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About this Piece

GERSHWIN  “I Got Rhythm”
ARLEN & KOEHLER  “Stormy Weather”
DONALDSON  “My Baby Just Cares for Me”
GERSHWIN “Someone to Watch Over Me”
ELLINGTON  “Don’t Mean a Thing”

Even more than the piano, the jazz orchestra was Duke Ellington’s primary instrument, and he showed himself to be a master of color, texture, and timbral effect. Most of his songs started as instrumental compositions, with lyrics being added later. Ellington and his contemporary George Gershwin both contributed standards to what became known as the Great American Songbook, and they paid close attention to each other’s work. Gershwin frequented the Cotton Club where Ellington and his band performed in the 1920s, and Gershwin biographer Howard Pollack suggests that Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” influenced An American in Paris. But where Ellington approached his songs as instrumental jazz first, Gershwin’s songs show the Tin Pan Alley tradition, or in the case of selections from Porgy and Bess, a modified European opera aesthetic. —Ricky O’Bannon