Probably the most innovative songs in the world: ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’ by Duke Ellington

February 14, 2011 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

The Duke (image from Amante de la Musica’s blog)

by Alec Patton

At the end of the nineteenth century, a few forward-thinking people (most notably the Czech composer Antonin Dvorák) predicted that the most important composers to fill the concert-halls of twentieth-century America would be black.

They were half right: America’s most innovative and influential twentieth-century were black, but their music wasn’t performed in concert halls – where black composers were (with a few exceptions) not welcome – their music was performed in bars, in nightclubs, and, most radically, on phonograph records. And the end result was that far fewer people went to concert halls.

So which jazz composer to choose for our playlist? Well, as Stevie Wonder sang, ‘there was Basie, Miller, Satchmo, and King of all Sir Duke.’ So Duke Ellington it is, because no one did more to explore the possibilities of jazz and set the templates for later innovators to experiment with and/or smash.

I’ve chosen ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’ because it was Ellington’s first original composition to be recorded (on 29 November 1926) and it’s easy to imagine how amazing (not to say shocking) it must have sounded to someone who’d never heard jazz before.

I’ll leave you with Ellington’s response to the music critic Winthrop Sargeant, who expressed a hope that jazz composers might become major ‘classical’ figures:

I was struck by Mr. Sargeant’s concluding statement that given a chance to study, the Negro will soon turn from boogie woogie to Beethoven. Maybe so, but what a shame!

[To give credit where it’s due, the preceding quote, as well as most of the information in this article, comes from Alex Ross’s wonderful history of 20th century music, The Rest is Noise. You can hear ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’ and other great tunes on Alex Ross’s website]

Listen to ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’ on the ‘probably the most innovative songs in the world’ playlist and send us your suggestions or add them to the playlist as we’ve made it collaborative. You can also hear a different, slower, equally great recording (also by Ellington) on youtube.


Entry filed under: Most innovative songs in the world.

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