“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”
Student Participation: Singing, Movement
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This jazz standard was one of the first compositions to include the word “swing” in its title. Duke Ellington composed the piece during an intermission at a big band dance performance in Chicago. Legend has it that no one was dancing until he enlivened the mood by introducing this song.
Swing dance is a style of dance that is associated with the Swing era (approximately 1935–1945) and the swing style and rhythm in jazz. Hundreds of swing dances were invented during the Swing era, including the famous Lindy hop, which was wildly popular at the historic Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. Like musicians, swing dancers use call and response to communicate through movement. Dancers watch their partners closely to pick up on and respond to each other’s movements while listening carefully and staying connected to the music.
The Orchestra Swings with Communication
Duke Ellington (1899–1974) is considered one of the most important figures in jazz history. Born in Washington, DC, he began studying classical piano when he was around eight years old. As a teenager, Ellington became interested in ragtime and jazz and began playing in dance bands at clubs and parties. The young Edward—Ellington’s real first name—had an elegant sense of style, which earned him the nickname “Duke” from his friends. He moved to New York City as a young man and began his career as a bandleader and composer. Ellington was hired to lead the house band at the Cotton Club, a famous jazz club in Harlem. He went on to form the Duke Ellington Orchestra—which became known all over the country thanks to radio broadcasts and popular recordings—and toured the world for more than 50 years. Over the course of his long career, Ellington collaborated with many other jazz greats, including Billy Strayhorn and Ella Fitzgerald, and wrote nearly 2,000 compositions.