It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
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“It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)” is a 1931 composition by Duke Ellington, whose lyrics were written by Irving Mills. It is now accepted as a jazz standard, and jazz historian Gunther Schuller characterized it as "now legendary" and "a prophetic piece and a prophetic title."
The music was composed and arranged by Ellington in August of 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. After Mills wrote the lyrics, 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." Ellington credited the saying as a "credo" of his former trumpeter, Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis at the time; Miley died the year that the song was released. Probably the first song to use the word "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:
- Matthew Morrison
- Louis Armstrong
- Washboard Rhythm Kings – Washboard Rhythm Kings Vol. 3 (1932)
- Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra (1932) 
- Boswell Sisters (1932)
- Django Reinhardt with Stéphane Grappelli – Swing from Paris (1935)
- Stan Getz - Stan Getz at The Shrine (Norgran Records, 1955)
- Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Monk Plays the Music of Duke Ellington (Riverside Records, 1955)
- Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (Verve Records, 1957), Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur (Verve Records, 1967), Ella in London (Pablo Records, 1974)
- Gigi Gryce – Gigi Gryce (MetroJazz, 1958)
- Modern Jazz Quartet – Pyramid (Atlantic, 1960)
- Nina Simone – Nina Simone Sings Ellington (1962)
- June Christy – A Lovely Way to Spend An Evening (1986), Big Band Specials (1962)
- Alvin and the Chipmunks – Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Match Play" (1984)
- Carmen McRae, Betty Carter – The Carmen McRae – Betty Carter Duets (1987)
- Chuck Brown - "It don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't got That Go-Go Swing)", from the album Go Go Swing Live (1987)
- Tony Bennett – MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett (1995), Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool (1999)
- The SuperJazz Big Band - "UAB SuperJazz, Featuring Ellis Marsalis." (2001)
- Gabin – Doo Uap, Doo Uap, Doo Uap (2002)
- Eva Cassidy – American Tune (2003)
- The Mills Brothers (1932) – Golden Greats (2002), Goodbye, Blues (2005)
- Della Reese, Raven-Symoné, Anneliese van der Pol- That's So Raven (2006)
- The Puppini Sisters – The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo (incorporating some new lyrics and music and lyrics from "Puttin' on the Ritz", "Over the Rainbow", "Mambo Italiano" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby") (2008)
- Joe Jackson - The Duke (2012)
- Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga - "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)", from the album Cheek to Cheek (2014)
On American Public Media's Marketplace, when they "do the numbers," Thelonious Monk's instrumental version plays to denote the financial markets ended the day mixed, e.g., the DJIA gained while the NASDAQ lost.
MC Shan performed a rap version of the song in 1990.
Evander Holyfield and Edyta Sliwinska danced a quickstep dance to the song in the first season of Dancing with the Stars. Nancy Grace and Tristan MacManus also danced a quickstep to the track in the thirteenth season of the same show.
In 2009, the American singer Beyoncé Knowles incorporated elements of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" during the live performance of her song "Déjà Vu" (2006) at the revue I Am... Yours. The performance was later included on the live CD and DVD I Am... Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas (2009).
- 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.
- Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress (Da Capo Press, 1976 reprint), ISBN 978-0306800337, pp. 419, 106. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Jazz Journal, Dec. 1965
- Richard Corliss, "'It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)'", Time, October 21, 2011.
- GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, The Recording Academy (accessed 2014-09-17).
- Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years by Scott Yanow ISBN 978-0879307554 page 97: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jazz-Record-Scott-Yanow/dp/0879307552
- "The Numbers Music", Marketplace (accessed 2014-09-19).
- (2009) Album notes for I Am... Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas by Beyoncé. Music World Entertainment/Columbia Records.