Duke Ellington: It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)


It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)


Duke Ellington (piano)


Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington (Columbia/Legacy 61444)

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Duke Ellington (piano), Ivie Anderson (vocals), Arthur Whetsol (trumpet), Freddy Jenkins (trumpet), Cootie Williams (trumpet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Juan Tizol (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Barney Bigard (clarinet, tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (banjo), Wellman Braud (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

Composed by Duke Ellington & Irving Mills


Recorded: New York, February 2, 1932


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

As Gunther Schuller points out in The Swing Era, the composer of this song that named its era was hardly dogmatic about it, writing many meaningful pieces that didn't involve swing. This one, though, lives up to its title, with unforgettable turns by plunger specialist Tricky Sam, a surprisingly chromatic Hodges (sounding at times like Eric Dolphy's granddaddy), and the delightful Ivie Anderson, who from her opening "What tattoo?" to a hint of alley-cat lechery near the end generates irresistible . . . well, swing. "Just keep that rhythm," Ivie advises, practicing what she preaches. "Give it everything you've got." Now that's philosophy!

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

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  • 1 Rico Detroit // May 17, 2009 at 04:03 AM
    “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” was composed by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Irving Mills. The orchestra does indeed swing, especially Johnny Hodges on alto sax, whose flying solo fills the middle of the song, grounded by some down-to-earth punctuation by Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone. However, it is vocalist Ivie Anderson that really steals the show. She kicks off the song with some cool, enticing scat singing (“wa-ta-too”), but soon opens the throttle wide. It is clear that she means what she sings: “It makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot / just keep that rhythm, give it everything you got!” - Three Perfect Minutes (http://www.threeperfectminutes.com)