Ellington Uptown

Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and the Birth of Concert Jazz
John Howland

Explores a little-discussed yet truly hybrid American musical tradition lost between the canons of authentic jazz and classical music


The story of the African American contributions to the symphonic jazz vogue of the 1920s through the 1940s.

During the early decades of the twentieth century symphonic jazz involved an expansive family of music that emulated, paralleled, and intersected the jazz tradition. Though now largely forgotten, symphonic jazz was both a popular music—arranging tradition and a repertory of hybrid concert works, both of which reveled in the mildly irreverent interbreeding of white and black and high and low music. While the roots of symphonic jazz can be traced to certain black ragtime orchestras of the teens, the idiom came to maturation in the music of 1920s white dance bands.

Through a close examination of the music of Duke Ellington and James P. Johnson, Ellington Uptown uncovers compositions that have usually fallen in the cracks between concert music, jazz, and popular music. It also places the concert works of these two iconic figures in context through an investigation both of related compositions by black and white peers and of symphonic jazz—style arrangements from a diverse number of early sound films, Broadway musicals, Harlem nightclub floor shows, and select interwar radio programs.

Both Ellington and Johnson were part of a close-knit community of several generations of Harlem musicians. Older figures like Will Marion Cook, Will Vodery, W. C. Handy, and James Reese Europe were the generation of black musicians that initially broke New York entertainment's racial barriers in the first two decades of the century. By the 1920s, Cook, Vodery, and Handy had become mentors to Harlem's younger musicians. This generational connection is a key for understanding Johnson’s and Ellington's ambitions to use the success of Harlem's white-oriented entertainment trade as a springboard for establishing a black concert music tradition based on Harlem jazz and popular music.

John Howland is Assistant Professor of Music at Rutgers University and the cofounder and current editor-in-chief of the journal Jazz Perspectives. This work has been supported through several prestigious awards, including the Lloyd Hibberd Publication Endowment Fund of the American Musicological Society.

Praise / Awards

  • "John Howland is to be congratulated and thanked, for this is an important book on a subject that . . . has never been formally explored before . . . treat yourself to a copy."
    —Theodore R. Hudson, Ellingtonia: A Publication of the Duke Ellington Society

  • "Howland deals in fine and well-researched detail with the origins of the black entertainment movement in Harlem... and whilst Howland has much to offer by way of new thoughts and insights into Ellington's career in this regard, it is his detailed treatment of the work of James P Johnson that above everything else makes this a fascinating and revealing read."
    VJM's Jazz, www.VJM.BIZ

  • "Part of Howland's aim in writing this book is to bring to light obscure compositions and generate interest in them, leading to new performances and a renewed market for older recordings. . . . He succeeds mightily."
    Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

Look Inside

Supplemental Materials

Sample Audio Tracks

Author John Howland has selected a series of musical compositions especially for this site, that he feels help to identify some important trends in Duke Ellington and James P. Johnson's music. Read the descriptions below and click the links to hear a clip of each song, including one exclusive never-released clip from the Johnson estate.


Duke Ellington, "Black" from Black, Brown & Beige, performed live at Carnegie Hall, January 23, 1943

NOTE: Duke Ellington's 45-minute, three-movement concert work, Black, Brown and Beige, which is subtitled A Tone Parallel to the History of the Negro in America, was premiered at his orchestra's Carnegie Hall debut and represents Ellington's most ambitious effort at combining his interest in symphonic-length composition and subtle social commentary on both American race relations and the art of African American popular music.

New World a Comin'

Duke Ellington, "New World a Comin'," performed live at Carnegie Hall, December 11, 1943

NOTE: As the central extended composition at Ellington's second annual Carnegie Hall concert, the 1943 quasi-piano concerto New World a Comin' both promoted his lifelong social hopes for racial equality and represented his most self-consciously rhapsodic piano composition.

A Tone Parallel to Harlem

Duke Ellington, A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Harlem Suite), from the 1951 album Ellington Uptown

NOTE: While Duke Ellington's 1951 big band composition A Tone Parallel to Harlem was designed as a musical travelogue of the composer's beloved Harlem community, the subsequent big-band-plus-symphony orchestration (by Luther Henderson) of this masterful 14-minute composition also became Ellington's most widely performed "symphonic" work.

Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody

James P. Johnson, Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, performed by Marcus Roberts (piano) with orchestra

NOTE: As the first major black concert jazz composition, and as a work that was notably composed by the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson's 1927 Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody opens a valuable window on the vibrant legacy of the 1920s symphonic jazz idiom as it existed beyond the George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman circle.

Jazzamine Concerto

James P. Johnson, Jazzamine Concerto, recorded by James P. Johnson as a piano solo in 1945

NOTE: James P. Johnson's 1945 solo piano recording of his 1934 piano-and-orchestra Jazzamine Concerto (a.k.a. Concerto Jazz a Mine) ideally illustrates his personal vision for translating the Harlem stride piano idiom to the compositional ideals of the concert hall.

In a Baptist Mission

Movement IV, "In a Baptist Mission," from James P. Johnson's Harlem Symphony, premiere performance by the Brooklyn Civic Orchestra, Dr. Paul Kosok, conductor, March 11, 1939, broadcast over WYNC, New York. Property of the James P. Johnson Estate and the James P. Johnson Foundation, Riverside, CA.

NOTE: This rare transcription recording captures the vibrant premiere performance of the Harlem Symphony, James P. Johnson's rich musical travelogue of the Harlem community and his most-performed concert work.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Interview on Night Lights | 3/1/2010

Listen: UMP Author Podcast Series: John Howland | mp3 | 4/1/2009

Listen: Interview on WMOT | 6/24/2009

Read: Author Interview | Night Lights | 3/1/2010

Read: Review on Jazz Times | 10/15/2009

Read: Review on All About Jazz | 8/10/2009

Read: Review on Impose | 7/7/2009

Read: Q&A with John Howland (PDF)

Read: Review in Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association (PDF) | March 2011

Media Kit

  • Photo 1 .jpg. James P. Johnson outside his Harlem home in the late 1920s. Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 2 .jpg. A 1940s publicity photo of James P. Johnson. Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 3 .jpg. A 1933 publicity photo of Ellington made before his orchestra's tour of England. This is one of the best-known images of Ellington, and it reflects the Cotton Club famous tag line, "The Aristocrat of Harlem." Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 4 .jpg. A composerly publicity photo of Duke Ellington from the 1930s. Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 5 .jpg. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, 1930. Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 6 .jpg. A 1935 Brunswick Records advertisement for the release of Duke Ellington's Reminiscing in Tempo. Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.
  • Photo 7 .jpg. From the concert program to the "First Concert of Symphonic Works by James P. Johnson," Heckscher Theatre, New York City, March 8, 1942. Courtesy of the James P. Johnson Foundation.
  • Photo 8 .jpg. From the concert program to the "First Concert of Symphonic Works by James P. Johnson," Heckscher Theatre, New York City, March 8, 1942. Courtesy of the James P. Johnson Foundation.
  • Hi-Res Cover .jpg
  • Press Release .doc

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 360pp.
  • 5 figures, 48 musical examples, 31 tables, 11 B&W photos in an 8-page photo section.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03316-4

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.



  • Will Marion Cook, Will Vodery, W. C. Handy, James Reese Europe, Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, concert jazz, African-American studies, jazz history, Harlem, orchestra, 1920s, New York, Tin Pan Alley, Carnegie Hall, musical theater, Rhapsody in Blue, symphonic jazz