It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)

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For the Duke Ellington & Teresa Brewer album, see It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (album).

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" is a 1931 composition by Duke Ellington, with lyrics by Irving Mills, now accepted as a jazz standard, characterized by jazz historian Gunther Schuller as "now legendary", "a prophetic piece and a prophetic title."[1] The music was written and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during intermissions at Chicago's Lincoln Tavern and was first recorded by Ellington and his orchestra for Brunswick Records (Br 6265) on February 2, 1932. Ivie Anderson sang the vocal and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the instrumental solos. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, "as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time."[2] Ellington credited the saying as a "credo" of his former trumpeter, Bubber Miley,[2] who was dying of tuberculosis[3] and died in the same year that the song was released.[4] Probably the first song to use the phrase "swing" in the title, it introduced the term into everyday language and presaged the swing era by three years. The Ellington band played the song continually over the years and recorded it numerous times, most often with trumpeter Ray Nance as vocalist.

Ellington's 1932 recording of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.[5]

Notable recordings of the song by other artists include:

The song's refrain was sung several times by various characters in the 1993 movie Swing Kids.

On American Public Media's Marketplace, when they "do the numbers", the instrumental plays to denote the financial markets ended the day mixed, e.g., the DJIA gained while the NASDAQ lost.

MC Shan did a rap version of the song in 1990.

Evander Holyfield & Edyta Sliwinska danced a Quickstep to this song in Season 1 of Dancing with the Stars.

Nancy Grace & Tristan MacManus danced a Quickstep to this song in Season 13 of Dancing with the Stars.


  1. ^ Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 (Oxford University Press, 1991), ISBN 978-0195071405, pp. 50-51. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress (Da Capo Press, 1976 reprint), ISBN 978-0306800337, pp. 419, 106. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  3. ^ Jazz Journal, Dec. 1965
  4. ^ Richard Corliss, "'It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)'", Time, October 21, 2011.
  5. ^ GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, The Recording Academy (accessed 2014-09-17).