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Black and Tan Fantasy

Duke Ellington and his
Cotton Club Orchestra

 

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"The Harlem Renaissance"

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In the talkie short "Black and Tan Fantasy" released in December 1929, Duke Ellington plays a down on his luck bandleader whose piano is repossessed in the opening scene. Fredi Washington plays Ellington's wife a successful dancer who must choose to quite dancing or risk certain death due to a heart condition. Art and necessity win out over reason in the end and, as she lays dying, Fredi asks to hear the "Black and Tan Fantasy" just once more.

Featured musicians include: Arthur Whetsol, Cootie Williams, and Freddy Jenkins trumpets, Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton trombone, Juan Tizol valve trombone, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and Barney Bigard reeds, Duke Ellington piano & director, Fred Guy banjo, Wellman Braud double bass, and Sonny Greer drums.

Written by Dudley Murphy the film exhibits many concepts of the Harlem Renaissance Movement, with Ellington's Orchestra performing in a setting very similar to that of the famous Cotton Club complete with backing dancers.

The title score "Black and Tan Fantasy" is one of the first pieces Ellington recorded in what is now known as jungle style. When originally recorded in 1927 it was a kind of solo piece for trumpetter Bubber Miley but by the time this film was made in 1929, Miley had allready left the Ellington band. It is not Miley's follow up Cootie Williams playing the solo here however, it is instead Arthur Whetsol. Cootie was allready in the band, but stated in an interview that at first he laughed about the plunger solos, and only later gave them serious consideration. Arthur Whetsol more known for his lyrical solo work seemed better suited. Note that Whetsol plays the muted solo on "Black and Tan" with a harmon mute, though it is usually done with a plunger by others. Another striking lyrical solo by Whetsol can be heard on "Black Beauty" also in this film.



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