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Black History Month, day 13

Our country’s biggest contributions to world music are jazz, blues, rock and roll, and hip hop. All four arose largely–in the case of jazz, blues, and hip hop, almost exclusively–from the African-American community. Thanks, black America, for putting my country on the musical map. I especially thank you for funk, too, though I don’t think I can make the case that it has had quite the influence of jazz.

So I don’t think there’s been a decade of US history that was not characterized by black music that would change the musical world. Still, the 20s and 30s were extraordinary. I wrote about some art and poetry of the Harlem Renaissance yesterday and the day before. Another star of the Harlem Renaissance was Duke Ellington, whose music I won’t try to describe; “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” at least when I try it.  Ellington himself advised “You’ve got to find a way of saying it without saying it” (great advice for an artist in any medium), so let’s just let the music speak for itself. If you have an Ellington recording in the house, won’t you go put it on and soak up some of your heritage as a world citizen? And if you don’t, here are a few great recordings: Ellington himself playing “In a Sentimental Mood” with John Coltrane:

Or if you like your jazz tamer, and/or like to hear the words, here’s Ella Fitzgerald a few years earlier:

My favorite rendition is when my wife plays it, but I’m sentimental that way.

Another Ellington classic, played by Ellington:

And here, sung by Billie Holiday:

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