Tag Archives: irving mills

Duke Ellington

Artist: Duke Ellington
Tune: It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing

When we turn on the radio today many of us don’t see a connection to Duke Ellington. In my opinion Duke Ellington put the “pop” in popular music. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and even into the early 1960s, Duke Ellington was a force.

From YouTube

Duke Ellington and his orchestra playing this awesome tune in 1943.

“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is a 1931 composition by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Irving Mills, now accepted as a jazz standard. The music was written and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during intermissions at Chicago’s Lincoln Tavern and was first recorded by Ellington and his orchestra for Brunswick Records (Br 6265) on February 2, 1932. Ivie Anderson sang the vocal and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the instrumental solos. The title was based on the oft stated credo of Ellington’s former trumpeter Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, “as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time.” Probably the first song to use the phrase “swing” in the title, it introduced the term into everyday language and presaged the Swing Era by three years. The Ellington band played the song continuously over the years and recorded it numerous times, most often with trumpeter Ray Nance as vocalist.