands of the record companies.

Of course profitability is the litmus test that an artist must endure as he or she fights to control an artistic muse that is often relegated to a subordinate position in the search for commercial success.  The story of Mills Music is illustrative of some of the problems that musicians have encountered.  Jack and his brother Irving, soon to be Duke Ellington’s manager, started Mills Music in 1919; they subsequently built it into the world’s largest independent music publishers by the time they sold the business in 1965 (Mills, 1).  In 1919 the sale of recordings was still a secondary means of earning a living in the music business; musical literacy was at a relatively high level for the simple reason that if you wanted music in the home or if you wanted music at a social event the only way to have it was to physically create it on the spot with a piano or some other instrument, therefore, the real money to be made was in publishing sheet music that would be used at such events.  (Charles Ives, one of America’s foremost composers, hated the Victrola fir it and its technological successors brought about the demise of live music.  Ives believed that in essence it took people away from the heart of the music, which, in his view, was intimately bound up with its connection to the musician “creating” it anew at each playing.  Many jazz musicians espouse the same principle of “creating anew” in their art of improvisation, which if interpreted to it’s fullest extent, a new solo is fashioned every time a tune is played.) 

The younger partner in Mills Music was Irving Mills.  He was a singer who combined an astute ability to judge musical talent with a keen sense of business.  He, along with his brother, realized that the way to make money in the music publishing business was to not just publish the songs but, more importantly, to own the rights to the songs themselves.  For this reason they would make an offer to the composer that most simple could not pass up.  They would publish a composer’s work on the condition that the he gave up all rights to future royalties.  Of course, many a struggling and perhaps naive musician in the early days of jazz would take the money up front not realizing the potential profits that he or she was signing away.  Lewis Russell, a composer/pianist/band leader, recalls that the first thing he learned when he got to New York was that if no one else would buy your song “there was always Mills, he was good for fifteen or twenty bucks most of the time (Lawrence, 34).  However, the brothers Mills had a second strategy that they would employ if the composer would not sell, they would “offer suggestions” to the writer “to improve” the composition.  They would then be able to claim co-authorship and, not so incidentally, a share of the royalties.  According to A.H. Lawrence in Duke Ellington and His World “it was well-known in the (music) business that any enterprising songwriter who wanted his or her song published by Mills Music had to endure this policy.  One disgruntled writer claimed that the company was claiming co-authorship “by dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s” (Lawrence, 31).

The problem of profits, or perhaps more correctly the lack thereof, was one reason why musicians often formed their own record companies.  A partial listing of these men and their companies would include pianist Art Hodes’s Jazz Record, reedman Mezz Mezzrow’s King Jazz Records (one of his few legal enterprises), bassist Al Hall’s Wax Records, Stan Kenton’s Creative World Publications, which he formed in 1970 in order to distribute his music to schools and colleges, and bassist/composer Charlie Mingus’s Debut Records and his Charles Mingus Enterprises.  Debut Records was one of the longer lived of these musician owned enterprises (Kirchner, 782).  However, Charles Mingus Records has a storied past and had as a corporate aim the inclusion of musicians in a share of the profits.  Brian Priestly, quoting a document from the company, writes in Mingus: A Critical Biography “after Mingus Enterprises pays the musicians, the band, as a cooperative group, will receive a minimum of 7-10% (of the profits)” (Priestly, 169).  Unfortunately, according to Priestly, these goals were never realized.

Duke Ellington also formed his own company but prior to that, in late 1926, he and Mills formed Ellington, Inc.  Duke had the composing and band talent and Irving Mills had the financial means and background (he had been making records since 1921) to back Ellington’s aspirations to record.  Prior to 1926 Ellington had only been in the recording studio nine times and received composing credit on but two songs.  Perhaps it was with this in mind that Ellington agreed to the terms of Ellington, Inc. which gave him only 45% of the company that would bear his name, with Mills receiving another 45% share, and the lawyer who drew up the agreement, Sam Buzzell receiving the remaining shares (Lawrence 78-80).  It would seem clear that the structure of the company was probably one of his reasons for ending the partnership; another reason was the “way that (Irving) Mills cavalierly assumed co-authorship of Ellington’s compositions that he had no part in creating”, thereby sharing in the composer royalties (Lawrence, 276).  At the completion of his second tour of Europe in 1939   Ellington ended his thirteen-year relationship with Mills Music.  Three years later in 1942 Ellington started a publishing company known as the Tempo Music Company; the main function of this firm was to collect royalties on the sales of company (that is to say Ellington) owned recordings (Hasse, 276).  This financial arrangement greatly enhanced Ellington’s earnings.  For example, in 1943 he had a hit with Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.  The income generated from the radio, sheet music, and record royalties resulted in RCA Victor sending Ellington a check for $22,500 (Hasse, 276).  [A.H. Lawrence puts the amount of this check at $25,000, a minor discrepancy but one that points out some of the difficulty of obtaining accurate data in regard to the finances of the record and jazz business.]  Duke’s son Mercer remembers that when Duke first glanced at the check he assumed that the amount was $2,500.  It was at this point that Ellington realized how much money Mills had been making off of him; the typical check he received from Mills Music was much nearer to the $2,500 and not the $22,500 that his latest hit had generated (Lawrence, 301). 

One should not delude oneself by believing that the record companies practice of attempting to own the rights to a song is a thing of the past.  Miles Davis, in his autobiography written by Quincy Troupe, reported that when he left Columbia Records to sign with Warner Brothers he received a very rewarding contract – seven-figures just to sign.  However, Davis went on to say, in his own earthy style, that his manager did not handle the negotiations correctly, he had botched the deal “by giving up too much to Warners, like the rights to all my publishing”.  Miles, ever the man to stand up for his beliefs, found a way to thwart Warner’s ownership of these royalty rights by refusing to put any of his own compositions on his new Warner Brothers records until he had the opportunity to renegotiate his contract (Davis, 362).  The terms of the contract were never altered.

The recording industry of the 1940’s was no place for the journeyman musicians, the sidemen to get rich.  In 1944 union regulations mandated a one-time fee of a minimum of $30 for sidemen and $60 for the leader for a three-hour recording session that typically would produce four recordings, however, non-union recording sessions would pay even less.  Major bandleaders could gain a royalty in some cases but never more than five percent.  These low scales forced musicians to record as often as possible and this, along with the fact that a two recording ban had just ended, created a glut of recordings from the most popular bandleaders of the day.  This in turn had the effect of keeping record prices low (DeVeaux, 304).  Another aspect of these minimal wages was that it encouraged original compositions, for the copyright laws in effect at the time mandated a payment of 2 cents per copy with one cent going to the composer and one cent accruing to the publisher (DeVeaux, 30).  With this arrangement it is easy to understand why Irving Mills, Ellington’s shrewd manager and publisher, had himself listed as composer on many of Duke Ellington’s pieces (DeVeaux, 304).  In 1963, as the rock world was beginning to overtake jazz as the more popular form of musical entertainment, Ellington still received upwards of $79,000 in royalties (Hasse, 351).  In the hierarchy of the music business, the performers were just the hired guns but the composers and licensee holders were the entrepreneurs who had the greater risks (forgoing a daily rate for the chance at royalties) and therefore reaped the greatest rewards.

Ellington was quite successful in generating income from the sale of his records.  It has been estimated that in the twenty years preceding 1944 he earned over $500,000 in royalties on sales of twenty million records.  Additionally, he is said to have earned a quarter of a million dollars from sales of sheet music.  Unfortunately for Ellington’s economic well being the economies of the big band business were such that most of the money Ellington made he “reinvested” in his band in order to keep it together.  For instance, in 1939 his band broke even on a gross of $160,000, in 1940 his band appears to have had one of their best years ever by netting $57,000 on a gross of $185,000, in 1941 he had a net loss of $1,500 on a gross of $135,000, and in 1942 he netted $4,000 on a gross of $200,000, a 2% net profit (Tucker, 244-45).  In the 1940’s Ellington’s fame and marketability continued to soar so much so that in 1944 Duke Ellington, Inc. posted a gross income of $405,000 with expenses of $394,000 resulting in about a 3% net profit (Hasse, 274).  By 1966, the annual gross of the band had reached $700,000 but the salaries of his band members ranged from no less than $300 up to $600 per week.  Ellington’s personal income was in the $100,000 range, certainly over the years he made more money than he spent but these examples point out the difficulty of “getting rich” in the big band business alone (Tucker, 364).  It took ownership rights to generate royalty income; that was where the big money could be made.

Kofsky’s thesis in Black Music, White Business is that jazz as a whole is underrepresented in the recording industry because it is an African-American art form and not because of its lack of profitability.  Certainly, the preceding shows that there is or at least were opportunities for money to be made in the jazz recording business, whether or not this is still the case is a question for further study.  However, Kofsky states that “there are no economic reasons whatsoever” [italics in original] for the dearth of recording and marketing of the jazz idiom (Kofsky, 58).  In his view, two presidents of Columbia records, Clive Davis and Goddard Lieberson, are directly responsible, at least as far as Columbia was concerned, for the lack of jazz recordings simply because they did not care to record jazz musicians and not, as they have stated, due to economic reasons.  He buttresses this argument by stating that Bruce Lundvall, their successor, disagreed with them because “he believed there was a market for unadulterated bebop” [italics not in original] and he promptly began to sign jazz musicians (Dexter Gordon is his example) to contracts at the beginning of his tenure at the company (Kofsky, 59).  Perhaps this was a case in which different executives reached conflicting conclusions as to the economic viability of a style of music.  It would not have been the first instance where a new management team had reached differing conclusions regarding the direction of an enterprise.  Dan Morgenstern asserts in an article written for The Oxford Companion to Jazz that Columbia records was the major label most committed to jazz, which he attributes to the “enlightened presidency of Goddard Lieberson and…Bruce Lundvall” (Kirchner, 782).  Mr. Kofsky appears to be somewhat disingenuous by off-handedly dismissing the economic judgment of one management team in favor of another.  Nonetheless, Kofsky, as we shall see, does go on to provide valuable insight to other economic aspects of the recording industry of the thirties through the sixties.

In the view of Kofsky, a company the size of Columbia Records can manipulate demand in order to produce the number of unit sales that will make a product profitable.  He assumes a direct correlation between the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising and the success of a project, certainly marketing boosts the visibility of a product but the ultimate acceptance by the public is a much more complicated calculus.  An example from the automotive industry, which has considerable marketing prowess, might serve to illustrate this point.

In 1957 the Ford Motor Company released the Ford Edsel; the car was named for the father of Henry Ford II, thus giving company officials a strong impetus to rank this project high in priority.  After all who would want to be the executive responsible for defaming an old family name?  The project was “launched with great fanfare and vigorous advertising” but “public reaction was tepid at best” and three years later, at a loss of nearly 250 million dollars the Edsel project was quietly ended (History Channel, 1). It appears that sometimes it is not within the power of even the most determined and expensive marketing campaign to salvage a project that is not acceptable to a large enough segment of the population. 

A more recent example from the world of music of the inability of advertising to create a market can be seen in the experience of Carly Hennessey, a young singer in the “teen-oriented popular” genre (a la Brittany Spears).  Hennessey is under contract to MCA records.  Ms. Hennessey was signed to a six album deal in 1999 by no less than MCA’s president Jay Boberg, she was considered a hot, can’t miss prospect and, especially with the president of the company as her champion, the future looked bright indeed.  After recording and re-recording her first album, and bringing in Miles Copeland to work with her (Copeland had a great track record having been the manager of the Police and Sting), the company had spent nearly $1 million dollars; according to Mr. Boberg “everyone thought this [her first album] was going to be a hit.”  The marketing effort for this album included an initial $200,000 to hire independent promoters, a $250,000 video, a $150,000 four-week promotional tour, and finally an additional $500,000 for more work by promoters.  This brought the total advertising expenditures to 1.1 million dollars.  This amount was 50% of the money that MCA had spent on the project.  The total number of records sold as of February of 2002 was 378 with gross revenues amounting to $4,900 (Ordonez, 1).  These examples seem to preclude placing blame on corporate executives for a failure to embrace jazz artists based on economic grounds.  In all businesses the management team makes profit decisions and, of course, in hindsight some decisions are better than others.

By contrast with Ms. Hennessey’s travails, the success that Miles Davis enjoyed with some of his recordings in an era of somewhat reduced sales expectations is quite impressive.  Davis’s first truly big commercial hit was Sketches of Spain (1960), selling over four hundred thousand copies (Troupe, 129).  Bitches Brew, from 1970, sold over half a million and was his biggest seller during his lifetime (Troupe, 137).  In 1981 the Grammy-award winning We Want Miles sold over one hundred thousand copies and in 1985 You’re Under Arrest, which included covers of the hit tunes Human Nature and Time after Time, sold one hundred thousand copies in just a few weeks (Troupe, 152).  However, even these sales figures pale in comparison to the continued sales of Kind of Blue.  Originally released on August 17, 1959 it was certified on January 16, 2002 by the Record Industry of America as having sold three million copies (RIAA, 1)!  But not even Miles Davis could produce a best seller every time out.  In his Visions of Jazz Gary Giddins’ discusses “transformative” musicians and groups of the sixties.  Giddins uses the term transformative to mean musicians who were able to begin in one style and “transform” themselves into stars in a different style.  He names Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles to this group and he asserts that of the four, Davis had the longest period of influence, yet in many ways he was the least celebrated, Giddins wrote: “Miles (transformations) from bopper to jazz-rocker were played out inch by inch on records.  Yet…his records sold miserably and were chided for being either too far out or not far out enough” (Giddins, 354).  Miles complained that one of the reasons for a lack of sales on some of his albums was a lack of proper marketing.  Additionally, he blamed the decline of jazz on the “white critics” who he accused of attempting to proselytize the listeners to support the “free” jazz movement which he claimed (perhaps rightly so) turned listeners off to jazz.


To arrive at a better understanding as to how critics might impact both the artistic and the economic aspects of jazz it is helpful to look at the battle between the critics and the musicians.  The controversy of the current generation can be roughly divided into two schools: the neoclassicists who claim jazz ended with Miles Davis’s success with Bitches Brew and those who believe jazz by nature needs to continually renew itself if it is to retain its true identity which is rooted in innovation and musical freedom.  However, the battle being fought today is not new, in many ways it is a legacy handed down or rather fought between successive generations throughout the history of the music.  A most helpful place to start is by exploring the life and work of John Hammond, one of the most influential critics and producers from the 1930’s through the 1960’s.  To many he is one of the most hallowed figures from the “business” side of the jazz story but others believe he should be treated as a pariah, perhaps some of the little known facts and contradictory opinions concerning his work will provide a better understanding of the man. 
In Black Music, White Business Kofsky devoted a great deal of his efforts to Hammond, who, in Kofsky’s view, was someone with less than altruistic efforts on anyone’s behalf save his own (Kofsky, 29).  In the popular view, John Hammond was the man most credited for bringing about the racial integration of some of the top bands, most notably was his work in 1935 with Benny Goodman and his efforts to bring Teddy Wilson out of the recording studio and onto the stage with Goodman.  In 1939 Hammond also helped Wilson get his own band going and help him secure a gig at the Café’ Society; in the same year Hammond was responsible for getting Charlie Christian out to California and getting a less-than-enthusiastic Goodman to give Christian a spot in his band (Gioia, 154).  Hammond was traveling from New York to Los Angeles when he heard Christian play in Oklahoma City.  This turned out to be a serendipitous occasion for the future of jazz, and somewhat ironic considering Hammond’s disdain of bebop, as it seems unlikely that the shy and somewhat sickly Christian (he suffered from tuberculosis during his much too short twenty-four years) would have left Oklahoma had it not been for Hammond.  Charlie stayed with Goodman for two years but, not being entirely happy with his roll as a member of a larger group, he spent his after hours at Minton’s Playhouse in endless jam sessions where he encountered the budding bebop movement.  It was here that he met and influenced such seminal bop figures as Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk (Williams, 182).

Hammond is also credited with “discovering” or moving forward many jazz careers including Meade “Lux” Lewis, William “Count” Basie, Lester Young, Helen Humes, and Billie Holiday.  For example, he was responsible for getting the 19 year-old Billie Holiday a singing part in Duke Ellington’s ten-minute film, Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life (Kirchner, 751).  Holiday appeared while singing the blues in the second of four parts in the production, though uncredited this was her first film appearance (Pritchard, 1).  In the late 1930’s, just months after Benny Goodman’s triumph at Carnegie hall, Hammond was the leading proponent of historical concerts, that is to say concerts with a view towards the development of jazz, at the celebrated venue.  His efforts resulted in the “Spirituals to Swing” concerts.  Donald Atkins wrote that:

at a time when American listening habits were largelysegregated, Hammond made a point of presenting talentedblack musicians to white audiences…Hammond decided put on “An Evening of American Music” at Carnegie Hall. Seeking a sponsor, he was turned down by The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, apparently because jazz did not appeal to the NAACP’s middle-class leaders.  Instead, he was backed by th communist cultural magazine, The New Masses (Atkins, 1).

Prevailing upon The New Masses to support the Carnegie Hall Concert was not Hammond’s only connection with this publication.  The New Masses was a politically left-leaning magazine that was begun in 1926 following in the tradition of earlier “Marxist” periodicals such as The Masses and the Liberator by “fusing art, reportage and revolution” (Holhut, 2).  Ron Welburn has reported that Hammond, who started his career in the music business as a jazz critic, contributed articles to the New Masses under the pseudonym of Henry Johnson.  In these articles he focused on “blues singers and jazz musicians, their recordings, and the way companies mistreated them” Kirchner, 751).  Ted Gioia credits Hammond as being a key player in transforming Benny Goodman from a commercial free-lance player to the “King of Swing” due to Hammonds “relentless prodding [and] his championing of authentic jazz in the face of watered down imitations” (Gioia, 140).  (One must point out however, that the sobriquet of the “King of Swing” was far from universally applied to Mr. Goodman and many black jazz musicians resented this honorary title being bestowed on a white musician.) 

Other examples of Hammond’s efforts to combat racial injustice that placed him in the middle of controversy was support for the “Scotsboro Boys” and his testimony as to the need for black bands to use bus transportation.  The Office of Defense Transportation’s ruled in June of 1942 that busses could not be used as a means of transportation in order to save rubber and to make the busses available for troop transport.  This was a serious problem for the black bands as most of them made their living by playing one-nighters and, for issues of safety, traveled by busses.  This ruling, although bothersome, did not restrict white musicians to the same extent, as they could travel in small groups without fear of racial attacks and could therefore use the automobile (DeVeaux, 242).  Through the efforts of Hammond and others a temporary compromise was arranged that enabled the black bands to pool busses for their use.

From the preceding, John Hammond had all the appearances of someone who, as Dan Morgenstern wrote, was “motivated solely by a commitment to the music and its makers, regardless of race” (Kirchner, 773).  Therefore in 1932, when Hammond’s career moved more in the direction of being a producer (though he still retained his prominence as a critic), his motives, in hindsight, should have been beyond reproach.  However, Kofsky questions Hammond’s credentials as a benevolent protector of jazz and its purveyors.  For example, Kofsky reports that when Hammond signed Bessie Smith to contracts with Columbia Records she received no royalties for her work, only a fixed fee for each session.  At some point when Smith became aware of and protested this arrangement she stated that Columbia executive Bernie Hanighen supported her, not John Hammond.  Kofsky goes on to say Hammond added insult to financial injury when he alone was designated to receive the royalties from Smith’s Columbia reissues in the 1970’s (Kofsky, 31).  Furthermore, Hammond appears to have signed others to similar deals.  Billie Holiday, in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, wrote:

I made over two hundred sides between 1933 and 1944, but I don’t get a cent of royalties on any of them.  They paid me twenty-five, fifty, or a top of seventy-five bucks a side…but royalties were still unheard of (Hentoff, 53)

It should be noted that 1933–1944 were the years that Holiday recorded for Columbia Records.  Stanley Crouch writes that Hammond was ”important to jazz history as a record producer and promoter” but that he “was also a paternalist and a pompous busybody” (Crouch, 156).  This is corroborated by Hammond’s own words as he discussed Frank Walker, Smith’s manager, in the November 1937 issue of Tempo magazine “(he) never exploited artists because of their color or ignorance.  And he carefully put aside upwards of twenty thousand dollars in royalties for his protégée” (Williams, 76).  It would appear that in Hammond’s paternalistic opinion Bessie could not be trusted to handle her own royalties, perhaps due to her “color or ignorance”.  Kofsky also recounts how in 1938 Hammond interfered in Billie Holiday’s choice of a woman manager for he did not believe this woman manager should be dealing with the more unsavory side of Holiday’s life.  Kofsky reports that Hammond went so far as to personally intervene to the “distinguished family” of the manager in question, who subsequently ended the relationship with the singer (Kofsky. 30).  Is it the case that Mr. Hammond would tolerate the “hired help” as long as they kept a respectful distance?

Hammond also was involved in efforts to have Count Basie’s contract with Decca, a Columbia rival, declared void because it was, according to Hammond, “typical of the underscale deals which record companies imposed on Negro and country artists” (Kofsky, 32).  Certainly, the no royalty contracts Hammond produced for Smith and Holiday should be considered “underscale”.  I have no details of Basie’s contract with Decca but one would assume that Decca paid royalties to Basie based on the fact that Billie Holiday reported that Decca did pay royalties to her.  However, there is evidence via Hammond’s biography that Decca had no qualms about making records without paying royalties to the performers, regardless of race.  In December of 1935 Hammond put together the famous 1935 Decca recording session without a drummer for white jazz singer Mildred Bailey.  He wrote, “Everybody did (the recording session) for scale.  Mildred bitched like mad, because there were no royalties” (Sudhalter, 684).  An interesting sidebar has surfaced in regard to this recording session that once again puts shades of gray on the white knight image of Hammond.  According to John it was through his design that this groundbreaking session without a drummer was setup but according to Bailey’s husband xylophonist Red Norvo, drummer Eddie Dougherty was supposed to play using a brush technique but he cancelled at the last minute (Sudhalter, 834).

Charlie Mingus is also known to have had a run-in with Hammond in regard to the issue of royalties.  Gene Santoro, in his biography of Mingus, Myself when I Am Real writes:

Mingus called him John Ham-head and spoofed him as “a main investor for one of those major record labels&rdquoand a “liberal tongued beast of high-finance.”  He complained Hammond and Columbia had lied to him about record sales (Santoro, 258).

Of course, Mingus, the “angry man” of jazz had run-ins with many people but this is of interest to our story for, in addition to the question of royalties, it provides an opinion contrary to the canon concerning John Hammond.

Without question one should be reluctant (though Kofsky is not) to draw any broad conclusions regarding a person’s character or motives from a few selected episodes of a their life, and indeed that is not our purpose.  These incidents have been reproduced here only to illustrate the point that in the music business all is not always what is popularly assumed and critics are often easy targets for musicians (and other critics) to vent their frustrations.  However of one thing we can be certain - in his time John Hammond had an enormous influence, both good and bad, over a wide-range of jazz activities.  In his capacity as a critic Hammond was never one to be reticent about sharing his opinions, indeed he wrote as much “I was never free of her (his mother’s) proselytizing or the certainty of knowing what was good for other people” (Crouch, 156).  John Hammond was chosen here to represent all critics primarily for the breadth and depth of his career.  In addition to Hammond certainly men such as Andre Hodeir, Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Gunther Schuller and others who are, for want of a better term, from the old school, along with Stanley Crouch, Gary Giddins, and Wynton Marsalis (whose outspoken positions include him in this group) of the modern school (neoclassic?), and finally Amiri Baraka and Frank Kofsky from a more radical perspective have influenced composers, performers, and the record-buying, concert-going public who support the industry.  With that in mind, let us now turn to the criticism from these writers (who in many cases were or still are also musicians) as they comment on the music of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and perhaps more importantly for our purposes, we shall examine the reactions of the men who were subjects of the ‘critics choice’ and how it might have affected their music.


Composers and performers who are not satisfied with the status quo will find that they encounter resistance as they attempt to move forward in their techniques of composition and modes of expression.  Aaron Copland wrote in a 1938 issue of Modern Music, “Swing is here to stay – at any rate until something more startling comes along” (Tucker, 130).  In hindsight we know that the replacement for swing, the “something more startling”, was bebop.  The tendency of jazz to continually change itself without destroying itself can be seen in the careers of both Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.  Ellington hated labeling and categories; in an article in 1962 “Where is Jazz Going?” he stated, “I have always been against any attempt to categorize or pigeonhole music” (Tucker, 336).  Certainly his work defies labeling, encompassing a wide range of music from his early Cotton Club numbers, suites, extended works, sacred music, symphonic pieces, and a myriad number of other “types”.  His career began before, helped define, moved through, and far outdistanced swing.  In a similar fashion, Miles Davis could not be easily “tagged” as his career began in bebop, moved through cool to hard past fusion, and ended in an amalgam of “jazz”-“pop”-“hip-hop”.  Ellington once said, “I have always been a firm believer in musical experimentation, to stand still musically is the equivalent of losing ground” (Hasse, 187).  Echoing this sentiment was Davis who once remarked that he did not want to become “a museum piece under glass” (Troupe, 166).  Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie once said of him “Miles is like a man who has made a pact with himself never to repeat himself” (Troupe, 135).  If ever there were two gentlemen whose ever-changing music could provoke the critics they would be Mr. Ellington and Mr. Davis.
Most critics are, by the nature of their craft, reactionaries; they hear the latest composition and react to it.  Generally, if the newest thing doesn’t fit with their preconceived notion of what they expect to hear they react negatively, though certainly, in rare instances the latest thing connects with them and they become unswerving champions of the latest and greatest.  On the other hand, men such as Ellington and Davis are visionaries; they “hear” the latest composition in their imagination and create it.  Often with these two men the latest thing was not a rehash of their last success but a step away from that last success.  Of course some steps away from the past that Ellington and Davis took found more success and had a longer lasting effect than others.  Therein lies the conflict between composer and critic – separating the successful strides from the stumbles.  

Prior to 1935 Ellington had enjoyed a generally positive experience with the critics.  He had already composed and recorded a large number of three minute songs that would be counted among his classics including: East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Black and Tan Fantasy, The Mooche, Rockin’ in Rhythm and Mood Indigo.  In 1931 with Creole Rhapsody he attempted to overcome the musically artificial time limit imposed by the recording technology of the day.  The reaction to this ambitious piece was generally good but not overwhelming.  R.D. Darrell, a leading critic of the day, wrote in 1931 that it was “good…but not in the finest Ellington tradition” (Tucker, 40).  Darrell expanded on this theme in 1932, “(Creole Rhapsody) is not wholly successful, although it does develop and interweave a larger number of themes than is common in his work” (Tucker, 63).  Darrell does include the piece in a “brief list” of the best and most characteristic Ellington recordings (Tucker, 65).  It is of some interest to note that Darrell has reviewed two differing version of Creole Rhapsody.  The first version was recorded on the Brunswick label in January of 1931 while the second was recorded for Victor in June of the same year.  The latter, known as the “expanded version”, ran for eight minutes while the former lasted for six and one half minutes.  It should come as no surprise that there exists a difference of opinion among jazz scribes as to which is superior.  Gunther Schuller wrote that he “finds it difficult to agree with the prevailing opinion that the second version is superior to the first” (Schuller, 353).  Lawrence quotes Hasse as agreeing with Schuller “The second performance is much better – besides offering changing moods (and) numerous contrasts in tempo (Lawrence, 166).  Certainly not all jazz observers of the day liked either version, Constant Lambert wrote in Gramophone Notes “A jazz recording should be as terse as possible…it would be a pity if Ellington started to produce pseudo-highbrow fantasies such as Gershwin’s more ambitious essays”  (Hasse, 154).  Overall, the reaction to the piece was quite good; in fact it won the New York School of Music composition of the year award “because it portrayed the Negro life as no other piece had“ (Hasse, 165).  [I was not able to obtain a version of the Victor recording.  However, I did listen to the Brunswick version from the Smithsonian Collection of CLASSIC JAZZ, I found it to be interesting but I agree with some of the critics that it sounds “strung together”.  Nevertheless, it does weave the main theme throughout the piece and ends with a variation of it.]  In addition to the innovation of length and multiple themes this piece broke away from strictly symmetrical phrase lengths and included a trombone duet (Hasse, 138).  However, most of Ellington’s work during this period was typical and successful; his good fortune and career were seemingly continually on the rise. 

But in May of 1935 Ellington’s life changed when his mother passed away.  Mercer Ellington, Duke’s son, stated that “the days after her death were the saddest and most morbid of his (Duke’s) life…he just sat around the house and wept for days”.  Ellington himself said that he “was in the wilderness of the unknown…my ambition was dribbling away.”  He would no longer wear brown for he was wearing it on the day that Daisy Ellington died and he detested the color green as it reminded him of cemeteries; Lawrence wrote that, in effect, Ellington was depressed for the rest of his life (Lawrence, 243).  After the death of his mother Ellington did not rejoin his band until the beginning of June.  He slowly pulled himself out of his depression, shook off his blues, and, nearly two months after her death, he began composing again.  The resulting piece, which Ellington said “was written in a soliloquizing mood”, was Reminiscing in Tempo, his landmark, twelve minute extended work (Lawrence, 245).  And thus began his first serious run-in with the critics, in particularly with John Hammond.

Reminiscing in Tempo was recorded on September 15, 1935.  Its unusual length required both sides of two 78-rpm discs; the first disc was released six weeks after the recording date with the second disc released one month after the first.  This is perhaps Ellington’s most personal piece of music in that he took the unusual step of writing out all the solos; improvisation is not a part of this piece in any manner.  Another “personalizing” element was, according to trumpeter Cootie Williams, that this was one of the few Ellington pieces completely ready for the band to play prior to the recording session rather than Ellington’s usual technique of having unfinished sections, thus allowing input from the musicians (Lawrence, 245).  The music expresses remembrances of his mother and, to my ear, sounds as if it is, if you’ll excuse the cliché, a stroll down memory lane.  It seems to flow much more naturally than Creole Rhapsody with the only exception being at approximately the 9:40 mark when the music fades away with the last sound heard being the piano and then resumes with a restatement of the main theme.  Lawrence describes the piece as containing melancholia and resignation, but I must admit these aspects escape me.  True, it is at a relatively sedate tempo and certainly contains references to the blues but overall all I hear the piece more as someone who is recalling and celebrating a life, a repudiation of Daisy’s death rather than as someone who is forlorn and depressed.  In any case, the critics of the day, as well as some later writers, heard much less than I; many of them produced scathing commentaries.  For instance, Spike Hughes, a leading English critic of the day and former Ellington supporter, labeled the piece as “a long, rambling monstrosity” and that Ellington must realize “that it is not smart to write this sort of work” (Tucker, 118).  Edgar Jackson the first editor of Melody Maker magazine and columnist for The Gramophone said that he did not understand the piece (Tucker, 121).  Irving Mills states that he withdrew from his managerial relationship with Ellington when he perceived that Ellington had lost touch with his loyal following, that he was moving his music in the wrong direction.  Mills mentions “Reminiscing” as an example of that wrong direction (Tucker, 275).  Even some of Ellington’s bandsmen were also less than receptive to this composition as drummer Sonny Greer succinctly stated, “I never liked it.  It was too slow and too long” (Lawrence, 249).  Even twenty years after its debut critics were taking aim at the piece.  Author and historian Gilbert Chase in the first edition of America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present in 1955 wrote that Reminiscing in Tempo like Black, Brown, and Beige is “Pretentious in its aping of modern European composers …more contrived than creative (Tucker, 180).  (Tucker states that Chase modified his stance in the 1966 edition of his book and that he “radically altered his opinion in the 1987 edition stating that Ellington “would become a great jazz composer in the classical meaning of the term”.)

Not all of the reviews of the day were negative though still one is hard pressed to find a strong endorsement among them.  British critic Leonard Hibbs’ analysis broke the piece down in sections and although his overall judgment was positive one get the distinct impression that he would have been happiest had Ellington limited himself to the last section of the piece; he asks “Why the first three sides?”  Hibbs wrote, “I had too high opinion of Duke to think that he would perpetrate anything like the pointless joke that this appeared to be."  Hibbs then took the unusual position that the first three sides of this work were meant as a type of workshop showing us how Ellington composed, as Hibbs put it “Ellington allowed us to tune into his mind at work” (Tucker, 119-121).  A stronger endorsement came from Horace Van Norman in the December 1935 edition of American Music Lover, he wrote, “(Reminiscing in Tempo) is a work of incalculable importance, not to be judged on one or two hearings” (Lawrence, 246).

Among this milieu of harsh criticism and generally faint praise the most devastating critique, the one that provoked the most documented reaction from Ellington was that produced by none other than John Hammond.  In a November 1935 piece that appeared originally in the Brooklyn Eagle and then reprinted in Down Beat, and now included in Tucker’s Duke Ellington Reader Hammond had quite a few unkind comments regarding “Reminiscing” and Ellington himself (Tucker, 118-20).  Hammond condescendingly wrote that Ellington “felt it necessary to go out and prove that he could write really important music” and the result was the “pretension” of Reminiscing in Tempo.  Warming to his topic Hammond says that the reasons for the “sterility of this new” opus are many and varied.  Primarily, he believed that Ellington’s life was an example of what composers should avoid “at all costs”.  Hammond enumerates the problems with Ellington’s life by writing that Ellington has been exploited, that “he has the completely defeatist outlook which chokes so many of (his) race”, and that he has “purposefully kept himself from any contact with the troubles of his people or mankind in general”.  Hammond accused Ellington of shutting out the abuses “heaped upon his race and his original class.”  The resulting music according to Hammond is “vapid and without the slightest semblance of guts” and that it bears passing  “resemblance to Debussy and Delius” but without “the peculiar vitality that used to pervade (Ellington’s) work”.  In the penultimate paragraph Hammond concludes that Ellington is “afraid to think of himself, his struggles and his disappointments, and that is why “Reminiscing” is so formless and shallow”.  Ouch!

Of course, it is human nature for anyone not to accept a critique that is negative towards one’s work, especially when one has written a piece of music that is as close to one’s soul as Ellington did with Reminiscing in Tempo.  Therefore it is not surprising that Ellington, who Hammond claimed would avoid unpleasantries at all costs, went on the offensive, though it took more than three years for him to mount his attack in print.  Beginning in the February 1939 issue of Down Beat and concluding in the May 1939 issue Ellington took the critics to task for a variety of shortcomings.  He begins by asserting that swing music was at that point in time stagnant for “when the artistic point of view gains commercial standing, artistry itself bows out”.  Continuing, he writes that the audiences needed to be educated “by the critics who might well give their particular job more serious consideration”.  In this first article he then alluded to Hammond’s attack regarding Duke’s abandonment of his race stating that his band was “primarily […] producing musically a genuine contribution from our race.”  He concluded the February article by writing that musicians must “ignore those critics, who, lacking a musical education and foundation, might want to confound them and attempt to influence them in perhaps the wrong direction” (Tucker, 132-135).

In the April and May installments entitled “Situation Between the Critics and Musicians is Laughable” Ellington made a direct assault on Hammond.  Duke acknowledged the ambivalence in the jazz community concerning Hammond, writing that he was the critic who “has stirred up the greatest resentment, while at the same time earning the deepest gratitude of others.”  Unwittingly perhaps Ellington damns Hammond with faint praise calling him

an ardent propagandist and champion of the lost cause. He apparently has consistently identified himself with the interests of the minorities, the Negro peoples, to a lesser degree, the Jew, and to the underdog, in the form of the Communist party.  Perhaps due to the “fever of Battle,” Hammond’s judgment may have become slightly warped, his enthusiasms and prejudices a little bit unwieldy to control (Tucker, 137).

It was at this point that the April article ended due to what Down Beat describes as a “mechanical problem” (Tucker, 132). 

Duke picks up his theme in the May issue by stating that Hammond had lost his right to serve as a critic because he was no longer “impartial”.  Ellington in fact accused him of a conflict of interests as he wrote that Hammond “continue(s) to publicize his opinions of musical units other than those to which he has been attached, freely condemning and condoning.  Such tactics […] are doubly unappreciated when employed by one whose name and position allow him to remain immune from counter-attack” (Tucker, 137-38).  (It must be remembered that Hammond was working as a producer, talent scout, publicist, and critic at this time.)  Ellington then, in a continued uncharacteristic display of displeasure, named critics and their faults.  According to Duke the critic Marshall Sterns’ opinions were characterized by “misinformation or inaccuracy”, Helen Oakley’s writings were full of “hasty judgment and impressionability”, George Frazier was wont to “overstate” his case, Al Brackman had a fondness for a “lack of discrimination”, and Hughes Pannassie had “a closed mind on many musical subjects”.  Ellington completed this installment of the “burning of his bridges” by appealing to the critics of his day, presumably those that he left unscathed, to “think for themselves, to base their opinions on definite knowledge, and to judge a man’s work on what he is attempting to do.”  Finally, Ellington made a plea that there was a “crying need for Bigger and Better Critics” (Tucker, 138).

These incidents surrounding Reminiscing in Tempo did not seem to deter Ellington from his desire to compose longer works, in fact the longest work of his career Black, Brown, and Beige was forty minutes long and soon to be unveiled, as it debuted in 1943 in Carnegie Hall.  Unlike Creole Rhapsody and Reminiscing in Tempo this extended work was conceived as a series of movements that Ellington described to the Carnegie Hall audience as “a tone parallel to the history of the American Negro” (Lawrence, 316).  The critics would once again receive this work in a less than magnanimous fashion.  Gustav Schuller notes that even during the rehearsals musicians and critics in attendance found the piece to be “a failure”, “a disappointment”, and “(it) didn’t sound like much.”  Among these pre-reviews only the composer-arranger Don Redman thought that the new composition “was a great piece of music” (Lawrence, 316).  The reviews after the concert were negative in the extreme both from the classical critics and the more jazz oriented critics.  Composer and writer Paul Bowles wrote in the New York Tribune that the piece was “formless and meaningless”, “filled with unprovoked modulations”, “paraphrases on tunes that were as trite as the tunes themselves”, and “a dangerous tendency to tamper with tempo.”  Echoing the sentiment of Spike Hughes from eight years earlier Bowles wrote, “The whole attempt to fuse jazz with art music should be discouraged.”  Bowles did like the other numbers on the program but, alas, inadvertently reveals his lack of knowledge in and regard for the jazz idiom by praising the work of alto saxophonist “Jimmy” Hodges (Lawrence, 166).  Mike Levin in the February 15, 1943 issue of Down Beat quoted numerous critics, among the negative reactions were Robert Bagar of the World Telegram: “It is too long a piece […] It is far from being an in toto symphonic creation.”  John Briggs of the New York Post: “Mr. Ellington was saying musically what he had said earlier in the evening, only this time he took forty-five minutes”, and Abel Green of Variety stated that the piece was “A bit self-conscious” (Tucker, 166-167). 

As was the case with Reminiscing in Tempo some of the more vitriolic commentary came from John Hammond.  In an article in the May 1943 issue of Jazz Hammond asks, “Is the Duke Deserting Jazz?”  Hammond begins his piece by calling Ellington the “most distinguised bandleader and composer” of the music world.  Hammond wrote that until 1933 Ellington was content to use “dance music as his medium of expression […] he was quite happy being known as a popular composer” but, “unfortunately for jazz Duke took (the) advice” of serious composers and critics that he was wasting his time on dance music.  The result, according to Hammond, was that the “quality of his product (did not) increase with his ambition.”  Hammonds continues, “Black, Brown, and Beige […] sprawls along (with) many exciting ideas […] lost in the shuffle because they are not woven together in a cohesive whole.  It was unfortunate that Duke saw fit to tamper with the blues in order to produce music of greater significance” (emphasis in original).  The other works on the program were given the same treatment: Ko-Ko “is not distinguished jazz”, Billie Strayhorn’s tunes “had little to contribute except unconventional harmonies”, Juan Tizol’s Bakiff “is dressed up movie music”, Ray Nance’s “fiddle playing is good in small doses, but there was far too much of it”, Ben Webster was “fine in an uninteresting Cotton Tail”, Rex Stewart “clowned around”, and Duke “was not at his best as a pianist.”  The “review”, I use the term loosely, ends by calling Duke the “greatest creative force in jazz” but with the “more complex (music) he has robbed jazz of its basic virtue and lost contact with his audience” (Tucker, 171-73).  Certainly a reviewer who couched every compliment with a criticism had an agenda in mind.

Leonard Feather put up a spirited defense of Ellington.  However, it is interesting to note that given Ellington’s previously stated opinion regarding critics having conflicts of interest, Leonard Feather was, at the time of his defense of Ellington, working as a critic and also as a press agent for Duke, though he is up front about it in the course of his article (Tucker, 173-75).  Bob Thiele, the editor of Jazz wrote and article that was an attempt to ameliorate the positions of Hammond and Feather though in essence it was also critical the Ellington’s extended piece.  In addition to these articles three other installments appeared in Jazz in 1943, Jack Trussel weighed in with two articles that Mark Tucker describes as not sympathetic to Ellington (these have not been included in Tucker’s Duke Ellington Reader) entitled Ellington Hits the Top, and the Bottom (May 1943) and In Defense of John Hammond (July 1943) and in December of 1943 Jim Weaver contributed Jazz and Ellingtonia, which took exception to some of Thiele’s positions (Tucker, 171).

Lawrence writes that this controversy had a negative effect on Ellington.  He reports that Ruth Ellington said that “(Duke) sort of withdrew and was very quiet”; while Mercer Ellington stated that in regard to large-scale works “he (Duke) had been down that road once, and didn’t plan to go there again.”  Gunther Schuller, one of the musicians/critics who have analyzed and defended this work stated “its non-acceptance discouraged Duke from similar extended compositional challenges” (Lawrence, 319-20).

Ellington may have been discouraged but he continued to work on music that was beyond the three-minute dance stricture for in December of 1943 he returned to Carnegie Hall with his sumptuous New World A’ Coming, which was eleven minutes long.  Once again this met with mixed reviews but there was no changing Ellington’s muse. 

As Ellington continued to expand his body of work an article appeared in the New York newspaper PM late in 1945 entitled “Why Duke Ellington Avoided Music Schools.”  In the article Duke explains that he would not have been a good musician had he studied formally, nevertheless he soon established three scholarships at Juilliard School of Music (Tucker, 253).  Coincidentally, a year earlier, in the fall of 1944, Miles Davis, a shy, young trumpeter from East St. Louis, was arriving in New York City to audition for and attend Julliard.  However, Davis must have had the same attitude towards formal study as Ellington for in October of 1945 he dropped out of school in order to pursue the professional music scene in the city (Davis, 73).

During the course of his career Davis would, like Ellington, be revered and reviled by the critics for his work that was ever changing.  Eric Nisenson in his book Blue: The Murder of Jazz recalls that one day during the 1970’s Miles could not remember what day it was; it seemed as if no amount of effort could convince Miles as to the correct day but Davis was not overly concerned with his lack of recall.  Miles took Nisenson into a room in which many of Davis’s awards were displayed on the wall.  Davis said to Eric “You see all those awards on the wall?  The reason I won them is because I can’t remember anything worth a damn.”  Nisenson interprets this to mean that in Davis’s view the artist who doesn’t repeat (remember) his previous accomplishments he is forced to progress, to innovate (Nisenson, 194).  Davis was nothing if not innovative throughout the whole of his career.

Miles earliest critical attention was not favorable, in 1945 when he played on a Charlie Parker release a Down Beat review compared him unfavorably to Dizzy Gillespie (also on the recording) calling Davis a “greenhorn, a pretender with no sound of his own.  In hindsight, Dan Morgenstern has now written that his solos on those recordings reveal a budding originality, a personal sound, and that rare thing musical intelligence.  However much earlier than Morgenstern Dial Record owner Ross Russell recognized something special with Davis.  He wrote in a 1948 issue of Record Changer “that Davis is leading the way to, or even founding, the next school of trumpet playing” (Early, 72).  Duke Ellington also liked what Davis was doing and offered him a job in 1948, which Davis turned down in order to pursue his own musical interests.  In typical Ellington fashion he told Davis “to go the way that was best for (him)” (Davis 121).

Perhaps the first truly innovative work of Davis’s career was the formation of his nonet in the late 1940’s.  It is true that Davis along with Parker, Gillespie and others were the early pioneers of bebop.  However, it was Davis alone, according to Davis, who initiated the work that resulted in The Birth of The Cool.  [Originally each of the recordings that would become known as The Birth of the Cool had been released as singles.  In 1954 Capitol Records gathered eight of the twelve pieces and released them in the first collection known under the aforementioned title.  In 1957 the album was re-released with three additional titles.  Finally in 1971 a twelfth title was added, which completed the set].  As Davis recalled “I hired the rehearsal halls, called the rehearsals, and got things done.  I got us some jobs and made the contact at Capitol Records.”  As with anything new the nonet’s music meet with a mixed reception, Count Basie reportedly said that the music “was slow and strange, but good, real good” while Barry Ulanov of Metronome was a little confused by the music (Davis, 116-17).

The works that the Davis nonet assembled were in Jack Chambers words “justly celebrated”, he reports that the “jazz press, not especially receptive to newer styles, gave more space to the nonet than might have been expected.”  Mike Butcher, a British critic, wrote in 1957 that nearly all small groups and combos had been influenced by the work of Davis.  Nat Hentoff said that these small group recording had the same effect as Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recording of the 1920’s.  Andre Hodeir wrote that these works might bring about “a new classicism” in jazz that bebop was not capable of doing (Chambers, 128-29).  Chambers asserts that the Birth of the Cool stands as the “first of (Davis’s) consummate achievements in a career that would include several” but unfortunately soon after these recordings Davis became erratic, unprepared for work and unreliable.  Davis was encountering the first of his bouts with substance abuse.  He would win the battle this time but in many ways he would be plagued by this problem until the end of his life.  Critics, including Stanley Crouch, would assert that these recurring problems with drugs contributed to the dissipation of Davis’s musical talents.

After his battle with heroin, Davis returned to New York City in 1954 recording Walkin’ which Frank Kofsky has called “the clarion call of the hard bop movement.”  Ralph Gleason also heralded it as a revitalization from the post World War II jazz that was “lost in intellectualism, its roots no longer in the blues (but) with one record, Walkin’, Miles Davis changed all that.”  James Lincoln Collier wrote that it “had a measurable effect on both musicians and the jazz public” (Chambers, 186-87).  It should be noted the title tune Walkin’ lasted over thirteen minutes with nary a complaint from the critics about this extended work.  It seems that fruit of Ellington’s work in extending the boundaries of jazz could now be enjoyed without fear of critical reprisal.

The next leap for Davis came in 1957 with his Miles Ahead album.  Recorded with a nineteen-piece “Gil Evans Orchestra”.  The instrumentation included french horn, tuba, bass clarinet, and flute.  Hodeir gushed in the liner notes for the album that  “(for the first time) since Ellington’s masterpieces of 1940 […] we are presented with a consistent approach to the full jazz band.”  In an article published after the release of the album Hodeir tempered his enthusiasm somewhat writing that he wished the arrangements would have taken “a greater account of the blues idiom” and that the music would not have suffered given additional rehearsal time and exposure to the public prior to the recording sessions but, as a whole, the album “constitutes a remarkably successful achievement.”  Whitney Balliet wrote in the New Yorker that he thought some of Davis’s solos lacked “fiber” but overall the music is the “coolest jazz ever uttered” (Chambers, 257-61).

Davis seemingly could do no wrong in the 1950’s releasing one refreshing album after another.  Certainly, the 1958 release of Milestones with its scalar (modal) rather than chordal based solos must be counted as, what else, a ‘milestone’.  And in 1958 Davis worked once again with Gil Evans and his Orchestra in the recording of Porgy and Bess, which was richly rewarding to Davis as one of his biggest selling albums.  This was followed in 1959 with the hugely influential Kind of Blue.  Each of these works generated golden reviews and with each new release the Davis mystic seemed to be without boundary.  Chambers sums up the reception of these albums:

The best of his modal compositions – Milestones, all of Kind of Blue, and some of Evan’s recompositions on Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess – met with enthusiastic popular and critical response (Chambers, 309).

In many ways Davis enjoyed professional opportunities in the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s that were unknown to Ellington.  The American Federation of Musicians recording ban engineered by James Petrillo together with the lesser known dispute between the American Society of Composers and Publishers and the radio stations provided openings for new and unsigned talent, as well as giving rise to a new breed of independent producers (DeVeaux, 295-301).  This provided a niche, which the bebop generation was eager to fill.  The musical changes brought about by these musicians made future innovations seem not quite as alien to the music but rather a continuing natural progression.  Of course in other ways Davis’s opportunities were more limited than Ellington’s opportunities due to the simple fact of the declining popularity of jazz.

In 1960 Miles began to move a bit beyond this natural progression and he too would feel the sting of the critics.  Columbia Records, ever mindful of the success of the two previous Davis-Evans efforts, was eager to provide whatever the duo wanted for a third collaborative effort.  The result this time was Sketches of Spain; this album was a success with the fans but received mixed reviews from the professionals.  In the first place the expanded instrumentation was sure to annoy most jazz critics with the inclusion of oboes, harps, and additional percussion equipment.  Secondly, of the more than sixteen minutes of the main selection, Concierto De Aranjuez, only four minutes contain quasi-jazz rhythms.  In hindsight the critical outcry could have been predicted.  Martin Williams called it “a curiosity and a failure”, Max Harrison weighed-in with “a boring rewrite” and “a strange miscalculation”, nor did it meet with the approval of Joaquin Rodrigo, the composer of the tune (Chambers, 10). 

These rebukes would pale in comparison to what was in store for Davis as the 1960’s wore on.  But in the meantime, Davis continued in the jazz idiom throughout much of the 1960’s and in 1967 with Miles Smiles he won the Down Beat reader’s poll for record of the year.  However, near the end of the decade the Miles Davis Quintet recorded what would in effect be the first album from a “new” Miles Davis titled Miles in the Sky.  The album cover itself heralded a change; it was a psychedelic rock-style cover, far removed from the more typical picture of Miles that had graced many of his earlier releases.  The year was 1968, Miles was making his first somewhat tentative foray into the rock world, though Lawrence Kart in a review in Down Beat believed the album showed the “effect of the Coleman-Coltrane revolution” that was pushing Miles into an “increasingly ironic detachment (away) from sentiment and prettiness” (Chambers, 127).  As one listens to this album it seems to be a see-saw battle between elements that are in the Coleman-Coltrane tradition and others that are not.  Jack Chambers lists these elements as Herbie Hancock’s “rock vamp on (the) electric piano” and Tony Williams “boogaloo rhythms”, certainly an early indication of what Davis would put together in his fusion work that was only a year away.  Extending his tentative steps Miles’ next album continued in this same mix, that album, Files de Kilimanjaro, won another Down Beat poll for record of the year.  Obviously satisfied that his music was moving in the right direction Davis abandoned his tentative steps and moved more securely into the rock world with the 1969 release of In A Silent Way.  Davis predicted that this album would “scare the shit out of them” (Chambers, 155).  Later during that summer Davis’s group played at the Monterey Jazz Festival, in a review of that performance Harry Siders wrote “The group is […] gravitating ever closer to a free Nirvana” their improvisations “render all conventional frames of reference obsolete” and Davis “left many of his listeners behind.”  Eric Porter, in his article “It’s About Time: The Response to Miles Davis’s Electric Turn, wrote that Stanley Crouch counts In a Silent Way as the “moment when Davis sold out” and that Crouch found almost nothing of redeeming value in Davis’s “electric music” (Early, 143-45).  Davis continued to win listener polls being named Trumpeter of the Year, Jazzman of the Year, and three of his albums were among the top eleven jazz albums  (Chambers, 160-62).

But as rock records continued to predominant in the sales figures Davis came under increasing pressure to produce hits.  In A Silent Way sold between 80-90,000 copies, good for a jazz record but not near the number of copies that rock records were selling.  The record label that produced Miles’ albums had been revitalized with the addition of new talent such as the jazz/rock groups Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears.  The man who brought these groups aboard believed that to get to the top “would require new faces and new minds, not a cosmetic job by past masters.”  The man responsible for that quote and for bringing the new talent aboard the good ship Columbia was none other than Frank Kofsky’s nemesis Clive Davis.  Clive, as president of the company, wanted his jazz division to perform as well as his rock division and the results from Chicago and BST provided a basis for his reasoning.  The following quote from 1971 is quite revealing in regard to his attitude towards classic jazz,

What do the jazz giants, the leading figures of today have to What is their reaction to the fact that, in attempting to fuse jazz and rock, Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears have reached millions of people all over the world while they without such an attempt, only reach a few thousand with their music?
(Chambers, 164).

In 1974 Clive made it clear that one of his targets was Miles Davis.  In his memoirs he wrote

When I took over the Presidency at Columbia (Miles) was one of the company’s mainstays.  His albums Sketches of Spain, Kind of Blue, and Porgy and Bess were landmarks.  But his sales in recent years had fallen off, he sold between forty and fifty thousand albums now – he’d once sold more than a hundred thousand, sometimes a hundred and fifty thousand.

When Clive called Miles to suggest changes that included playing at the Fillmore “to reach a larger audience and raise sales” Davis, once again with his usual colorful rhetoric declined the suggestion and hung up (Chambers, 165).  Miles confirms this story in his autobiography but states that “after a rough start he and I got along well, because (Clive) thinks like an artist instead of a straight businessman.  He had a good sense for what was happening; I thought he was a great man” (Davis, 297).  Miles also commented on the general state of the jazz business at the end of the decade,

Jazz music seemed to be withering on the vine, in record sales and live performances. It was the first time in a long time that I didn’t sell out crowds everywhere I went … we played to a lotof half-empty clubs in 1969. … what (Columbia) didn’t understand was that I wasn’t prepared to be a memory yet, wasn’t prepared to be listed on Columbia’s so-called classical list. I had seen the future with my music, and I was going for it (Davis 297-98).

The result of this turmoil was Bitches Brew, one of his most innovative and influential albums.  It was really the first album that, Miles In The Sky and In A Silent Way not withstanding, that fractured his legion of jazz fans and critics.  Crouch has written that Bitches Brew put Davis “firmly on the path of the sellout” (Crouch, 179).  On the other hand Nisenson states “in its spontaneity and genuine innovation, it is far truer to any real jazz tradition than those who play a style that reached its peak even before they were born” (Nisenson, 201).  Davis would continue to splinter the fans and critics for the remainder of his career.  Jack Chambers correctly points out that the elements of this album are not that far removed from Davis’s previous two recording but “the fusion elements are more robust” (Chambers, 169).  Could it have been the marketing, the packaging, or the corporate push that made this album so much more visible and successful?  As part of the promotion for the album Davis did end up playing at the Fillmore and similar locations but as the opening act, not the as “Headliner” that he was more accustomed to.  Jet magazine criticized him for lowering his dignity by opening for rock acts (Gerard, 121).  According to Davis’s autobiography he was not exactly cooperative as the “opener”, he would show up late forcing the headliner to go on first then he would take the preferred late spot and he would “bring the house down.” 

As we have seen with other innovations, changes to the status quo are often met with derision rather than with platitudes.  Clark Terry, Davis’s friend from East St. Louis told Leonard Feather, “To me jazz has to stimulate and this (Bitches Brew) is not necessarily stimulating” but, perhaps in deference to his old friend he added “I’m not necessarily putting it down; it’s different” (Chambers, 171.  Two years after the release of the album Terry, perhaps forgetting or not knowing some of Ellington’s controversial works, added  “this is probably one of the most controversial albums of the last century.  (Davis) has been criticized and ostracized - and probably rightly so” (Chambers, 173).  Clark Terry would make a poor prognosticator for in the years since the release of Bitches Brew has been recognized as on of the most important records in Davis’s career. 


Davis would continue to make albums until his “retirement” in 1975.  On his return in 1981 he would again abruptly change musical focus.  Unfortunately, time and space constraints have precluded a discussion of the last ten years of his career.  This period was filed with acrimony and recrimination from fans and critics who decidedly did not want to follow him in yet another direction. Stanley Crouch has called Davis’s achievements “large and complex” before “he was intimidated into mining the fool’s gold of rock and roll” (Crouch, 167).  Wynton Marsalis was critical of Davis’s efforts as well for he believed that jazz was being destroyed by crossover jazz (Gerard, 123).  Furthermore, Marsalis, as the most visible jazzman of his generation, has led the charge to limit the definition of jazz to include only musical styles that were created prior to the work of such “free jazz” players as Ornette Coleman (Gerard, 168).  Nisenson equates this mindset to a “deer frozen by brilliant headlights”, in other words this current generation is so in awe of what their predecessors have done that they are unable to move the art-form forward.  In his view, these critics and musicians want to make jazz a “classical” music that is in effect frozen ion time, which is in direct opposition to the freedom and expression that haves have characterized jazz from the beginning (Nisenson, 18).  Perhaps the music from Decoy or from You’re Under Arrest was more “commercial” and less “leading edge” but it is still instrumental music with a jazz tinge.  How many other musicians were recording instrumental music throughout the 1980’s and reaching as many people as Davis?  The cover tunes such as Time After Time and Human Nature are fine expressive solos, though the critics deride them as just so much fluff.  The self-anointed keepers of the flame should recall that cover tunes are in finest tradition of jazz.  In addition to the “lighter” music of the mid 1980’s Davis also worked on Aura, which was recorded in 1985 and released in 1989, this album certainly recalls some of his finest collaborations with Gil Evans.  From a personal standpoint I have found the music from those years to be somewhat less complex, but I do not know if it is less fulfilling or enjoyable than his earlier work.

But perhaps Mr. Kofsky had been right all along, perhaps one of the reasons that jazz was failing in the late sixties was because of a corporate bias towards rock and roll and “white people’s” music, but more likely it was the corporation’s capitalist bias towards profits that drove the record companies to embrace products that were selling, that were making money, that were keeping the companies in business.  Perhaps Miles was right when he blamed his declining sales on the critics saying that they needed a way to cut him down in order that they might retain their influence because he was beginning to be too big in the realm of jazz and the he was reducing the importance of the critics.  Maybe, maybe not but at the time of his death Miles Davis had been selling music for over 35 years; he had been selling it his way by making music that he believed in.  He was concerned with the profit aspect of the business for after all it was his livelihood and without a doubt Miles Davis lived large with all the trappings and vices that plagued many of the popular musicians of the second half of the twentieth century.  Though he was concerned with selling music I don’t believe that he ever “sold out”.  Porter interprets Miles’ music of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a way “to revitalize jazz and reach a younger audience by incorporating aspects of contemporary popular music (Early, 133).  Any artist will have periods of productivity and innovation that are more intense than other periods, just as any listener or critic will find certain periods of music more to their liking than others.  This does not mean that music from the less than productive or non-preferred periods are of no value.  Leonard Feather, as always a champion of artistic expression, wrote in The Pleasures of Jazz “The performer can’t bend himself into playing something he thinks the people will like because by doing that he is subconsciously killing his creative powers.  He has to play what he feels and just hope that it will be liked.  Miles Davis did just that” (Chambers, 174).            

Duke Ellington, whose career spanned more years than even Davis’s, is considered one of the greatest composers and jazz personalities of the twentieth century.  He reached a measure of success both in the artistic realm and the business world that few jazz musicians ever attain.  In Always in Pursuit Stanley Crouch states “Ellington maintained such commanding touch with his craft and the culture of the world that his fifty years of development constitute what is perhaps the single most comprehensive evolution in all of American art” (Crouch 1998, 44).  Of course, Ellington plied his trade during the golden days of jazz when it was America’s popular music; as such he was lionized, indeed immortalized by those generations who lived with his music.  By all accounts he was a man of impeccable taste and demeanor he was able to avoid many of the destructive behaviors that had befallen others.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons his creative energies seemingly never waned, with important works being released even in 1973, the year prior to his death.  In many respects Ellington’s greatest works were still ahead of him after his run-ins with the critics in the 1930’ and 1940’s.  So many great extended works were yet to come, works such as the Liberian Suite, the Far East Suite, the Queen’s Suite, Suite Thursday, the New Orleans Suite (one of my favorites) and the three Sacred Concerts.  Though stung by the critics Ellington obviously had faith in his direction.  Ellington refused to be categorized; the breadth of his work suggests the futility of any such effort.  He was fond of saying that “There are only two kinds of music, good music and the other kind”.  He expounded on this theme in the June 1962 issue of Down Beat in an article titled “The Art Is in the Cooking” written by Stanley Dance.  The beauty of this seemingly pedestrian statement is its clear illumination of Ellington’s belief in the freedom of musical expression, which after all is the basis of jazz.  The thought behind the statement can be applied to Ellington’s dispute with the critics as  well Davis or any other creative musician.  The quote follows

Music itself is a category of sound, but everything that goes into the ear is not music.  Music is music, and that’s it.  If it sounds good, it’s good music and it depends on who is listening how good it sounds  (Tucker, 333).

The purpose of this paper was not to decide if Ellington and Davis played jazz throughout their careers or to determine “how good it sound”.  Although there are probably elements that all music that purports to be jazz must have in common, I have not been willing to enter that fray.  My purpose here was to examine the music of Ellington and Davis and in an attempt to ascertain whether they were true to their vision of their music.  It seems to me without a doubt these two men, who had widely divergent careers under the umbrella of jazz, were, each in his way, true to his music within the constraints of the industry in which they worked.

Annotated List of Works Cited

Atkins, Ronald.  Black, white and blue.  The Guardian, Guardian Newspapers  Limited, 17 March 2000.

Boxscoretm Concert Grosses.       <www.billboard.com/billboard/charts/boxscore.jsp>, 13 March 2002. 

This web site lists the top grossing concerts each week.

Crouch, Stanley.  The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race.  New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 

A series of speeches and essays on race relations, politics, music – especially Ellington, Davis, and the blues, politics and art.

Crouch, Stanley.  Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives.  New York: Vintage Books, 1998. 

A series of essays dealing with popular Culture in the United States with extended sections on Duke Ellington and Mile Davis.

Davis, Miles with Troupe, Quincy.  Miles: The Autobiography.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. 

This is a no-holds barred account of   the life and career of Miles Davis.  An extensive index and chronological discography are vital elements of this work.

DeVeaux, Scott.  The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

A history and criticism of Jazz from 1931 - 1950, focusing on bop and the musical, social, and economic conditions that lead to its development.

Early, Gerald, Editor.  Miles Davis and American Culture.  St. Louis :Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001.

A collection of seventeen essays and interviews detailing  various aspects and episodes of the life of Miles Davis.  The book includes a chronological account of  highlights of Davis’s career, Jazz, and African American Culture.

Feather, Leonard and Gitler, Ira.  The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 

This work contains over 3,300 entries of jazz women and men including their influences, accomplishments collaborations, recording, and biographical information.

Giddins, Gary.  Visions of Jazz: The First Century.  New York: Oxford
       University press, 1998. 

This expansive work covers musicians, composers, history and jazz criticism.  It contains separate chapters on many players including Davis and multiple entries for Ellington.

Gioia, Ted.  The History of Jazz.  New York: Oxford University Press

This history of jazz starts with the “prehistory” and moves. The various periods up to the 1990’s.  It includes a listing of selected works for a variety of artists, a listing for further reading, and has a comprehensive index.

Hasse, John.  The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1993.

Hentoff, Nat. Jazz Is.  New York: Avon Books, 1976. 

A collection of essays from a variety of writers documenting jazz from ragtime to bebop.

HistoryChannel.  This Day in Automotive History, June 7.  <www.historychannel.com/tdih/auto/0607.htlm>. 

The function of this Website is to provide detailed knowledge regarding a variety of historical topics.

Holhut, Randolph T.  A Brief History of American Alternative Journalism In the Twentieth Century.  www.brasscheck.com/seldes/history.html.

The avowed purpose of this web site is to promote “Underdog situations where an under-represented people are getting a raw deal usually from some combination of the media, government, and big business interests.”

Kirchner, Bill.  The Oxford Companion to Jazz.  New York: Oxford  University Press, 2000. 

A compendium of stories concerning different toics in jazz.  This book contains sixty essays grouped by topic.  Some of the leading jazz writers are contributors including Schuller, Morgenstern, Priestly, and DeVeaux. 

Kofsky, Frank.  Black Music, White Business.  New York: Pathfinder, 1998.

This is an effort to support the thesis that one of the major reasons       behind the decline of jazz were the racist attitudes of corporate officers in the recording industry and their unwillingness to support or subsidence
       black art forms.

Kramer, Lawrence.  Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 

This book focuses on applying “postmodern” analytical techniques to “classical music.”  Works analyzed include Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Ives, and Ravel.

Lawrence, A.H. Duke Ellington and His World: A Biography.  New York: Routledge, 2001.

A comprehensive biography of the career of Ellington with extensive quotes from the musicians involved in the story.  This book contains a chronological listing of all of Ellington’s works as well as a charting of the personnel of the Ellington Band as they changed over time.

Mills, Bob.  Irving Mills, <www.redhotjazz.com/irvingmills.html>.
The redhotjazz web site provides information and recordings from the early days of jazz.  This is an excellent source of early recordings.

Nisenson, Eric.  Blue: The Murder of Jazz.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.
A discussion concerning modern era jazz critics and their attempts to codify the jazz canon and the detrimental effects that these actions have had on the contemporary jazz scene.

Ordonez, Jennifer.  MCA Spent Millions on Carly Hennessy – Haven’t Heard Of Her.  Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2002. 

Focusing on the costs and problems with launching a new recording career.

Priestly, Brian.  Mingus: A Critical Biography.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1984. 

This even-handed treatment of Mingus discusses his life and music.  It includes musical examples, extensive end-notes, an exhaustive discography, and complete index.

Pritchard, Judy and Manning Frank.  Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life.  <www.savoystyle.com/symphony_black.html>.  15 June 1996.

The history of the Lindy Hop is told in the pages of this Archive, through history, biographies, art and film clips as well as links to other sites.

RIAA.  RIAACertifications.  <www.billboard.com/billboard/riaa/multi.jsp>.

This web site provides the latest information regarding sales figures of recently Certified Gold, Multi-Gold and Platinum

Santoro, Gene.  Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus.  New York: Oxford, 2000. 

This work is a biography of Charles Mingus featuring a comprehensive bibliography, discography, and index. It is an excellent research source.

Schuller, Gunther.  Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. 

This classic work by Schuller Explores the early days of jazz up to and through the 1930’s.  Duke Ellington’s work receives and extended analysis.

Scelfo, Julie.  Looking Grim at the Grammies.  Newsweek, 11 March 2002.

Sudhalter, Richard M.  Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their ContributionsTo Jazz, 1915-1945.  New York, Oxford University Press, 1999. 

Discussion of music and race and of white musicians and their accomplishments in the early years of the twentieth century.

Troupe, Quincy.  Miles and Me. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000. 

Focusing on the relationship between the author and Mr. Davis this book provides in a shorter format and from Troupe’s point of reference material that can be found in Davis’s autobiography.

Tucker, Mark, Editor.  The Duke Ellington Reader.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 

This work features over one hundred articles,   reviews, interviews, and commentaries written by leading critics and by Ellington himself.  It contains many original source documents in their entirety.

Williams, Martin, Editor.  The Art of Jazz: Ragtime to Be-bop.  New York:  Da Capo Press, 1981. 

A collection of twenty essays focusing especially on the early days and personalities of jazz but it also includes some articles on Bop.


Davis, Miles.  The Essential Mile Davis.  Recording from 1945 - 1986.  Sony Music  Entertainment, 2001.

Davis, Miles.  The Birth of the Cool.  Recording from 1949-50.  Original issue 1971. Capitol, 1989

Davis, Miles.  Miles Ahead.  Original issue Columbia, 1957.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1997.

Davis, Miles.  Milestones.  Original issue Columbia, 1958.  Sony Music Entertainment, 2001.

Davis, Miles.  Porgy and Bess.  Original issue Columbia, 1958.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1997.

Davis, Miles.  Kind of Blue.  Original issue Columbia, 1959.  Sony Music Entertainment,  1997.

Davis, Miles.  Sketches of Spain.  Original issue Columbia, 1960.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1997.

Davis, Miles.  Miles Davis: The Complete Concert 1964.  Recorded Feb. 12, 1964 at Lincoln Center.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1992.

Davis, Miles.  Miles Smiles.  Original issue Columbia, 1967.  Sony Music Entertainment,  1998.

Davis, Miles.  Miles in the Sky.  Original issue Columbia, 1968.  Sony Music Entertainment,  1998.

Davis, Miles.  Bitches Brew.  Original issue Columbia, 1970.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1999.

Davis, Miles.  Decoy.  Columbia, 1984.

Davis, Miles.  You’re Under Arrest.  Columbia, 1985.

Davis, Miles.  Aura.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1989.

Ellington, Duke.  The Okey Ellington.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1991.

Ellington, Duke.  Black, Brown, and Beige.  Original Issue 1958.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1991.

Ellington, Duke.  The Far East Suite, Special Mix.  Recorded 1966.  BMG Music, 1995.

Ellington, Duke.  The Ellington Suites.  Includes The Queen’s Suite (1959), The Goutelas Suite (1971), and The Uwis Suite (1972).  Pablo     Records, 2001.

Ellington, Duke.  Centenary Celebration 1999.  Louisiana Red Hot, 1999.

Ellington, Duke.  Money Jungle with Charlie Mingus and Max Roach, recorded 1962.  Blue Note, 1987.

Ellington, Duke.  Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  Recorded 1961-62. EMI Records 1990.

Ellington, Duke.  Second Sacred Concert.  Fantasy Records, Catalogue 8407/8.

Ellington, Duke.  Ellington with the Cincinnati Symphony, includes New World A’Comin. Decca, 1970.

Ellington, Duke.  New Orleans Suite.  Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1971.

Various Artistis, Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz includes Creole Rhapsody.  Columbia, 1973.

Wilson, Cassandra.  Traveling Miles.  Blue Note, 1999.