Black and Tan Fantasy
Music: Duke Ellington, Bubber Miley
Original Artist: Duke Ellington
Original Album: Single (1928)
Historian: Geoff Ecker
A composer, pianist, and big band leader for more than fifty years, "Duke" Ellington’s inventive use of orchestral elements combined with his eloquence and extraordinary charisma helped to elevate jazz to a level on par with other traditional musical genres. His music stretched into blues, classical, gospel, pop and film scores as he composed an inexhaustible songbook.
Co-written in 1927 with his trumpet specialist of the time, "Bubber" Miley, "Black and Tan Fantasy" would become one of Duke Ellington's most popular tunes, one that would be associated with him throughout his lengthy career. Though still in the early stages of his musical evolution, he was demonstrating already the ability to craft a distinctive musical mood to tell a story through his band.
"The Duke" was fascinated by the distinctive textures of individual instruments and would contrast them, but he was more interested in finding tones that would blend to form new, holistic effects. "Black and Tan Fantasy" illustrates this technique magnificently: a growling trumpet expands upon the main theme before a secondary – more ethereal – theme is stated. Dissonant piano interludes are followed by muted trombone ruminations before a conclusion that quotes liberally from Chopin's "Funeral March." The diversity of multiple voices wailing, growling or praying while each expresses a fullness of heart and heaviness of mind is what gives the piece its beauty. By using African-American blues-based expressions to hint at the unsettled state of the human soul, the Duke’s orchestra paints a “Black and Tan” fantasy.
Unlike Ellington – who continued to perform "Black and Tan Fantasy" throughout his career – Phish is known to have performed this magnificent jazz piece only once, as the first song of their encore at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY on 9/28/90.