Friday, December 27, 2013

Duke Ellington's Black And Tan Fantasy: Gunther Schuller On Bubber Miley

Schuller also provides additional background on Miley, a trumpet player who left the Ellington band so early on that he is sometimes neglected by students who become apostles to the Gospel According To Sts. Williams, Nance, Anderson, & Terry: “The interesting question is how were Ellington and his men, all of whom were very much part of [the] Eastern tradition, able to transcend it in the late 1920s and early 1930s and create a unique kind of big band jazz. Bubber Miley was largely responsible for the initial steps through his introduction of a rougher sound into the band. Ellington himself is quite clear about Bubber's influence: 'Bubber used to growl all night long, playing gutbucket on his horn. That was when we decided to forget all about the sweet music.' Miley heard King Oliver in Chicago and Johnny Dunn in New York and began to use the growl and the plunger. He in turn helped teach the same techniques to the band's trombonists—Charlie Irvis and his replacement in late 1926, Joe 'Tricky Sam' Nanton—who were also influenced by a now forgotten St. Louis trombonist, Jonas Walker, reputed to be the first to apply New Orleans 'freak' sounds to his instrument. It was Miley and Nanton who developed the band's famous 'jungle' effects through their use of the growl and plunger.

“Actually Miley's influence extended far beyond these effects. He was not only the band's most significant soloist but actually wrote, alone or with Ellington, many of the compositions in the band's book between 1927 and 1929. Although the extent of Miley's contribution has not yet been accurately assessed, there seems little doubt that those compositions that bear Bubber's name along with Ellington's were primarily created by Miley. These include the three most important works of the period—recorded in late 1926 and early 1927—East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, Black and Tan Fantasy, and Creole Love Call.

“In the one-year period November 1926 to December 1927, only four of the seventeen pieces recorded were written by song writers outside the band, while five of the remaining numbers, including those named above, were by Miley. Ellington, in turn, created six pieces, and Otto Hardwick, two. Actually some of Ellington's numbers might well belong more properly to other members of the band, as it was common practice—and, indeed, still is today [the late 1960's, as Schuller wrote]—for the leader of a band to take full credit for works created by the band and written by members of it.

“Miley also had a marvelous melodic gift, one inextricably linked to his growl and plunger technique. As with any great performer or composer, pitch and color derive simultaneously from the initial inspiration. In separating these elements here, it is only to point out that Miley's enormous contribution to pure classic melody in jazz has been unfortunately neglected up to this point. To my knowledge, only Roger Pryor Dodge has tried to show that Miley's importance goes beyond the fashioning of extravagant, bizarre muted effects.”

(Schuller, Early Jazz 326-27).

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