Duke Ellington’s Train Songs

duke_ellington-portrait-c1930-ed1-t30The train (or the image of trains) has been a metaphor for the road to freedom in African American culture. Going back to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, the train has represented a road to freedom and a better life. In the early 20th century one of the few high paying (and glamorous for the time) jobs available to African Americans was working on the railroad in a variety of capacities. Duke Ellington was fascinated with the railroad from early in his career and often made literary and musical reference to trains in his compositions for his orchestra. He often used the word in titles and was able to create the image of slow of fast moving trains in music. Very clever indeed—he is not the first composer to do this, but this was one often an underlying theme in his work. In the mid 1930’s the Ellington Orchestra travelled in two Pullman cars, thus avoiding drafty and uncomfortable busses and avoiding the indignity of not being able to check into certain hotels. On the podcast I will examine his most memorable train related works.

Duke Ellington's Train Songs - Part 1

CompositionArtistYear
Choo Choo (Gotta Hurry Home)The Washingtonians1924
Daybreak ExpressDuke Ellington1933
Way LowDuke Ellington1939
Jack the BearDuke Ellington1940

Duke Ellington's Train Songs - Part 2

This is the 2nd installment of Duke Ellington’s train themed works. Some of the pieces are entirely devoted to recreating the sound and image of a train. Other works contain only a short inference to the train theme at various points in the composition. Musical imagery was one of Ellington’s strengths; after all he was also a painter.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Across the Track BluesDuke Ellington1940
Happy Go Lucky LocalDuke EllingtonDeep South Suite1946
Build That RailroadDuke EllingtonLive at the Hurricane1950
Track 360 (a.k.a. Trains)Duke EllingtonBlack, Brown and Beige1958
Loco MadiDuke EllingtonThe Uwis Suite1972