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Chapter 1

"Blue Light"


Ellington plays the piano but his real instrument is his band. Each member of his band is to him a distinctive tone color and set of emotions which he mixes with others equally distinctive to produce a third thing which I like to call the Ellington Effect.

--Billy Strayhorn

In modern orchestration clarity and definition of sonorous image are usually the goal. There exists, however, another kind of orchestral magic dependent on a certain ambiguity of effect. Not to be able to identify immediately how a particular color combination is arrived at adds to its attractiveness. I live to be intrigued by unusual sounds that force me to exclaim: Now I wonder how the composer does that?

--Aaron Copland

Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, "O yes, that's done like this." But Duke merely lifts a finger, three horns make a sound, and I don't know what it is.

--Andre Previn

One thing that I learned from Ellington is that you can make the group you play with sing if you realize each of the instruments has a distinctive personality; and you can bring out the singing aspect of that personality if you use the right timbre for the instruments.

--Cecil Taylor

Now if it is possible to create patterns out of tone colors that are differentiated according to pitch, patterns we call melodies ... then it must also be possible to create such progressions out of the tone colors of the other dimension, out of that which we call simply "tone color."

--Arnold Schoenberg

Hear with your eyes and see with your ears.

--Charlie Parker


Duke Ellington, born on April 29, 1899, could easily have become a painter rather than a musician. Though he began piano studies, with Marietta Clinkscales, when he was seven, he later recalled that "all through grade school, I had a genuine interest in drawing and painting, and I realized I had a sort of talent for them." In 1963 he even helped paint the sets for My People, a multimedia theater piece marking the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Ellington called many of his compositions "tone parallels" or "portraits"; his music linked sounds and images. Coloristic titles located the music on a chromatic spectrum: azure, magenta, turquoise, indigo, black, sepia, beige, and tan. Ellington's palette of many colors signified: blue of whatever shade referred to the musical form, expressive vocabulary, and social function of the blues; the gradations leading from tan to black announced the central subject of his creative work, the history, experience, and culture of African Americans. Just consider this panchromatic catalogue of Ellington titles:




Black and Tan Fantasy

Black Beauty

Black, Brown and Beige

Black Butterfly

Blue Belles of Harlem

Blue Bubbles

Blue Cellophane

Blue Goose

Blue Harlem

Blue Light

Blue Pepper

Blue Ramble

Blue Serge



Brown Betty

Brown Skin Gal

Café au lait

Creamy Brown

Crescendo in Blue

Diminuendo in Blue

Ebony Rhapsody

The Gold Broom and the Green Apple

Golden Cress

Golden Feather

Lady in Blue

Lady of the Lavender Mist

Magenta Haze

Midnight Indigo

Mood Indigo

Moon Mist

Multicolored Blue

On a Turquoise Cloud

Purple Gazelle

Sepia Panorama



Violet Blue

Ellington's gift for translating visual colors into tone colors set his music apart early on. By the time the Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra recorded "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" on November 29, 1926, the better-known bands of Paul Whiteman and Fletcher Henderson had already configured the standard sound of large ensemble jazz. In 1925 the Whiteman band had twenty-six players: six violins, two violas, two cellos (including the young William Schuman), string bass, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, four saxes, banjo, guitar, drums and piano-no wonder they called this style of jazz "symphonic." For its highly influential 1926 recording of "The Stampede" the Henderson band had eleven players: one trumpet, two cornets, one trombone, tuba, three saxes (all doubling clarinet), banjo, drums, and piano. Despite the difference in size, both Whiteman and Henderson configured their bands in instrumental choirs (reeds, brass, and, for Whiteman, strings), a method codified as early as 1924 in Arthur Lange's Arranging for the Modern Dance Orchestra. Classical composers had similarly deployed the orchestra in terms of instrumental choirs, winds, brass, and strings, the better to synchronize articulations and intonation. Hybrid sonorities, mixing instrumental families, can sound muddy if they are not well rehearsed. Or they can sound magical.

Although Ellington's early "orchestra" was smaller than Henderson's by just one trumpet, this slight difference meant that the Ellington band really had only one full section, the reeds. Instead of playing choir against choir and hot soloists against sidemen, Ellington treated every member of the band as a soloist and blended the sounds of different instruments and players.

The contrast of Bubber Miley's muted, growling trumpet and the smoldering accompaniment in the baritone sax and tuba, blue against black, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" put Ellington's distinctive approach to timbre on the map. By the time of its third recording, on December 19, 1927, the interplay of Miley, Harry Carney (baritone sax), Joe Nanton (muted trombone), and Rudy Jackson (growling low clarinet) formed a terse study in shades of brown that matched Miley's visual parallel for the piece: "This is an old man, tired from working in the field since sunup, coming up the road in the sunset on his way home to dinner. He's tired but strong, and humming in time with his broken gait." Fine-tuning the color balance as the piece evolved, Ellington abridged the statements of a contrasting theme (reminiscent of A. J. Piron's song "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate") in this third recorded version. Foreshortened and refocused, the conventional "sweet" coloring now set the gritty darkness of the rest of the composition in starker relief. Ellington was composing in colors-like Matisse.

Though he may have used the band as his palette, timbre for Ellington was neither abstract nor dehumanizing. Colors were also human voices. Ellington hired players with idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable playing styles, and composed parts for specific players rather than instruments. The musicians of the band formed a spectrum of strongly characterized timbre styles: Miley's aggressively rough sound contrasted with Arthur Whetsol's almost humming introversion; the liquid croon of Johnny Hodges's alto played against the rude honk of Harry Carney's baritone. Within a few years the trombone section of Nanton, Lawrence Brown, and Juan Tizol produced three completely different timbres: raspy, smooth, Latin.

Early on Ellington saw that the new mechanisms for amplification and recording could enhance coloristic explorations. Long before the advent of recording "production," let alone of electronic music, Ellington revealed his genius for technologically enabled sound synthesis in "Mood Indigo," first recorded on October 17, 1930, but written especially for the "microphonic transmission" of a radio broadcast. In a radio interview in 1962 Ellington recalled the radical role played by the microphone as a lucky accident: "When we made 'Black and Tan Fantasy' ... [we used] the plunger mute in the trumpet and in the trombone in that duet and always got a 'mike' sound.... They hadn't conquered this yet, and they messed up a lot of masters because every time they'd get the mike they'd throw it out." For the recording session of "Mood Indigo" in 1930 "the aim was to employ these instruments in such a way, at such a distance, that the mike tone would set itself in definite pitch-so that it wouldn't spoil the recording. Lucky again, it happened."

To signify the deepest "blue" in "Mood Indigo" Ellington scored the opening melody in a choralelike texture for three players: Whetsol (trumpet), Barney Bigard (clarinet) and Nanton (muted trombone). He painted his mood with the three instrumental colors found in New Orleans jazz but arranged them counterintuitively with the trumpet on top, the trombone a third below it, in its highest register, and the clarinet an octave and a fourth lower than the trombone, an acoustic gap labeled an "error" in the conservatories that Ellington, fortunately, never attended. The apparently upside-down scoring demonstrates Ellington's astute command of the acoustical properties of each instrument and of the individual styles of each performer, the haunting, hollow quality Bigard brought to the clarinet's low register, Whetsol's plaintive lyricism, Nanton's insidiously sliding speechlike inflections. It shows his prophetic instinct for technology as well: together the three sounds blend into a whisper that would be undetectable without amplification. No wonder that Billy Strayhorn dubbed such timbral magic "the Ellington effect."

"Blue Light"

A slow, intimate blues recorded in 1938, "Blue Light" demonstrates how Ellington used tone color to shape mood and form. From its first meditative, bell-like chords on the piano, it suggests the indigo atmosphere of the last set in some nearly deserted nightclub; just one couple remains on the dance floor, perhaps with nowhere else to go, clinging to each other in the blue-tinted, smoke-filled air. "Blue Light" is that rare kind of music that evokes a specific time of day, temperature, and atmospheric condition. "The most neglected and least known of Ellington's masterpieces," "Blue Light" was recorded twice on December 22, 1938, by an eight-man subgroup of the Ellington Orchestra: Bigard, clarinet; Carney, clarinet (?); Wallace Jones, trumpet (?); Brown, trombone; Fred Guy, guitar; Billy Taylor, bass; Sonny Greer, drums; and Ellington, piano. Here's an outline of the form:

Intro: Piano solo four bars.

Chorus 1: twelve-bar blues. Clarinet solo with piano fills.

Chorus 2: twelve-bar blues. Trio for muted trumpet, muted trombone, and clarinet with piano fills.

Chorus 3: twelve-bar blues. Trombone solo with reed accompaniment. (Trombone melody composed by Lawrence Brown.)

Chorus 4: Piano solo.

Borrowing Schoenberg's term, we might term "Blue Light" a klangfarbenmelodie blues, a formal expansion of the color synthesis of "Mood Indigo." Each chorus presents a different kind of blue: the smoky middle range of Bigard's clarinet, the "indigo" scoring of the trio, the vibrato-rich warmth of Brown's trombone (set in relief by a low reed trio in the background), and Ellington's restrained pianism (with a brief homage, to my ear, to Earl Hines). Each timbre evokes a different aspect of the blues. Ellington's brief intro sounds urbane and modernistic; his first chord replicates exactly (if not intentionally) the opening harmony of Berg's Piano Sonata op. 1. Bigard's solo, by contrast, is roots music, straight out of New Orleans and Sidney Bechet. The trio, more muted and rhythmically steady, choralelike, than in "Mood Indigo," also has the ghostly gaslight sonority Ellington had used in his "Mystery Song" in 1931. Brown's solo, by contrast, feels fully embodied, like a warm embrace. In 1933 Spike Hughes had complained that Brown's sophisticated sound was out of place in "Duke's essentially direct and simple music," thereby underestimating both musicians, but Brown's lyricism here illustrates how Ellington could paint a jazz panorama (from Bechet to Tommy Dorsey) even within such a small framework. Ellington's closing solo chorus begins with the dissonant major-minor chord he habitually used to signify "the blues," momentarily muses on a fragment from Earl Hines's solo in "West End Blues," then turns out the lights.

"Blue Light" as Blues

A meticulously balanced tone-color composition, "Blue Light" is also a blues, although not in a way that devotees of, say, B. B. King might recognize. The term "blues" itself appears in bewilderingly various ways; it is used narrowly, to denote a chord progression, or grandly, as in Albert Murray's Stomping the Blues, to characterize an entire culture. Historically, the blues emerged after the Civil War from the sorrow songs of the antebellum period. As much a poetic as a musical genre, it has its own verse form, syntax, vocabulary, imagery, and subject matter:

When a woman gets the blues she hangs her head and cries,

When a woman gets the blues she hangs her head and cries,

But when a man gets the blues, he grabs a train and flies.

We can parse this blues stanza as follows:

Form: a thought stated, repeated, completed (surprisingly)

Syntax: lines broken midway by a caesura, and at the end by a comma; these breaks usually filled with a guitar response

Imagery: Love, tears, the railway

Subject: Suffering and escape from suffering

Most recorded blues consist of five or six stanzas that tell a story, though usually more as a sequence of images rather than a linear narrative. Jazz musicians refer to these stanza structures as choruses.

Often blind or lame, and so excluded from manual labor, early blues performers, or "blues men," sang to their own guitar accompaniment. At once outsiders and shamanic representatives of the community, they sang about themselves, and about everyone. Within African American culture the blues formed part of a larger musical landscape that included work songs, religious songs, and ragtime. These genres denoted class and region, the sacred and profane. Until around 1900 the blues was heard only in the Deep South, and in Mississippi and Louisiana in particular. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Ellington did not hear the blues until he encountered Sidney Bechet: "I shall never forget the first time I heard him play, at the Howard Theatre in Washington around 1921. I had never heard anything like it. It was a completely new sound."

Some jazz musicians, like Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, were born into the blues environment, while others, like Ellington and Coleman Hawkins, had to acquire the idiom consciously. The ease with which blues traveled and the very possibility that musicians from widely different backgrounds could master it suggests that blues was just part of a more widespread African American musical inheritance, and also that it was a transportable, itinerant music built for travel, whether on a train, or through the media of radio and recording. It was a kind of music that was everywhere, if you knew where to listen. As Ellington wrote, "I went on studying, of course, but I could also hear people whistling, and I got all the Negro music that way. You can't learn that in any school."

The blues, stylized verse in song, is both a poetic idiom and a distinctive musical sound. Blues singing, as ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon observed, employed a particular kind of vocal production: "The tone quality of early downhome blues singing largely resulted from the way the singer enunciated his words. Singing with an open throat, he relaxed his lips and mouth and kept his tongue loose, low, and toward the back of his mouth. This position favored certain kinds of vowels and consonants and made it somewhat difficult to produce others." Titon noted that blues singers employ nasal, rasping sounds not used in their ordinary speaking voices, effects that can be traced to the "heterogeneous sound ideal" or "timbral mosaic" of African music. In the blues, speech and song mix; in instrumental blues, the instrument always has a vocal quality: "the nasal, foggy, hoarse texture that delivered the elisions, hums, growls, blue notes and falsetto, and the percussive oral effects of their ancestors." In his classic study Stomping the Blues Albert Murray uses the terms blues and jazz interchangeably, but the blues encompasses many musical idioms beyond the usual boundaries of jazz. Buddy Bolden, often cited as the musician who brought the streams of ragtime and blues together, as well as the secular and the sacred, and the spoken and sung elements in African American music, played "with a moan in his cornet that went all through you, just like you were in church or something ... made a spiritual feeling go through you. He had a cup, a special cup, that made that cornet moan like a Baptist preacher." Bolden's playing also took its timbre from the streets, from the sounds of itinerant ragmen playing long tin horns, party instruments that produced blues sounds later imitated on the trumpet. The translation of blues from voice to instrument therefore was not an artistic elevation of a folk form into an art genre, but rather a complex process of interweaving many oral and aural traditions to pass on a body of experience and wisdom-folk songs without words.

Within the realm of jazz the blues retains its poetic and timbral character, but it also serves as the basis of instrumental improvisation. When jazz musicians play the blues, they conceptualize the form in terms of a twelve-bar phrase structure, or "chorus," divided into three four-bar phrases, following the stanza form. They create melodic lines using the pitches of a "blues scale," which is usually understood to include major and minor versions of the third, seventh, and sometimes fifth degrees of the scale, and they follow a standard harmonic pattern, such as (one chord per measure):




Because all blues restate the same harmonic and poetic patterns over and over again, they are all genetically related, though perhaps at different removes. These degrees of separation might be termed stylizations; we might, accordingly, listen to "Blue Light" the way we hear Chopin's mazurkas. But that would extract them from the intertextual continuum of their own culture, in which, as we have seen, different genres mingled easily. To see how "Blue Light" dialogues with other kinds of blues we can listen to it alongside a vocal blues recorded by Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie, and an instrumental blues by Sidney Bechet.

Though Ellington's band never included a real blues singer like Basie's Jimmy Rushing (as we will see, Ellington often preferred more classical-sounding singers), it is still instructive to compare "Blue Light" to "Blues in the Dark," an equally atmospheric number recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra with Rushing in January 1938. Around that time, the influential jazz critic and promoter John Hammond championed Basie's blues-based jazz against what he perceived as Ellington's betrayal of the idiom: Ellington, Hammond wrote in 1943, "has introduced complex harmonies solely for effect and has experimented with material farther and farther away from dance music." Ellington and Basie knew better, and these two examples of the blues reveal similar elements. The similarities, though, are surprising. Rushing's "hot" voice sounds like Brown's "sweet" trombone: they both seem to rise out of the soil like a mighty oak. By contrast, Bigard's clarinet and Buck Clayton's muted trumpet dart and spin like a pair of dragonflies. The lyrics Rushing sings might provide a subtext for "Blue Light":

Kind treatment make me love you, be mean and you'll drive me away.

Kind treatment make me love you, be mean and you'll drive me away.

You gonna long for me baby, one of these long rainy days.


Did you ever dream lucky baby, and wake up cold in hand?

Did you ever dream lucky baby, and wake up cold in hand?

You didn't have a dollar, somebody had your woman.

Basie frames three choruses of blues in E♭ (two for Rushing, one for Basie) with a c minor blues in growling "jungle" style recalling Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." The two pieces and the two titled bandleaders seem to be conversing; listening to them side by side reveals that the blues is a form of dialogue both internally and intertextually. Basie's southwestern country style and Ellington's urbane Harlem idiom are dialects of the same language.

We can also hear "Blue Light" as a conversation with Sidney Bechet; Ellington called Bechet the "epitome of jazz," and both Barney Bigard and Johnny Hodges were Bechet disciples. Bechet's "Blue Horizon," which received canonic status on the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, perfectly illustrates the central role that tone color plays in shaping blues as dialogue, even within an instrumental solo. Bechet recorded "Blue Horizon" in December 1944 with a quintet of distinguished New Orleans musicians: Wilbur de Paris, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Manzie Johnson, drums; Pops Foster, bass; and Art Hodes, piano. Although his preferred instrument was the soprano sax, Bechet played clarinet here, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he constructed an entire piece out of the particular timbral qualities of the clarinet, much as Stravinsky had done in 1920 in his Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, written either after hearing Bechet play (possible but not certain) or after reading his friend Ernest Ansermet's ecstatic praise of Bechet as "the first of his race to have composed perfectly formed blues." In constructing "Blue Horizon," a six-chorus blues in E♭, which uses only the pitches of an E♭ blues scale (E♭ major plus a lowered third, G♭, and a lowered seventh, D♭), Bechet contrasted the three distinct registers of the clarinet. He spread an extended melodic line over a range of three octaves (from the E♭ below middle C to the E♭ two octaves and a third above middle C). The low (called "chalumeau"), middle, and upper (clarion) ranges of the clarinet sound almost like different instruments. Bechet placed each chorus within one or two of these ranges:

Chorus 1: chalumeau

Chorus 2: middle register

Chorus 3 chalumeau

Chorus 4: middle and chalumeau in call-and-response

Chorus 5: middle

Chorus 6: clarion

In each chorus Bechet returned to the low chalumeau register for the third phrase, which serves as a refrain, unifying the piece but also bringing it back home to the timbre that is closest to speech. We might say that "Blue Horizon" is a klangfarbenmelodie for a single instrument, but its timbres differ from the classical clarinet sound, and that difference points to the particular way tone color functions in the blues. Bechet's clarinet does not sound like anyone else's. In the blues idiom the individual player's sound is far more important than an idealized notion of how an instrument should sound. Bechet's sound has a distinctive wide vibrato, but that is just one of its special sonorities. Bechet's lower register for instance, does not have the hollow, disembodied quality produced by classical clarinetists; it is a full, fat sound, almost like a trombone. Similarly the middle range is sweet, not pallid; the clarion register is trumpetlike, not shrill. Bechet also colored his sound with three ornaments, a slow downward slide, a more than usually pronounced vibrato, and a "blues" inflection, a flattening and bending of pitch that he reserves for the pitch G♭. Each of these ornaments points to what we might term a "blues sound ideal" of varying the color within a note rather than sustaining a single timbre all the way through. In the blues the timbre changes as much within one note as from one note to the next; every tone sounds unpredictably alive.

Both polyvocal and polytimbral, Bechet's clarinet portrays a community of voices speaking and singing that are linked by a refrain that pulls their differences back to a common source. In "Blue Light" Ellington's piano plays a very similar function, responding, completing, and summarizing the other instruments. Both pieces seem formally self-contained yet open-ended. Blues stanzas roll on in an endless narrative; individual blues performances or compositions take up a story that has already begun and then pass it along to the next speaker.

Theme and Variations: A Blues Gallery

Ellington reworked "Blue Light" over a decade, creating a variegated gallery of related nocturnes: "Subtle Lament," "Dusk," "Transblucency," and "On a Turquoise Cloud." Like Monet's series of haystack paintings, these works bathe identical subjects in changing light; heard back-to-back they might be termed "blues-as-process." They demonstrate how small changes in instrumental combinations or in their ordering can transform musical signification. They also reveal the range of Ellington's creative process, from informal on-the-spot improvisation to contrapuntal construction. Rex Stewart wrote that Ellington might arrive at a recording session, listen to a run-through, and then call for changes, "perhaps starting with bar sixteen, playing eight bars, then back to letter C, and when we got to letter E he'd call a halt. Then he'd sit at the piano and play something, have a consultation with Tom Whaley [the band's copyist], and some new music would be scored on the spot." Ellington's sketches, preserved at the Smithsonian, show that the music was usually written out in detail before such impromptu reshuffling.

"Subtle Lament," a moderate blues in G recorded on March 20, 1939, and again in the fall of 1940, sounds at first like an informal rearrangement of "Blue Light" with the "Mood Indigo" chorus placed right after a new piano and bass intro and rescored for four reed instruments. Following is a call-and-response chorus for piano (using material similar to the intro to "Blue Light") and trombone trio, a solo chorus for Rex Stewart (cornet using half-valve muting) over a low reed background in place of Lawrence Brown's chorus but without his melody, a chorus for trombone trio, a chorus by Barney Bigard with brass and reed accompaniment, and a four-bar restatement of the "Mood Indigo" section as outro. Moving the furniture around, however, Ellington altered the structure and timbre. The "Mood Indigo" chorale now became the binding element. It appears three times: at the beginning and end, but also as a background to the Stewart and Bigard solos. As it increases in thematic importance, however, the chorale also sheds its mysterious coloration; it is now played within a single instrumental choir, not as a hybrid color. Ellington compensated for this loss by introducing a new timbral contrast of low trombone trio against the high reeds. The three trombones become the mysterious element through the blend of their sounds (Brown, Nanton, and Tizol had sharply contrasting styles of playing) and also through their unexpected Debussyan harmonies.

Heard as a nocturne, "Subtle Lament" seems to depict midnight rather than the 3 A.M. of "Blue Light." On May 28, 1940, moving the clock and the quality of light back by several hours, Ellington recorded "Dusk," a considerable reworking of the elements in those two predecessors and of their template, "Mood Indigo." Like "Mood Indigo," "Dusk" is in B♭ and has a sixteen-bar AABA phrase structure that nevertheless sounds like a twelve-bar blues. It begins with a piano and bass intro very similar to "Subtle Lament." The first chorus is a chromatic melody scored in the "Mood Indigo" voicing, with muted trumpet and muted trombone in thirds, with a clarinet an octave and a half below, and, like "Indigo," with a ripe late romantic altered dominant ninth as its second chord. As in "Subtle Lament," Rex Stewart has a solo chorus, and in the third chorus the low trombone trio counters the high reed choir, but here the reeds sound like a tree full of birds chirping at sunset. The timbral heart of "Dusk," the last phrase of the third chorus, however, is new and also carefully composed for the entire band. Here Ellington blended five reeds and six muted brass in darkly dissonant harmonies that nevertheless produce a luminous tone color. This example of the "Ellington effect" has inspired superlatives ever since it appeared: "I know of no other work for jazz orchestra that conveys such an impression of tranquility on the verge of tears."

Ellington, however, had even more changes to ring on his nocturnal theme in general, and on "Blue Light" in particular. On January 4, 1946, he premiered "Transblucency" (a.k.a. "Transbluency," a.k.a. "A Blue Fog That You Can Almost See Through") at Carnegie Hall. Essentially, "Transblucency" is an overt variant of "Blue Light," significantly transposed upward from G to B♭. Here, though, nonchalant improvisation evolved into a classical-sounding, contrapuntally strict composition. Ellington signaled the classical turn by rescoring the "Mood Indigo" trio, replacing the trumpet with a wordless soprano (Kay Davis). Davis's vocal purity would suit Rachmaninoff's famous "Vocalise." The second chorus brings back Lawrence Brown's tune, even creamier and croonier than it was in "Blue Light" thanks to the upward transposition. Here, though, Ellington gives Brown's melody a Bach-like treatment. It serves as the cantus firmus for two choruses, the first a duet for soprano and clarinet (Jimmy Hamilton, whose classical tone blends perfectly with Davis's voice), the soprano intoning the cantus, the clarinet playing a new counterpoint; and the second with the cantus in the low reeds and brass with the soprano singing a new counterpoint. Sketches preserved in the Ellington Archive show how carefully Ellington planned the contrapuntal devices. Ellington's slightly frantic piano intro and outro have an impromptu air that contrasts tellingly with the work's contrapuntal and coloristic logic.

"On a Turquoise Cloud," premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 27, 1947, might be termed an encore for "Transblucency." It uses all the same elements (adding the color of the bass clarinet), but now they are employed in a delightfully informal fashion, transposed down to a mellow D♭, yet built on a new color, the floating timbre of Kay Davis's high A♭s (and singular high B♭). No longer a blues, somewhere between a pop tune and an opera aria, it is a siren song. The only further steps Ellington would make in this direction move upward to celestial realms: Mahalia Jackson's wordless humming after "The Twenty-Third Psalm" and Alice Babs's coloratura in "Heaven."

"Ko-Ko": The Color Black

Shades of blue make up one half of Ellington's color spectrum; variants of black, from café au lait to ebony, form their complement. The breathy but warm sound of the New Orleans clarinet, with Bechet as the foundation amplified by Bigard and Hodges, signified blue. The dark growl of Miley's trumpet, Nanton's trombone, and Carney's baritone sax, all derived from the sound of Joe Oliver's cornet, connoted black. Ellington uses both blue and black timbres in music that belongs, in form and gesture, to the genre of the blues, though often the black pieces state the blues harmonic progression in the minor mode. Ellington's noir style (branded-some say by George Gershwin-as "Jungle Music" at the Cotton Club) portrayed characters who are more African than American, representing the resilience and strength that existed before slavery and that survived beyond it. The black-to-tan spectrum also represented two momentous events in the African American experience, the traumatic Middle Passage from Africa to America and the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North. Ellington sounded this theme in the 1920s with "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" and "Black and Tan Fantasy," in the '30s with "The Saddest Tale," "Echoes of Harlem" and "Menilek," and in the '50s with "Such Sweet Thunder." Throughout his career he referred to an operatic presentation of the theme, called Boola, "which tells the story of the Negro in America." In 1941 Ellington told Almena Davis, an interviewer for a black newspaper, the California Eagle, that he had "practically finished a full-length opera based on the history of the American Negro, and is readying a synopsis of it to submit to a prospective producer." The opera never appeared, but, according to Barry Ulanov, Ellington drew two of his most important works of the 1940s, "Ko-Ko" and Black, Brown and Beige, from the operatic sketches. Both works reflect Ellington's political engagement, which reached a peak of militancy in the early 1940s, when the United States entered a war against racism without addressing racism on the home front. Because of its scale and ambition, Black, Brown and Beige will receive its own chapter, but here "Ko-Ko" can exemplify the color black, with all its resonances, very well on its own.

Ellington recorded "Ko-Ko" for the first time on March 6, 1940, at the first Victor recording session of what has come to be known as the Blanton-Webster Band because of the revivifying arrivals of Jimmy Blanton on bass and Ben Webster on tenor sax. The session also produced "Jack the Bear" and "Morning Glory."

In form, "Ko-Ko" is eight blues choruses in e♭ minor (the blackest possible key, at the furthest remove from the white harmony of C major) preceded by an eight-bar intro. Each chorus is in call-and-response format:

Intro. Baritone sax (Carney) answered by trombones (eight bars)

1. Bass trombone (Tizol) answered by saxes

2. Saxes answered by plunger-muted trombone (Nanton) assisted by muted brass

3. Same as 2 but with higher-pitched trombone responses

4. Saxes answered by muted brass and piano

5. Trumpets answered by saxes and trombones

6. Brass answered by solo bass

7. Shout chorus; brass (and clarinet) answered by saxes

8. Eight bars same as chorus 1; four-bar coda

Almost every chorus begins with the Beethovenian rhythmic figure

{n1/8} {n1/8} {n1/8} {n1/4}.

This motive is pounded out first on the tom-toms, then intoned by the baritone sax; in the first chorus it becomes a four-note melodic figure in the valve trombone. It provides the rhythm for the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone calls in choruses three through six. Thematic urgency mirrors the massive, dense coloration of the score. Except for the piano, the only solo voices heard are dark and deep: tom-tom, baritone sax, bass trombone, muted trombone, string bass. Higher-pitched colors appear as doubled melodies or as chords that become increasingly dissonant sounding as the piece progresses, reaching a peak with the first chord of the shout chorus, an E♭ minor eleventh chord made up of all the black notes on the piano. Even at the beginning, though, the parallel triads in the trombones have a modernistic sting, an aspect of the piece pushed further in the jabbing chords and wailing whole-tone scales of the piano.

While "Blue Light" emphasized the contrasting timbres of individual players, "Ko-Ko" draws its color from massed instrumental groupings. It treats saxes, trumpets, and trombones as if each section were a single voice and gradually fuses these three elements together in the sixth chorus with three increasingly dissonant fanfarelike chords. In the technical terms of the European tradition, Ellington scored "Ko-Ko" in a tutti style, exploiting the massed timbral possibilities of the entire ensemble. This approach to the orchestra, like the rhythmic motto, reminds the listener of the heroic side of Beethoven, the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies. To continue the Beethoven analogy, we might say that the sound of "Ko-Ko" is a Promethean theft, a defiant transfer of the image of heroism from white to black. Ellington composed "Ko-Ko" in 1939. Its heroic coloring anticipates some of the most important classical works of the war years that made similarly symbolic use of Beethoven's rhythms, in particular Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon (1942) and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements (1945). Precociously postcolonial with a vengeance, "Ko-Ko" reclaimed and rewrote the primitivism of early modern classical music and the tom-tom-grooved "jungle" numbers that white audiences demanded from black entertainers, using the most esteemed devices of European art music as emblems of African American integrity, pride, and power.

Ellington composed music with color in order to write a "colored" music; throughout his career he defined his artistic project as giving musical expression to the experience of African Americans. Although much of his music evolved in the dubious "plantation" atmosphere of the segregated Cotton Club, Ellington's painterly titles were not floor show gimmicks; they directed listeners to the music's timbal essence. He told one interviewer that his orchestra played "unadulterated American Negro music," not jazz or swing. Ellington was acutely conscious of art's responsibility to represent experience and of the inability of European forms of music and media to represent the particular experiences of his life. The forms of his music and the sounds of his orchestra presented an alternative system of representation based in sound, form, and social function on the blues. Altering a musical culture at a most basic level meant rewiring the way music was perceived and processed: Ellington's music asks us to see with our ears and hear with our eyes. This disruption of the habitual sensory pathways makes Ellington a "nationalist" in the way Bartók or Falla were, but it also makes him a quintessential modernist like Debussy and Schoenberg, who similarly sought to transform the experience of music by fusing sound and sight.

Segue: Afternoon of the Xylophone

A few notes of music, a tapping, a faint

hum: you girls, so warm and so silent,

dance the taste of the fruit you have known!

Dance the orange.

Rainer Maria Rilke

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles... .

Rimbaud, "Voyelles"

These days every shoemaker's apprentice can orchestrate to perfection.

Mahler to Alma on Puccini's Tosca

Firstly, hanging from the ceiling, were Smyrna carpets with complex patterns picked out on a red background. Then on all four sides were door-curtains from Kerman and Syria, striped with green, yellow and vermilion. Coarser door-curtains from Kiarbekir, rough to the touch like a shepherd's cloak; and still more carpets which could be used as hangings, long carpets from Isphahan, Tehran, and Kermanshah, the wider carpets of Shumaka or Madras, strange flowerings of peonies and palms where the imagination was let loose in the garden of dreams. On the floor, which was strewn with thick fleeces, there were more carpets: in the center, an Agra, an astonishing piece with a wide, soft, blue border against a white background, on which were exquisitely imagined patterns in a blueish violet. After that, wonders were displayed on all sides.... Here were Turkey, Arabia, Persia and India: palaces had been emptied, mosques and bazaars ransacked.... Visions of the East hovered beneath the extravagance of this savage art amid the strong scent that this ancient wool had kept from lands of sun and vermin.

Zola, Au bonheurs des dames

Between 1905 and 1910 the spectrum of European music shifted from somber Victorian mauve to riotous fauve. The mournful hues of Brahms and Bruckner gave way to the extravagant glitter of Ravel's Shéhérazade, Strauss's Salome, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Debussy's Ibéria, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, Stravinsky's Firebird. Shimmering orchestral effects, erotic subject matter, and exotic geographic settings mirrored looming issues of the fin de siècle: imperialism, orientalism, Decadence, Symbolism, the occult, the primitive, and what Elaine Showalter termed "sexual anarchy." More than a matter of "sound for sound's sake," the heightened intensity of timbre presaged changes in the way music represented ideas and feelings, changes, as well, in its social function.

These riotous new timbres heralded the musical onset of modernism (a.k.a. Symbolism or Decadence in fin de siècle parlance). Unlike romantic music, Symbolist music did not conjure up easily identifiable emotions. Instead it was evocative, evasive, even deliberately obscure. Treating human nature as an unfamiliar terrain, it placed the human subject (you and me) within a complex web of sensory associations. The self became an Other.

By mimicking, however superficially, non-European musical styles (Chinese, Japanese, or Balinese), composers undermined the assumption that the ideas and emotions represented in European music were universal categories. European music, like Zola's department store, had already begun to trade in exotic colors (think of Aida and Carmen) without the composers realizing how such appropriation might transform the appropriators. The xylophone, a rogue instrument with Asian/African origins, can help track the fin de siècle shift of timbre and its unforeseen consequences. Long before its first clattering appearance in European concert music, in Saint-Saëns's Danse macabre of 1874, the xylophone assumed the role of a menacing outsider. Originating in Southeast Asia and developed in Africa, it reached Europe in the fifteenth century: "The earliest pictorial evidence of the xylophone is found in a woodcut from the collection Totentanz [Dance of death, 1511] by Holbein the Younger, depicting Death carrying the instrument hanging from a shoulder strap." An alien, skeletal instrument played by itinerant musicians, the xylophone signified otherness; in the 1890s its dry, cackling tone propelled a broomstick-borne witch in Hansel and Gretel and gave a tinselly glitter to the countercultural street life of Montmartre in La Bohème.

Placed within the plush romantic orchestra, the alien xylophone sounded unvocal and immiscible. Its diabolical death rattle mocked the sound ideal of European music, the expressive voice. It did not breathe or vibrate, it just clonked. In the first decade of the twentieth century the xylophone became an emblem of the new as well as the Other. Its sound evoked states of being that were alternative geographically, racially, or psychologically. In Strauss's Salome it paced the frantic belly-shaking coda of the Dance of the Seven Veils; in Debussy's Ibéria, it initiated the sultry habanera of "les parfums de la nuit"; in Gigues it punctured the sound of a whining carousel like a throbbing migraine; and in Jeux it mocked middle-class morals with shockingly modern romance à trois. It etched its alien imprint on Mahler's Symphony no. 6 (danses macabres and hard-driven death marches), Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (evoking the Balinese gamelan) and Daphnis et Chloé (satyrs), Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16 (sinister premonitions), Berg's Altenberg Lieder, op. 4 (snow and, later, unmeasurable pain), and Stravinsky's Firebird (the infernal Kastchei) and Petrouchka (the fatal interracial fight between Petrouchka and the Moor).

In all these works the xylophone's harsh matter-of-factness eroded the aesthetic foundation of European music, which could be summed up in the word expression. Music was supposed to be a simple voicelike communication, speech turned into song. Heeding Wordsworth's notion that a poet was a "man speaking to men," nineteenth-century listeners imagined a symphony or concerto as a gendered lyrical utterance, a man singing to men. Composers emphasized instruments most reminiscent of the human (particularly the male) voice, including cello, horn, and clarinet, to make the entire orchestra sound like a magnified lyric baritone. Audience members felt that the music spoke to them directly in terms they immediately grasped, a condition I'll call "intersubjectivity." Assuming that the emotions expressed in the music, from the pathétique to the eroica, were universals, theorists and acousticians claimed that the devices for representing these emotions were not the conventions of a particular idiom or culture but sprang from the facts of physics and biology-an idea that remains surprisingly alive today.

The xylophone's antivoice drove the center of musical aesthetics away from human expression and toward tone color, whose relation to human consciousness was more mysterious than the familiar signals of feelings. Bypassing the ideal of expression, Debussy defined music as "colors and rhythmicized time." Schoenberg's "Farben" (Colors), the third of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, elevated tone color above melody, harmony, or rhythm. In his Harmonielehre of 1911 he predicted that the music of the future would make melodies not out of pitches but of colors: klangfarbenmelodie. A quarter of a century later, Ravel's Bolero, an epic klangfarbenmelodie, confirmed the triumph of timbre over expression-and quickly achieved worldwide popularity.

The development of recording further aided and abetted the new primacy of sound. Bolero, popular as it was in the concert hall, came into its own with the advent of hi-fi stereophonic recording technology. Although the pursuit of high fidelity seemed like a technological development, recording changed all aspects of musical culture. By allowing any kind of music to be played at home, it undermined the brick-and-mortar hierarchy that placed the highest forms of musical art in concert halls and opera houses, the lowest in bars and brothels. Recorded music, reproduced without recourse to notation, erased the distinction between calculated composition and spontaneous improvisation. Its technology also determined musical form; Ellington built his "three-minute masterpieces" to fill one side of a 78 rpm, just as Stravinsky composed the movements (one to a side) of his Serenade in A. Soon enough, the evolving capacities for sound storage and organization fed back on acoustical sound itself, so that live performances increasingly aspired to the sound and ambience of recordings. The art of orchestration now collaborated with the artistry of the recording engineer; classical and popular musicians alike would need to master both roles.

Kind of White: Pierrot Lunaire

Like Duke Ellington, Arnold Schoenberg was, at times, a painter as well as a composer. However, while Ellington's music merged aural and visual sensations effortlessly, in Schoenberg's music they collided explosively. The resulting music and paintings retain their power to disturb. Critics have treated them either as artistic breakthroughs toward a new representational system, or as medical data, the diaries of a mad musician, but choosing either one of these escape routes trivializes the music. Schoenberg's short-lived exaltation of musical color over melody and harmony, like Ellington's lifelong pursuit of the blues, sprang from a fundamental dissatisfaction with the framework of reality as it had come to be understood in European culture.

In 1905 Arnold Schoenberg struck up a fatal friendship with the painter Richard Gerstl at a Mahler concert in Vienna. Discussions with Gerstl soon led Schoenberg to try painting himself. In 1907 Gerstl moved in with Schoenberg's family and then ran off with Schoenberg's wife, Mathilde, mother of his two children and sister of his friend and teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky. When Mathilde returned to her husband, Gerstl committed suicide, on November 5, 1908. Even before Gerstl's death, Schoenberg's music was moving toward the "emancipation of the dissonance" that had been forecast, though not yet attained, in the final movement of his Second String Quartet (which he dedicated to Mathilde after the affair had ended). At the premiere, a month after the suicide, hostile members of the audience made catcalls and whistled into their house keys in protest, even though the quartet cadenced conventionally enough in F♯ major.

In the face of such vehement resistance to his music Schoenberg suddenly considered pursuing a career as a painter-a delusion perhaps born from a kind of Stockholm syndrome after the Gerstl affair. At the same time though he pushed the "emancipation of the dissonance" further in a series of increasingly radical compositions: Three Pieces for Piano, op. 11, The Book of the Hanging Gardens, op. 15 (song cycle), Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16 (the first piece entitled "Premonitions," the third, "Colors"), and the monodrama Erwartung, op. 17, all composed in 1908 and 1909.

After this creative explosion Schoenberg entered a dry spell. His sense of isolation had deepened with Mahler's departure from Vienna in 1907 and his death in 1911. He feared that even his staunchest supporters, his two students, Berg and Webern, were becoming rivals more than disciples. Ever resourceful, Schoenberg took advantage of his composer's block by completing his Harmonielehre (Theory of Harmony), mainly traditional save for speculative talk about constructing chords in fourths rather than thirds (which Schoenberg had already demonstrated in his Kammersinfonie, op. 9) and constructing melodies from tone colors rather than pitches, or klangfarbenmelodie. Schoenberg's compositional floodgates would reopen only after another momentous encounter with a painter, Wassily Kandinsky.

Kandinsky and other artists associated with the journal The Blue Rider attended an all-Schoenberg concert in Munich on January 2, 1911. Kandinsky commemorated the concert in his painting "Impression III (concert)," which evolved from a realistic doodle to an abstraction in which, as Fred Wassermann writes, "the piano has become a dominant mass of black (bisected by a white band), smashing up against and vibrating with the overwhelming intensity of the yellow that envelops most of the painting." The concert included the recent Second Quartet, op. 10 and Three Piano Pieces, op. 11. On January 18, Kandinsky wrote Schoenberg, whom he had never met, a letter with a portfolio of his works, proclaiming that "what we are striving for and our whole manner of thought and feeling have so much in common that I feel completely justified in expressing my empathy. Schoenberg responded on January 24 as if he had been thrown a lifeline:

I am sure that our work has much in common-and indeed in the most important respects: In what you call the unlogical and I call the "elimination of the conscious will in art." I also agree with what you write about the constructive element. Every formal procedure which aspires to traditional effects is not completely free from conscious motivation. But art belongs to the unconscious! One must express oneself! Express oneself directly! Not one's taste, or one's upbringing, or one's intelligence, knowledge or skill. Not all these acquired characteristics, but that which is inborn, instinctive.

Schoenberg and Kandinsky met in person in September 1911. Kandinsky had been planning to publish "an almanac that would present a synthesis of the arts by mixing the radical new work of an international group of modern artists and musicians with folk art, Asian art and 'primitive' art." Schoenberg contributed the essay "The Relationship to the Text" and the score of Herzgewächse, a setting of a symbolist poem by Maeterlinck for high soprano, celesta, harmonium, and harp for the publication. Four of his paintings appeared at the first Blue Rider exhibition in December 1911.

Herzgewächse, with its otherworldly, séance-style sonority and super-high F on the word mystisches was the first indication of Kandinsky's influence on Schoenberg. The composer had come to this new artistic alliance already steeped in the Viennese expressionism of Klimt and Kokoschka, and he was devoted to the notions of the instinctual basis of life found in the writings of Strindberg and especially Otto Weininger, the suicidal author of Sex and Character, to whose memory Schoenberg had originally dedicated his Harmonielehre.

As Carl Schorske chronicled, the fin de siècle Viennese vanguard saw their society as fundamentally deceptive. But what was the truth behind the false appearances? Schoenberg may have found an answer in Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The painter presented the composer with an inscribed copy of his book on December 9, 1911. Just before publication he had added these words: "Schoenberg's music leads us into a new realm, where musical experiences are no longer acoustic, but purely spiritual. Here begins the 'music of the future." A trained musician, Kandinsky also praised the compositions of Debussy and Scriabin.

Kandinsky's speculative theoretical writings could not be more different from Schoenberg's textbooklike Harmonielehre. In "The Relation to the Text," however, Schoenberg not only extolled Concerning the Spiritual in Art as a book he had read "with great joy," but he developed Kandinsky's distinction between appearances and reality: "The outward correspondence between music and text, as exhibited in declamation, tempo and dynamics, has but little to do with the inner correspondence, and belongs to the same stage of primitive nature as the copying of a model." Kandinsky's book presented three arguments. First he called for an art that would rise above "materialism," with its concern only for appearances and "shapeless emotions such as fear, joy grief, etc." The new art would express "lofty emotions beyond the reach of words" in pursuit of "the internal truth which only art can divine, which only art can express by those means of expression which are hers alone." Next he described a "spiritual revolution" using the figure of a triangle moving onward and upward. At the center of this argument he cited Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, a movement that approached "the problem of the spirit by way of the inner knowledge." Finally, Kandinsky discussed at length "the psychological working of color" as a way toward a fusion of the arts involving musical movement, pictorial movement, and physical movement. (Not surprisingly, Kandinsky's search for a Gesamtkunstwerk sprang from his experience of Wagner's Lohengrin.) Although, unlike Scriabin, he did not actually experience synesthesia, Kandinsky catalogued the effects of colors in terms of musical sounds:

A light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a thunderous double bass and the darkest blue of all-an organ.

... absolute green is represented by the placid, middle notes of the violin.

White ... has this harmony of silence, which works upon us negatively, like many pauses in music that break temporarily the melody.

In music black is represented by one of those profound and final pauses.... The silence of black is the silence of death.

Light warm red ... is a sound of trumpets, strong, harsh, and ringing.

Violet is ... an English horn, or the deep notes of wood instruments (e.g. the bassoon).

The purely spiritual was no vague region; psychic explorers from Swedenborg to Blavatsky had mapped it out in terms of numbers and colors. The Theosophical Society attached particular importance to the numbers three and seven; the society defined its mission in terms of three large aims and pictured the universe as seven bodies of spirit/matter.

During his brief but intense friendship with Kandinsky (which terminated with the outbreak of the First World War), Schoenberg applied occult ideas of the spirit to two major works, one, Die glückliche Hand (The Lucky Hand), a one-act opera already in progress, the other, Pierrot Lunaire, an unforeseen opportunity. Die glückliche Hand was begun in 1910 as a pairing to Erwartung, a contrast of masculine genius to feminine instinct straight out of Weininger. At curtain rise, the protagonist, simply called "Der Mann," lies facedown: "On his back crouches a cat-like, fantastic animal (hyena with enormous, bat-like wings) that seems to have sunk its teeth into his neck." Following the example of Kandinsky's opera Der Gelbe Klang, written in 1909 with music by Thomas von Hartmann (a Russian composer who later became a follower of Gurdieff) and published in The Blue Rider in 1912, Schoenberg represented the creative work of Der Mann through a "color crescendo": "It begins with dull red light (from above) that turns to brown and then a dirty green. Next it changes to a dark blue-gray, followed by violet. This grows, in turn, into an intensely dark red which becomes ever brighter and more glaring until, after reaching a blood-red, it is mixed more and more with orange and then bright yellow; finally a glaring yellow light alone remains and inundates the second grotto from all sides."

In January 1912 Albertine Zehme, a onetime Wagnerian soprano who had become a diseuse, asked Schoenberg to write music to accompany her recitation of poems from Pierrot Lunaire, a collection of fifty poems by the Belgian Parnassian Albert Giraud in the German translation of Otto Erich Hartleben. Zehme promised twenty to thirty performances and Schoenberg at first viewed the commission mainly as a business opportunity, but he soon found himself engaged in his most original composition to date.

Usually discussed in term of its sprechstimme performance style midway between speech and song, its contrapuntal structures (including passacaglia and fugue), and its brilliant instrumental writing, Pierrot owes much of its sound and structure to Kandinsky. Schoenberg constructed it systematically from colors and numbers, the "inner values" behind external appearance, as Kandinsky had written in his introduction to Der Gelbe Klang: "The means belonging to the different arts are externally quite different. Sound, color, words! ... In the last essentials, these means are wholly alike: the final goal extinguishes the external dissimilarities and reveals the inner identity."

On Sesame Street they might say that Pierrot Lunaire is brought to you by the (Blavatskian) numbers three and seven and the colors white, black, and red. Schoenberg, who chose and arranged the text from Giraud's volume, subtitled the cycle "Three Times Seven Poems"; there are three parts, with seven poems in each. It opens with a seven-note motive, a rhythmic idea that returns in various guises throughout, most dramatically at the close of "Die Kreuzen" (The Crosses), which ends part II.

There are four explicit "color" movements: "4. Eine blasse Wäscherin" (white), "8. Nacht" (black), "11. Rote Messe" (red), and "18. Der Mondfleck" (white again). The movements share numerology as well. Number 4 begins with seven three-note chords, scored for flute, clarinet, and violin. Number 8 is a passacaglia built on a repeated three-note theme. In number 11 each line of the poem has seven syllables. To evoke the colors, Schoenberg mixed instrumental timbres just as Ellington would do in "Mood Indigo," but with his own tricks. He revoiced the trio of instruments in number 4 from chord to chord, so, for instance, in the first chord the clarinet plays the top note, the flute the bottom, and the violin the middle, while in the next chord the flute is on top, clarinet is on the bottom, and in the next, violin is on top, and so on. In the score he asked that the three instruments "play at completely equal volume and without expression" to produce a composite, disembodied sonority, a "white" sound.

In "Nacht" Schoenberg combined the sounds of the bass clarinet, cello, and the piano in its low register to represent "giant black moth wings killing off the sun's radiance" as night descends. The middle section of this movement, as vapors begin to rise, counterpoints flutter-tongued clarinet, the cello playing tremolos on the bridge, more squeaks than pitches, and staccato notes on the piano, a swirl of shadows. For "Rote Messe" Schoenberg contrasted high squeaks (piccolo and the upper register of the piano) and low mutters (bass clarinet, viola, and cello), a comic effect, almost like cartoon music, to paint a gruesome scene: Pierrot reveals the dripping red Host to the congregation by dipping his fingers in his heart's blood.

"Rote Messe," like much of Pierrot Lunaire, feels at once lurid and funny, qualities not much evident in Schoenberg's earlier work. By employing Kandinsky's mystical symbolism in place of the attempts at direct expression found in Erwartung, Schoenberg took his music to new and unexpected (and not particularly Kandinskian) places: objectivity and satire, with expression itself, the coin of the realm of romantic music, exposed (as it is in Kafka's "Hunger Artist") as an addictive codependency between the artist (up on the cross) and the audience who get their kicks watching the bloody spectacle, then crawl back to their humdrum every day lives.

To replace the weltschmerz that died on the cross at the end of part II, Schoenberg ratcheted up the colors and the comedy in part III. Here Pierrot returns to the daylight world (lit by a green sun) in a kind of sadomasochistic vaudeville. In number 18, "Der Mondspeck," the color white, earlier a benign image of the imagination, returns as a symptom of obsessive compulsion as Pierrot vainly attempts to remove a speck of moonlight from the back of his coat. The instruments parody his pointless attempts to wipe the speck (genius? guilt? both?) away, "Wischt und wischt," with a five-part double fugue scored mostly in the upper register; its twin subjects might be called Itchy and Scratchy. The song reduces the esoteric "devices" of fugal writing, imitation, stretto, canon, augmentation, retrograde, to so many nervous tics, deconstructing pedantry with pedantry. What remains, though, dazzles. All the counterpoint just turns into brilliant glitter, white like a diamond.

There is no indication that Kandinsky ever heard Pierrot Lunaire. In a letter to Kandinsky on August 19, 1912, Schoenberg referred to Pierrot semi-apologetically as "perhaps no heartfelt necessity as regards its theme, its content [Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire], but certainly as regards its form" and mentions his next project based on Balzac's Swedenborgian novel Seraphita. That project resulted in two works that mark the terminus of Schoenberg's colorized spiritualism. First came the orchestral song "Seraphita," op. 22, no. 1, to a poem of Ernest Dowson, scored for an unusual ensemble of voice, twenty-four violins, twelve cellos, nine basses, six clarinets, one trumpet, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, xylophone (of course), and tam-tam. Whether its precise instrumental proportions reflect acoustical concerns or numerological symbolism, the song has a unique otherworldly but sensuous timbre.

Schoenberg spent most of the war years working on a huge oratorio, Die Jakobsleiter, that might have fulfilled Kandinsky's prophecy of a higher art form. Like the contemporary visionary compositions, Scriabin's Mysterium and Ives's Universe Symphony, both intended for performances on mountaintops, Schoenberg's oratorio seems planned from the outset as a spiritual exercise whose dimensions would preclude actual performance. In the course of work on the oratorio, however, Schoenberg began to conceive a different way of relating the surface of music to an inner structure, the twelve-tone system, which would make its official debut in the unspiritual setting of a waltz, the last of Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Piano, op. 23, written in 1921.

Intermezzo: A Paler Shade of White

The occult spiritualism of Schoenberg and Kandinsky (and early Stravinsky) ended, musically, with the arrival of jazz, first heard in France as played by James Reese Europe's 369th Infantry Hellfighters Band. Within a few years most European composers abandoned expressionism for jazz-tinged "objective" styles such as neoclassicism or Neue Sachlichkeit. Although at first perceived as just another exotic fad, jazz confronted European music with a pertinent, persuasive rendering of contemporary experience that proved to be surprisingly tenacious and, at first, seductive. Euro-jazz by Milhaud, Ravel, Hindemith, Krenek, and Weill dominated the new music scene of the 1920s.

The eruption of jazz in European music incited a series of backlashes, both musical and political. Tone color and skin color remained linked, as evidenced by the discourse surrounding the 1928 Stravinsky/Balanchine ballet Apollon musagète, conceived as an apotheosis of whiteness. Balanchine's choreography followed Stravinsky's description of his score as a "ballet blanc," that is, with dancers in tutus. In his Autobiography Stravinsky wrote that he had "pictured it to myself as danced in short white ballet skirts in a severely conventionalized theatrical landscape devoid of all fantastic embellishment." The music, which evinced its whiteness by using only strings, began with the tonal emblem of whiteness, a simple cadence in C major. The timbre and tonality bore a heavy ethical message, which Stravinsky made explicit in his Poetics of Music, delivered at Harvard in 1939 (just as Ellington was composing "Ko-Ko"): "My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminished constraint diminished strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit." The music and choreography for Apollon musagète (a.k.a. Apollo) have become classics of high modernism, but it is edifying to view them as a statement of European essentialism (not without protofascist overtones). But don't take my word for it:

George Balanchine: I myself think of Apollo as white music, in places as white-on-white.... For me the whiteness is something positive (it has in itself an essence) and at the same time abstract.

Lincoln Kirstein: In its grave sequence Balanchine carved four cameos in three dimensions: Calliope portrayed the metric and caesura of spoken verse; Polyhymnia described mimicry and spectacular gesture; Terpsichore, the activity, declaration, and inversion of academic dancing itself. These are all subservient to Apollo, animator and driver; they are his handmaidens, creatures, harem and household.

With Lifar, Balanchine had been given a boy who might conceivably become a young man. In America, with Lew Christenson (who danced the role in New York in 1937), he found a young man who could be credited as a potential divinity. Praxitelean head and body, imperceptibly musculated but firmly and largely proportioned, blond hair and bland air recalled Greek marbles and a calm inhabitant of Nicolas Poussin's pastorals.

Boris de Schloezer: "Whatever may have been the circumstances which led to the birth of Apollo, the work reveals to us its author's secret, his thirst for renunciation, his need for purity and serenity."

It's not easy being white.

Sounds and Perfumes: Symbolism in White and Black

Kandinsky's theories about the relation of music, color, and words were a belated summation of the larger artistic movement, Symbolism, whose aesthetic ideology shaped the modernist literature of Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Valéry, Stefan George, Georg Trakl, Rainer Maria Rilke, Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Belyi, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, among many others. Symbolist literature aspired to the condition of music. It often cloaked this goal, however, in a mask of obscurantism. In the compositions of Debussy and Ellington Symbolist aesthetic ideas became far more accessible to everyday life. Arcane modernism became "jazz modernism."

Debussy's music is key to understanding the newly exalted role played by tone color as a means of representation. In his oeuvre Debussy gave musical form to the complex interplay of sensual perception and imaginary evocation that Baudelaire termed "correspondences":

La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers

Laissen parfois sortir de confuses paroles;

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles

Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Nature is a temple of living pillars

where often words emerge, confused and dim;

and man goes through this forest, with familiar

eyes of symbols always watching him.

In this forest of symbols the human subject does not control meaning rationally but perceives it through sensory association as an endless chain of metaphors.

Debussy imbibed this Symbolist creed, further elaborated in Verlaine's "Art poétique," Rimbaud's "Voyelles," and J. K. Huysmans's novel A Rebours, and in the preface to Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, at the famous "Tuesdays" at Mallarmé's apartment and, on Fridays at the Chat Noir. In the 1880s Debussy set poems by Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Baudelaire, developing a richly allusive idiom of musical symbolism. Sounds became symbols.

In his songs Debussy often employed a symbolic sonority in the accompaniment to "read" the text. In "En Sourdine," the first song in the Verlaine cycle Fêtes galantes, composed in 1891, a leitmotif beginning with three repeated notes sounds throughout the first section; it disappears and then returns at the end where the singer names its symbolic role: "Voix de notre désespoir, / Le rossignol chantera" (Voice of our despair, / the nightingale shall sing). In retrospect, we realize that the motive represents the nightingale's call, but as a symbol of despair, not a scenic effect. The repeated note itself is a double metaphor: the piano sounds like a flute that sounds like a nightingale. But the song has grander, even more esoteric echoes. The voice of despair springs from a forbidden love; the poem depicts Verlaine and Rimbaud hiding amorously in the bushes. The poem, mirroring a mirror, also replicates in a very condensed form the entire second act of Tristan, the lovers' tryst, in which Brangäne, the voice of despair, warns of the inevitable intrusion of the real world. The nightingale's motive frames the central intimacy just as Brangäne's admonitions form a kind of protective wall around the great love duet. In case we might miss this tone parallel, Debussy launched the song with the famous "Tristan chord," the exact pitches heard at the opening of Wagner's opera but transposed an octave higher, one sound symbol evoking another.

Debussy tried his hand at writing Symbolist poetry, or rather prose, in his Proses lyriques, published in 1895. Here he pushed the piano-as-orchestra to an extreme, so that the second song, "De grève ..." (Of the Shore ... ), forecasts the sound of La Mer composed a decade later. In terms of sound-as-symbol, however, the most interesting song is the last, "De soir ..." (Of the Evening ... ). We might retitle it "Sunday in Paris with Claude," for, like Seurat's contemporary "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," it is a painting of "modern life"-the earliest piece of music depicting the hustling "leisure" of the weekend city, including an excursion by train to the suburbs.

In "De soir ..." the piano sounds less like an orchestral reduction than an imaginary superorchestra. The contrapuntal moto perpetuo accompaniment rolls out a ceaseless stream of sound evocations all drawn from a short motive. As the motive evolves, its visual correlatives change as well. At first it evokes a clamor of church bells. Then, augmented in a dotted rhythm, it suggests the rattling bounce of a suburban train. As the train is "devoured" by a tunnel a new contrapuntal texture appears, waves of sixteenth notes in the right hand against a grandly rising and falling arch in the left, all played on the black keys of the piano. Though the black keys may indicate the darkness of the tunnel, they also produce a pentatonic scale. The scale and rhythmic counterpoint sound like gamelan music. The significance of this occidental/oriental double image becomes clear when Debussy inverts the counterpoint, lifting the slow arch motive to the upper register of the piano as the words speak of "Dimanche, dans le bleu de mes rêves" (Sunday in the blue of my dreams), as if the day trip to the outskirts of Paris were just a poor substitute for more exotic travel. (Des Esseintes, the hero of A Rebours, preferred imaginary travel to the real thing.) As evening settles on the city the arch motive turns back into bell sounds, no longer clangorous but distant, nostalgic, slowly fading as the speaker falls asleep.

The Symbolist songs prepared Debussy for the full expression of textless musical symbolism in the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, an orchestral work inspired by Mallarmé's poem. The Prélude is not a tone poem but what Ellington would term a "tone parallel." Debussy explained to a critic that the music was "perhaps the dream left over at the bottom of the faun's flute." Debussy reduced Mallarmé's almost inscrutable text to its essential sonoric value, an unaccompanied C♯ on the flute in its breathy, slightly muted middle register, a pitch "naturally out of tune on French flutes of the period." The unaccompanied flute solo that begins the Prélude is not a diegetic sound within the action (real or dreamed) of the poem but a floating sound symbol poised to take on any of the poem's inflections. Placing the sound of the flute first before addressing, however indirectly, the action of the poem, Debussy was implementing Verlaine's instruction: "De la musique avant toute chose" (Music first!).

Debussy's most sophisticated works of timbral symbolism, though, are not his songs or orchestral pieces but his piano compositions, especially Book I of the Préludes, a set of twelve "tone parallels" published in 1910. Debussy here applied the techniques of musical Symbolism to the central idea of Impressionist painting, the fleeting character of sensory experience. As in Turner and Monet, wind and water present images of constant change, but Debussy chose subjects that also placed those elements in relation to other works of art. Each prelude poses the question of how art can resist and embrace temporality. To indicate the thematic interplay of the enduring and the perishable Debussy framed the first book of Préludes with two dances, one from ancient Greece, preserved on a frieze in the Louvre, the other from contemporary America, a ragtime Debussy had heard performed by street musicians (probably in blackface) while on vacation in England.

Debussy's piano never sounds simply like a piano but creates sonic metaphors. Lockspeiser describes Debussy's approach to the piano as illusionistic: "To both Marguerite Long and Louise Liebich [Debussy] insisted that the piano was to sound as if it were 'an instrument without hammers' and he wanted the fingers on the keyboard to appear to 'penetrate into the notes.' The illusion was to be complete. Nothing was to be allowed to destroy the impression that the mechanical piano, a mere 'box of hammers and strings' was not a piano." Illusionism is not the same as illustration; it would be a mistake to hear these pieces as musical depictions. The sound images evoked in the Préludes are themselves symbols; the music is part of the symbolic forest in which humankind wanders, a forest Debussy had evoked at the very opening of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande.

Debussy signaled the complex symbolism of these relatively simple pieces by the placing and selection of titles. Titles appear in parentheses at the end of each prelude rather than at the top of the first page, as if they were just tentative, transient associations. Seven of the titles link the music to artworks, making the preludes reflections of reflections. "Danseuses de Delphes" refers to a Greek caryatid in the Louvre, "a support column sculpted in the form of a female figure." "Voiles" may refer either to the dancer Loïe Fuller or to sailboats, depending on the gender assigned to the title word. "Le vent dans la plaine" begins a line of a poem by Favart that serves as an epigram for Paul Verlaine's "C'est l'extase langoureuse," which Debussy had set to music in his Ariettes oubliées. "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir" is a line from Baudelaire's "Harmonie du soir," which Debussy had set to music in 1885. "La fille aux cheveux de lin" takes its title from a poem by Leconte de Lisle, itself based on a poem by Robert Burns. "La Cathédrale engloutie" refers to a Breton myth that formed the basis of the opera Le Roi d'Ys by Edouard Lalo. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as illustrated by Arthur Rackham, is the source of "La Danse de Puck." Of the remaining five, three, "Les collines d'Anacapri," "La Sérénade interrompue," and "Minstrels," are portraits of popular music (Italian, Spanish, and American, respectively). Scholars have yet to nail down specific references for the remaining two preludes, the violent "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest" and the desolate "Des pas sur la neige," whose title could have sprung from any number of Impressionist snow scenes, a favorite genre of Monet and Sisley in particular (see, for example, Sisley's "Snow at Louveciennes" at the Musée d'Orsay).

The titular interpretations listed above are found in most program notes; these also usually divide the preludes between those based on artworks and those based on nature without seeing that the two groups are connected metaphorically to the central theme of temporality, which received its most monumental treatment in "La Cathédrale engloutie," a fresco of stone, seawater, and metallic bells. Debussy placed its Parsifal-paced unfolding between two more fleeting visions that could be termed salon music à la Grieg (a composer whom Debussy pretended to dislike): the interrupted serenade and Puck's dance. Just as each prelude associates sound with sight, each also evokes the sense of touch. Each title suggests a different physical material: stone, feathers, water, snow, flaxen hair, wind gusts, fairy cobwebs, guitar strings, drum skins, the scents of plants or perfume; each material suggests a different physical connection between pianist and keyboard.

To see how Debussy used tone color symbolically, let's examine "Danseuses de Delphes" and "Des pas sur la neige" in more detail. The title "Danseuses de Delphes" presents a conundrum similar to that of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in its suggestion of life suspended in fired clay:

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with breed

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

Debussy similarly represented a dance set in stone. The score tells the performer that the music should be "doux et soutenu," at once sweet and sustained, no easy task, but the words encapsulate the almost impossible simultaneous evocation of grace and gravitas. The melody, a rising a single legato line, hides between a bass figure in octaves and a rising chorale of three-note chords. The two framing figures are counterintuitively both slurred and marked staccato. The counterpoint demands a scrupulously controlled touch from the pianist, who must balance the three voices and also bring out the melody, all within a soft dynamic-as if the keyboard were made of modeling clay just beginning to set. Further expanding the varieties of touch, Debussy contrasts the airy heaviness of the opening texture with a cadential phrase to be played even more quietly, like a distant harp or lyre-perhaps this is the music that the dancers themselves are hearing. In the next phrase Debussy repeats what we have just heard but stretches out each figure across the keyboard, as if he were reorchestrating. The accompaniment suddenly suggests the sound of finger cymbals or crotales, which Debussy had also used as a classical Greek color in "Afternoon of a Faun." Debussy gradually animates his three lines into a complex hand-over-hand choreography at bars 15 to 17, where the interplay of elements is finally, though briefly, heard at a forte dynamic. After this climax recedes the last three bars reiterate a single harmony in three contrasting colors: a seven-note statement of a B♭ major triad is sounded once forte, then repeated pianissimo, then underscored with a single B♭ at the very bottom of the keyboard, which must be released while the pedal sustains the upper chords-a klangfarbenmelodie that is also a melody of touch.

Debussy gave touch an even more complex symbolic treatment in "Des pas sur la neige." The piece is built on an evolving ostinato, a short motive with a curiously nervous rhythm on which the composer placed a heavy synesthetic burden: "Ce rythme doit avoir la valeur sonore d'un fond de paysage triste et glacé" (this rhythm should have the tonal color of the depths of a bleak, frozen landscape). The motive sounds twice in each bar, the second statement one note higher in the scale, forming a rising four-note idea that recalls a similarly freighted motive in Wagner. Both the ostinato and the plaintive melody that rises above it sound like they are trying to restate the opening of the Prelude to the third act of Tristan, and indeed Debussy's prelude retraces the steps of Wagner's phrase by phrase. Debussy indicates the complexity of the allusion by mirroring Wagner's consoling second theme, a downward chromatic drift, with a diatonic theme in G♭ major that is not only as distant from the d minor tonic as possible but is also played mainly on the black keys, above the symbolic snow line.

The submerged intertextual links, though, reinforce the central theme of the Préludes. Replacing romantic heat and humidity with a brittle chill, Debussy recast Wagner's heaving emotion-laden notes as black markings on a white page, evanescent as footprints in the snow. Once we hear the snowy landscape as a metaphor for the piano keyboard itself, the prelude becomes a commentary on the relation of piano and orchestra. The piano, essentially a percussion instrument, cannot simulate the swelling string crescendo (with all violins on the open G string) that begins Wagner's prelude. By comparison with that warm sound, the piano is a treacherous icy timbral landscape; the pianist's touch, skating on thin ice, must assert illusion over physics. Yet, as Lockspeiser points out, the piano's physical limitation relative to the orchestra is also a strength: "It was sometimes to be an instrument that drew music from the circumambient air, or that could project patterns made up of myriads of little sounds. It was never admitted to be an instrument inferior, in the range of shadings of its dynamics, to wind or string instruments. Its defects were its virtues." Transforming Wagner's warm sounds to an icy "valeur sonore" no orchestra could produce, the piano asserts its symbolic superiority.

Debussy's musical symbolism rests on two strategies that suggest parallels with Ellington. The first is intertextuality, usually between the music and some other artwork. The second is the sound metaphor, the evocation of one timbre through another. Debussy's symbolic techniques inform the musical languages of such later and different works as Stravinsky's Sererade in A, Bartok's Out of Doors, Messiaen's Vingt Regards, or any of the preludes in Shostakovich's op. 87. But, even though the Cotton Club may have existed in a different universe from Mallarmé's exclusive symbolist gatherings, Debussy's aesthetic ideas perhaps found their richest application in the music of the Ellington Orchestra. From his earliest compositions to his last recordings, the blues provided Ellington with an intertextual discourse; his band was the source of sound symbols. Let's see if we can come up with a list of Ellington "preludes." If we exclude the genres of songs, concertos, and extended compositions (and give Strayhorn and Tizol their own lists), and limit ourselves to pieces with a distinctive timbre, we might easily arrive at two volumes of twenty-four preludes, a Bachian "48" to set beside Debussy's three dozen:

[Comp.: Even though the following list is a numbered list, please set it in two columns to save space.]

1. Black and Tan Fantasy

2. Black Beauty

3. Immigration Blues

4. East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

5. The Mooche

6. Creole Love Call

7. Awful Sad

8. Jubilee Stomp

9. The Mystery Song

10. Echoes of the Jungle

11. Mood Indigo

12. Old Man Blues

13. Eerie Moan

14. In a Sentimental Mood

15. Delta Serenade

16. Daybreak Express

17. Menilek

18. Blue Light

19. Subtle Lament

20. Jack the Bear

21. Ko-Ko

22. Across the Track Blues

23. Harlem Airshaft

24. Bojangles

25. A Portrait of Bert Williams

26. Sepia Panorama

27. Dusk

28. Warm Valley

29. Blue Serge (Mercer Ellington)

30. Clothed Woman

31. Moon Mist (Mercer Ellington)

32. Dancers in Love

33. Happy-Go-Lucky Local

34. Transblucency

35. On a Turquoise Cloud

36. Such Sweet Thunder

37. Madness in Great Ones

38. Where's the Music

39. Single Petal of a Rose

40. Zweet Zurzday

41. Afro Bossa

42. Bonga

43. La Plus Belle Africaine

44. Depk

45. Amad

46. The Sleeping Lady and the Giant Who Watches over Her

47. Portrait of Wellman Braud

48. Second Line

While we're at it, here are a dozen Strayhorn preludes:

1. Chelsea Bridge

2. Take the "A" Train

3. Balcony Serenade

4. Johnny Come Lately

5. Hear Say

6. Star-Crossed Lovers

7. Bluebird of Delhi

8. Agra

9. Isfahan

10. Lotus Blossom

11. Blood Count

12. U.M.M.G.

Outro: Sounds Recaptured

The "Ellington effect" is a particular instance of a much wider twentieth-century soundscape, a constructed environment of sound that always has both physical and semiotic dimensions. As Emily Thompson points out, the idea of acoustical engineering itself arose in response to the idea of "noise pollution." Noise was a ubiquitous by-product of ever-encroaching industrialism, but it also symbolized "the many perils of the modern American city, including overcrowded tenements, epidemic disease, and industrial pollution." Similarly, a "good" acoustic environment was not a simple question of physics and reverberation time but a matter of taste, and therefore a matter of class and race as well. The acoustics of Symphony Hall in Boston, for instance, were designed for an orchestra manager, Henry Higginson, who preferred "older music" to "very noisy music" (in other words, Beethoven over Strauss), part of a broader notion of the solemn, serious qualities-ethical qualities-that Higginson and others of his time associated with good music. Concertgoing, according to Theodor Thomas, was "an elevating mental recreation which is not an amusement." Good acoustics could symbolize an entire value system.

Just a few years after the opening of Symphony Hall in 1900 its carefully controlled environment would be an anachronism. The argument about good and bad music and good and bad sound quality shifted from the concert hall to the living room and later to the kitchen, the den, and, most worryingly, the automobile. And to the movie theater as well. For most of the people most of the time, musical sound in the twentieth century meant recorded and/or broadcast sound, the revolutionary consequence of Edison's 1877 invention (and Marconi's 1895 discovery), when, as Ira Gershwin would put it, "they all laughed"-but not for long.

The surprisingly rapid acceptance of recorded music as the equivalent of live performance may appear less surprising when we realize that, at least in middle-class households, the piano already played the same cultural role in the nineteenth century that the phonograph would play in the twentieth. Through transcriptions and reductions, the piano, like the phonograph, brought into the home the orchestra and the opera house, as well as genres such as ragtime, which otherwise might only be encountered in questionable surroundings. Prefiguring the direction that recording would follow, the piano evolved in order to translate instrumental sounds with the ever-greater illusion of fidelity. Piano builders, composers, and performers took an interest in the "production" of piano sound, not just its renderings of pitches and rhythms but also its atmospherics. Debussy's use of the piano to suggest distant sounds, cultures, and sensations makes him a precursor for recording engineers. Recording allowed the esoteric researches of symbolism to shape the sound of everyday life, including the "sound" of music.

While the sound of recorded jazz reflected changes in technology as well as ongoing trade-offs between sound, convenience, and price, it was also a subliminal, symbolic "correspondence" to the way people conceptualized jazz. When Ellington's music was associated with inaccessible and exotic venues like the Cotton Club, recordings were made in a "you are there" mode (often with Irving Mills simulating the role of emcee). When jazz listeners sought to capture the nonrepeatable essence of jazz, improvisation, they would tolerate bad microphone placement and erratic balances as long as the results sounded "live." For listeners, like John Hammond, predisposed to view jazz as a kind of folk music, a rough acoustic was a badge of honor. And when jazz became a classical music, the recording ambience had to suggest the calm, well-balanced resonance of the concert hall.

There are Ellington recordings to match all of these approaches; the Blanton-Webster recordings made for Victor in 1940 and 1941 and the live recording made at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, North Dakota, on November 7, 1940, demonstrate how contrasting styles of recording can cast completely different lights on the same repertory and players. Dick Burris and Jack Towers made the Fargo recordings on a portable disk-cutting recorder. The sound is distant, balances are erratic, and some recordings break off in the middle of a performance. It says volumes about the notion of jazz "authenticity" that many listeners accept the judgment of Alexander Coleman, cited in the Book-of-the-Month Club rerelease, that this "recording is the jazz equivalent of the Holy Grail." For its admirers, the Fargo set represents the way the Ellington band "really" sounded, in the moment. By contrast, not only is the sound of the Victor recordings (made in Chicago, Hollywood, and New York) clearer and more evenly balanced, but the performances are more classical as well, that is, slower, even though they were mainly single takes. For a different kind of listener, these studio recordings of the Blanton/Webster band are the firmest evidence of the "masterpiece" status of most of the pieces (interestingly, the same listeners rarely give the vocals the same respect as the instrumental pieces).

We can hear a similar divide in recording styles in canonic albums made in 1959 by two of Ellington's most important successors: Charles Mingus's Blues and Roots, produced by Nesuhi Ertegun for Atlantic, and the Miles Davis / Gil Evans Sketches of Spain, produced for Columbia by Teo Macero and Irving Townsend. It's not an accident that Atlantic is best known for their recordings of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, while Columbia was associated with the sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. The ambience (or lack of it) of the Mingus recording screams authenticity. You feel like you are in the front row at the Five Spot. There seems to be no reverb, no room sound, no microphones, nothing between you and the music. The sound perfectly suits the gospel style of the music; it tells us that we are in a jazz church, as far from the commercial realm of Mammon as it is possible to be.

Sketches of Spain is renowned for its first track, Evans's sixteen-minute reworking of the slow movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, originally for guitar and orchestra, as a concerto for trumpet and a twenty-six-player jazz orchestra (including flutes, oboe, and harp). The arrangement united Davis, Evans, and Rodrigo and invited Debussy, Ravel, Falla, and Juan Tizol to the party, and Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini as well. Given the crossover nature of the music, the sound ambience here aptly bespeaks hybridity. From the first sounds of a distant harp and castanets, the music seems to float in a highly engineered imaginary space at once resonant and intimate, where instrumental sounds drift in and out, in sharp or soft focus. The sound suits the mood of romantic exoticism, but, even more, it supports Davis's vocal approach to the music, "the jazzman as confessional poet," as Gary Giddins put it. As soon as jazz singing embraced the microphone, the recording of jazz required some attention to the balance of amplified and unamplified elements, the synthetic intimacy of the voice and the acoustic space of the instruments. Nelson Riddle turned this problem into an art form in the albums he made with Frank Sinatra in the mid-1950s, In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely. Evans's three concerto albums for Davis, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain, can be heard as a fusion of Ellington/Strayhorn tone parallel and concerto genres and Riddle's way of wrapping the voice in instrumental opulence.

Blues and Roots and Sketches of Spain present contrasting pictures of jazz as a music of roots and a music of branches. Mingus's music here explores the black side of the Ellington spectrum, while Davis and Evans pursue the blue side beyond "Transblucency." Though Ellington rarely engaged in the kind of evolved production heard on Sketches of Spain, even in albums marketed as "hi-fi," his innovative approach to timbre as sound and symbol could inspire musicians working in styles that might seem distant from jazz. We might even detect the influence in the music of Brian Wilson. Rock historians usually place the highly composed ambient sound of "Good Vibrations" within the framework of Phil Spector's "wall of sound" first heard in the 1963 recording of "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, and the Beatles' recording of "Strawberry Fields." Spector created an "overall sound tapestry" by "combining layers of electronically processed sound-miked, amplified, recorded, filtered, compressed, synthesized, and so on." In "Strawberry Fields," the producer George Martin mixed a simple guitar/bass/drums accompaniment with music for trumpets and cellos "and the strange sucking timbres produced by recording various percussion instruments with the tape reversed." For the album Pet Sounds and the single "Good Vibrations," Wilson similarly created a background track of staccato chords using recorded sounds of organ, harpsichord, piano, sleigh bells, and pizzicato strings and the electronic sound of the theremin. If we compare the sound of "Good Vibrations" with classic earlier Beach Boys recordings like "Little Deuce Coupe," the difference reproduces (by other technical means) the contrasting modes of "authenticity" and "hybridity" we heard in the Mingus and Davis/Evans albums, similarly recasting Wilson from "real" beach boy to surreal rock poet. "Good Vibrations" might just be Californian for klangfarbenmelodie.