Duke Ellington's ten-man group of 1927-32 was billed for a time as the Jungle Band, a title in keeping with the Southern plantation/Afro-Deco interior and exotic-erotic floor shows of the Cotton Club, the grandest Harlem venue (it seated more than six hundred), where Ellington performed, before whites only, for the five years from 1927, and in the spring seasons of 1933, 1937 and 1938. The fact of racial segregation is musically important since it draws attention to the collective expectations and putative Caucasian needs of a specific audience. A two-part 1929 record, A Night at the Cotton Club, simulates a club performance, replete with applause and an overbearing announcer, who salutes Ellington for creating 'a real Hades in Harlem'. Although Ellington recorded simultaneously for several companies, using different pseudonyms, 'Jungle Band' and 'jungle style' have rightly survived as generic labels for the records that established his reputation, starting with such memorable early pieces as 'Black and Tan Fantasy', 'East St Louis Toodle-oo', 'Creole Love Call', 'Jubilee Stomp', 'The Mooche' and 'Hot and Bothered', all from 1927-28, before Ellington was thirty.
LRB 5 September 2002 | PDF Download