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. 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 title was based on the oft stated credo of Ellington's former trumpeter Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis.[1] The song became famous, Ellington wrote, "as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time." 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.

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. ^ Jazz Journal, Dec. 1965