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C Jam Blues (1942)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Basically a vehicle for jazz instrumentalists to display their improvisational skills, it is one of those pieces that is far more enjoyable for the player than the listener.”

- K. J. McElrath

AKADuke's Place
Rank 148
Words and Music Duke Ellington

New Orleans-born clarinetist Barney Bigard is likely the originator of this tune, a simple blues riff in the key of C. Since Bigard was a veteran member of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in 1941, Duke had a slice of the pie, too, and undoubtedly arranged the piece for the orchestra. Yet Duke referred to the number somewhat disparagingly as “one of our more or less trite things.”


More on Barney Bigard at JazzBiographies.com

More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

The number was introduced in a Soundie short film. These three-minute features, produced to be shown on a jukebox-type player, illustrated the band miming to a pre-recorded performance. Entitled “Jam Session” the Soundie was filmed late in 1941 along with four other Ellington numbers. Duke introduces various band members, who then solo: Ray Nance (violin), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Rex Stewart (cornet), Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton (trombone), and Sonny Greer (drums). The complete ensemble carries the tune to its finish with composer Bigard (clarinet) providing some improvised upper register piping.

“C Jam Blues” was formally recorded under that title in January, 1942, for RCA Victor Records. It continued be a staple of the Ellington repertoire, generally featuring a handful of the soloists in the band.

Co-composer Barney Bigard left Duke’s band in June 1942, and after a period of freelancing joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars in August, 1947. “C Jam Blues” was one of his nightly features with Satch’s ensemble along with “Tea for Two.” Despite playing the tune hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of times during his tenure with Ellington and Armstrong, he continued to perform it during his freelance years in the 1950s until shortly before his death in 1980.

In the late-1950s very simple words were added (“Baby, let’s go down to ‘Duke’s Place’,” etc.) which strangely took a three-member team of writers to assemble: songwriters William Katz and Ruth Roberts and record producer Bob Thiele. Clarinetist Barney Bigard was not included in the composer credits of the song version, although he was a member of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars when they recorded “Duke’s Place,” featuring Louis on the vocal, with Ellington in 1961.

More information on this tune...

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(Collier analyzes the song’s musical content in his biography of Ellington.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “C Jam Blues”

Original Key C major (what else?)
Form “12 bar blues”
Tonality Major throughout
Movement A single riff consisting of the fifth degree of the scale repeated in a syncopated pattern before leaping up to the tonic.

Comments (assumed background)

Another Ellington “composition” that was very likely improvised “on the spot” by his band members. Basically a vehicle for jazz instrumentalists to display their improvisational skills, it is one of those pieces that is far more enjoyable for the player than the listener.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Reading and Research
Additional information for "C Jam Blues" may be found in:

James Lincoln Collier
Duke Ellington
Oxford University Press, USA
Hardcover: 352 pages

(3 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Co-composer clarinetist Barney Bigard joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars in 1947 after 14 years with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Although a key member of Duke’s ensemble and featured frequently, he was rarely able to “stretch out” on an extended solo. Once with Armstrong, however, he had several solo features, including his own “C Jam Blues.” The All-Stars live 1947 recording from Boston’s Symphony Hall features a dazzling performance by Bigard and superlative bass playing by Arvell Shaw.

There are recording sessions in jazz that simply by virtue of the personnel make them historically important. One such occasion was a rare encounter between two titans of twentieth century jazz, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. The session, from April 1961, has Ellington performing his own compositions with Armstrong’s All Stars. Some magical moments delight, including the version of “Duke’s Place” with superb Ellington piano and Armstrong’s easy-going vocal.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Louis Armstrong
Satchmo at Symphony Hall
Verve 661

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington
The Great Summit: The Master Takes
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1961
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “C Jam Blues.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Duke Ellington’s 1942 take on “C Jam Blues” (Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band) is the definitive recording of the song and a great “sampler” of many of the soloists in his band. The song became associated with clarinetist Barney Bigard, who was featured on a 1947 Louis Armstrong version (Satchmo at Symphony Hall). The vocal version of the song, here called “Duke’s Place” is represented best by the 1961 collaboration between Ellington and Armstrong (The Great Summit: the Master Takes).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band

Not counting the film version, this is the first recording of “C Jam Blues” and it is a remarkable document of the band getting the space to jam. In addition to Ellington’s piano, we hear short but compelling solos by Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, Ben Webster, “Tricky Sam” Nanton and Barney Bigard.

Oscar Peterson Trio
Night Train
Polygram Records

Pianist Peterson recorded “C Jam Blues” a number of times in different contexts. This swinging trio recording with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen is unquestionably a highlight.

Johnny Hodges
Stride Right

A crucial member of the Ellington band for many years, saxophonist Hodges teams up here with the piano genius Earl Hines, a frequent interpreter of Ellington material. Their solos swing like crazy, as do those by guitarist Kenny Burrell and bassist Richard Davis.

Slam Stewart
Slam Bam
Black & Blue France

Bassist Stewart gets to show off his signature bowing-and-singing solo style at a high level here. His trio-mates here are pianist Milt Buckner and drummer “Papa” Jo Jones, and both of them get ample solo space as well.

Charles Mingus
Live at Carnegie Hall
Atlantic / Wea
Original recording 1974

This epic live recording features a large cast of soloists. Most noteworthy here is Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose solo virtually condenses the entire history of jazz saxophone into five powerhouse minutes.


- Noah Baerman

Stuff Smith
Hot Stuff
Storyville Records

This highly entertaining live recording has Smith fiddling and singing in front of a Danish audience and pianist Kenny Drew playing straight man to his musical hijinks.
Lonnie Johnson/Elmer Snowdon
Blues, Ballads & Jumpin' Jazz Vol.2
1994 Original Jazz Classics 570
Original recording 1960
While known for his banjo work, Snowdon picks up guitar on this delightful track that finds him and guitarist Johnson briefly reminiscing before jumping into a pre-war blues rendition of the Ellington piece.
Clark Terry
Duke With a Difference
Riverside/OJC 229
Original recording 1957
Terry mutes his trumpet on this gentle reading of the song. An understated, all-star horn section and a rhythm section that features Tyree Glenn on vibes swings this one with the greatest of care.
Ella Fitzgerald
1996 Pablo 2310960
In a rare vocalization of “C Jam Blues” Ella scats through the song in a live, 1972 Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Santa Monica. Other featured soloists on this all-star workout include Count Basie, Al Grey, Stan Getz, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Roy Eldridge.
Dave McKenna
1994 Chiaroscuro Records 119
Original recording 1956
Pianist McKenna likes to refer to himself as “a saloon player.” If that means he is a two-handed player who can provide rhythm, chording, and melodic lines at the same time while playing solo, he’s right. He lays a little boogie woogie on “C Jam Blues.”

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Duke Ellington

Year Rank Title
1942 148 C Jam Blues
1943 151 Come Sunday
1942 502 Main Stem
1941 933 Rocks in My Bed
1928 953 The Creole Love Call
1936 969 Echoes of Harlem

Duke Ellington and Jon Hendricks

Year Rank Title
1940 233 Cottontail

Duke Ellington and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1932 84 It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
1937 629 Azure
1929 714 The Mooche
1930 932 Ring Dem Bells

Duke Ellington and Bob Russell

Year Rank Title
1943 93 Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me
1942 104 Don't Get Around Much Anymore
1944 500 I Didn't Know About You
1940 546 Warm Valley

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

Year Rank Title
1939 439 Something to Live For
1950 567 Love You Madly
1964 718 Isfahan
1944 829 Star Crossed Lovers

Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster

Year Rank Title
1941 61 I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)

Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges

Year Rank Title
1938 738 Jeep Is Jumpin'

Duke Ellington and Carl Sigman

Year Rank Title
1940 459 All Too Soon

Duke Ellington and Frankie Laine

Year Rank Title
1942 373 What Am I Here For

Duke Ellington and Milt Gabler

Year Rank Title
1940 140 In a Mellotone

Mack David and Duke Ellington

Year Rank Title
1945 363 I'm Just a Lucky So and So
1944 452 Don't You Know I Care?

Eddie De Lange, Duke Ellington and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1934 136 Solitude

Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley

Year Rank Title
1927 837 Black and Tan Fantasy

Duke Ellington and Don George

Year Rank Title
1944 888 I Ain't Got Nothin' but the Blues

Duke Ellington and Lee Gaines

Year Rank Title
1941 231 Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Tease Me)

Duke Ellington and Nick A Kenny

Year Rank Title
1933 566 Drop Me off in Harlem

Duke Ellington, Irving Gordon and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1938 46 Prelude to a Kiss

Duke Ellington, Manny Kurtz and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1935 19 In a Sentimental Mood

Duke Ellington, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish

Year Rank Title
1933 31 Sophisticated Lady

Barney Bigard, Duke Ellington and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1930 161 Mood Indigo

Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and Billy Strayhorn

Year Rank Title
1953 45 Satin Doll

Duke Ellington, Irving Mills and Juan Tizol

Year Rank Title
1936 17 Caravan

Duke Ellington, John Latouche and Billy Strayhorn

Year Rank Title
1941 237 Day Dream

Harry Carney, Duke Ellington and Irving Mills

Year Rank Title
1930 369 Rockin' in Rhythm

Duke Ellington, Don George and Harry James

Year Rank Title
1945 811 Everything but You

Duke Ellington, Lee Gaines and Billy Strayhorn

Year Rank Title
1945 461 Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'

Duke Ellington, Sid Kuller and Paul Francis Webster

Year Rank Title
1941 935 Jump for Joy

Duke Ellington, Irving Mills, Henry Nemo and John Redmond

Year Rank Title
1938 152 I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart

Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges and Harry James

Year Rank Title
1944 229 I'm Beginning to See the Light

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