Duke Ellington in a jazz musical short with a tragic plotline.



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Complete credited cast:
Duke Ellington Orchestra ...
Cotton Club Orchestra (as The Cotton Club Orchestra)
Fredi Washington ...
Fredi - Duke's Girlfriend
Hall Johnson Choir ...
Edgar Connor ...
Piano Mover
Alec Lovejoy ...
Piano Mover


Duke Ellington plays hot jazz in a fictional story that finds him down on his luck; he tries in vain to dissuade his friend, dancer Fredi Washington, from working with heart trouble even though it means work for his band. Sure enough, she collapses on stage... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Short | Music





Release Date:

8 December 1929 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


An advertising poster for this film is pictured on one stamp of a set of five 42¢ USA commemorative postage stamps honoring Vintage Black Cinema, issued 16 July 2008. Other films honored in this set are The Sport of the Gods (1921), Princesse Tam-Tam (1935), Caldonia (1945), and Hallelujah (1929). See more »


Referenced in The Public Enemy (1931) See more »


Black Beauty
Written by Duke Ellington
Played by Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (as The Cotton Club Orchestra)
See more »

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User Reviews

There must be some Ellington fans out there!
12 April 2005 | by (St Albans, England) – See all my reviews

Whilst I agree entirely with thedoge and simuland - especially regarding the incredibly unfunny racist treatment of the two piano removers at the beginning (I presume it WAS meant to be funny!), I thought I'd point out a few things to any possible Ellington fans who may seek out this movie just to see the 1929 band in action. Be warned: the sound quality is awful. The band performs less well than on any of the studio recordings of the period, and every number is tailored to the various dance routines. "Black Beauty" is particularly horrendously butchered, and with a cheesy coda added for no apparent reason except to underline the fact that it has thankfully come to an end. "The Duke Steps Out" - a marvellous recording from the Victor studios, is taken at snail's pace - again to accommodate the so-called dancing I would imagine. What on the studio recording is a brilliant passage for the three trumpets, here is taken down an octave, and they don't even make it together! Nanton's trombone sounds way off mike, and although he is perhaps the major soloist, he doesn't even get properly in any of the shots - all of which are dominated by the oddly unsexy dancing of the semi-naked chorus girls. The opening has Ellington at the piano and Artie Whetsol with his trumpet 'learning' the intro to "Black and Tan Fantasy". It doesn't have much to do with anything, but Ellington buffs might like to note that Whetsol does not use the rubber plunger and pear (pixie) mute (in the manner of Bubber Miley) but an ordinary Harmon mute. Odd - Whetsol was quite adept with the plunger (check out the Vocalion recording of "Take it Easy" where he has to play Bubber Miley's part because the latter didn't show up for the session!) so why not use it in the movie? This brings me to the final number, "Black and Tan Fantasy". Ellington had already recorded this several times by the time this film was made, and it was one of his most well known compositions. It was co-written by the aforementioned Bubber Miley, who was also the featured soloist. What a shame he had left the band shortly before the film was made. I remember being extremely disappointed to discover that he was not in the film when I first saw it back in the 70s. For some reason (its not dancers this time!) the arrangement is altered quite drastically from all the previous recordings, with a clarinet solo from Barney Bigard added in place of Miley's 2nd chorus. (Maybe Duke felt Whetsol wasn't up to two choruses, but I doubt it). Once again Whetsol uses the Harmon mute instead of the plunger, and even more interestingly Joe Nanton, the trombonist, does not use the trumpet straight mute inside the bell underneath his plunger, as he does on all of the studio recordings. The result is an out-of-tune muffled sound that hardly sounds like Nanton at all! This is capped off by a ridiculously over-recorded bass (Wellman Braud) which detracts from everything else. There's also a weird organ coda tagged on the end, which has nothing to do with anything, and the obligatory negro gospel type choir making a meal of it. I'd love to know how much say Ellington had in all of this - not a lot me thinks! But, having said all that, its still the band, and its a worthy historic document. Thedoge and simuland have said everything else. What a shame its nowhere near as good as it COULD have been!

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