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Jump for Joy: When Chicago Met the Duke

Duke Ellington's 1941 musical Jump for Joy was a cultural milestone, an assertive, satirical riposte to the servile depictions of African-Americans.

Ellington 1970sDuke Ellington’s 1941 musical Jump for Joy was a cultural milestone, an assertive, satirical riposte to the servile depictions of African-Americans in both film and the theater, and a forerunner of later extended Ellington works such as Black, Brown and Beige. Though the show ran only in Los Angeles and never made Broadway, Ellington cited it as one of his proudest achievements, and in his lifetime it occasionally resurfaced in one way or another (Cannonball Adderley’s late-1950s album is one example). Another example, one I recently came across on YouTube, features the popular pop-rock band Chicago tearing it up on the musical’s title track in the early 1970s.

Chicago VIThe performance comes from Chicago’s appearance on Ellington’s 1973 TV special Duke Ellington: We Love You Madly. More than 20 years later, the band returned to its jazz-influenced roots with the album Night and Day, in part because of that TV appearance:

The association with Ellington helped convince band members to try the project, since it seemed to pay back a musical debt to the Duke. Back in the early ’70′s, Ellington had asked to have Chicago appear on his TV special, Duke Ellington: We Love You Madly, along with such august company as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, and Count Basie. After the show, Parazaider and Pankow went to meet Ellington, who was near the end of his illustrious career. “I said, “Mr. Ellington, it really was an honor to be asked to be on your show,” Parazaider recalls, “and he looked at Jimmy and me, and he said, ‘On the contrary young men, the honor is all mine because you’re the next Duke Ellingtons.’ Jimmy and I were gassed to meet him and that he said that. We were going away, and I said, ‘Yeah, right, now if we can make another hit record to pay the rent we’ll be happy,’ not thinking about the long haul. When the idea for the big band album presented itself, at first it got a lukewarm reaction by the band. Then Jimmy and I remembered this, and I thought, maybe this is what we were supposed to do in the scheme of our musical life. So, that was one of the reasons that we warmed up to the idea of it.”

Here’s the video, including a brief but enthusiastic solo by the late guitarist Terry Kath:

Sure beats “You’re the Inspiration,” eh? Here’s the Ellington band performing the same song in 1965, with Ray Nance taking the vocal honors:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7S4oUliCn0

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Chuck Lyons

    Thank you for this synopsis. I have heard the story many times and once even ask Walt Parazaider about it…what a treat!

    Does anyone have a video of the complete special? I have not been able to find one anywhere?

    Thanks!!!

  • Chuck Lyons

    Thank you for this synopsis. I have heard the story many times and once even ask Walt Parazaider about it…what a treat!

    Does anyone have a video of the complete special? I have not been able to find one anywhere?

    Thanks!!!

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