Blending Genres, Mixing Forms: Ellington’s Symphonism in Black, Brown, and Beige

2022 Society for Music Theory 45th Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA

This research presents a conceptual framework for analyzing hybrid musical works. Drawing on the theoretical foundations of literary theorists including Mikhail Bakhtin, Claudio Guillén, Alastair Fowler, and Amy Devitt, I propose a hybrid poetics for music of the first half of the twentieth century, centering on the various parameters under consideration in discussions of musical genre and form. The hybrid works of the early twentieth century involve several types of genre mixture—e.g. framing, inclusion, aggregation, expansion, contraction, hybridization, and transgeneric transfer—which variously engage issues of scale, hierarchy, and musical parameters. Analysis of these mixture techniques yields a complex network of intermingled forms and genres, which creates a fruitful context for the interpretation of incongruities between the individual hybrid work and socially established norms. After briefly outlining the model of hybrid poetics described above, this presentation will elucidate the developmental and recapitulatory rhetoric of “Light,” the final section of the first part of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige. I will demonstrate how Ellington manipulates the jazz ensemble through solos, instrumental groupings, and tempo changes to create a sense of both continuity and conclusion.