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)"
Song by Duke Ellington
Written August 1931
Released 1932 (1932)
Recorded February 2, 1932
Genre Jazz
Composer(s) Duke Ellington
Lyricist(s) Irving Mills

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."[1]


The music was composed 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. 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."[2] Ellington credited the saying as a "credo" of his former trumpeter, Bubber Miley,[2] who was dying of tuberculosis at the time;[3] Miley died the year that the song was released.[4] 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]

Cover versions[edit]

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," Thelonious Monk's instrumental version plays to denote the financial markets ended the day mixed, e.g., the DJIA gained while the NASDAQ lost.[9]

British R&B singer Javine sampled the songs chorus in the bridge of her debut single "Real Things" released in 2003.

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).[10]


  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". Recording Academy. Archived from the original on 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2014-09-17. 
  6. ^ Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years by Scott Yanow ISBN 978-0879307554 page 97:
  7. ^ "It Don't Mean a Thing - MC Shan". AllMusic. 
  8. ^ "It Don't Mean A Thing - Matthew Morrison". AllMusic. 
  9. ^ "The Numbers Music", Marketplace (accessed 2014-09-19).
  10. ^ (2009) Album notes for I Am... Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas by Beyoncé. Music World Entertainment/Columbia Records.