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
Released1932 (1932)
RecordedFebruary 2, 1932
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 with lyrics 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] In 2008, Ellington's 1932 recording of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[2]


The music was composed and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during intermissions at the Lincoln Tavern in Chicago;[citation needed] the lyrics were contributed by Irving Mills. According to Ellington, the song's title was the credo of trumpeter Bubber Miley,[3] who was dying of tuberculosis at the time;[4] Miley died the year the song was released.[5]

The song was first recorded by Ellington and his orchestra for Brunswick Records on February 2, 1932.[6] Ivie Anderson sang the vocal and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the solos. In later performances, trumpeter Ray Nance often sang the vocal.

The song became famous, Ellington wrote, "as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time."[3] It contains one of the earliest uses in popular music of the term "swing".[7]

Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1991). The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Oxford University Press. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0195071405.
  2. ^ "Grammy Hall Of Fame". Recording Academy. Archived from the original on 2011-01-22.
  3. ^ a b Ellington, Duke (1976). Music Is My Mistress. Da Capo Press. pp. 419, 106. ISBN 978-0306800337.
  4. ^ Jazz Journal, Dec. 1965
  5. ^ Corliss, Richard (21 October 2011). "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)". Time.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.
  7. ^ a b Ewen, David (1987). American Songwriters. The H.W. Wilson Company. p. 149. ISBN 0-8242-0744-0.
  8. ^ Friedwald, Will (1990). Jazz Singing. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 169. ISBN 0-684-18522-9.
  9. ^ Yanow, Scott (2003). Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. Backbeat Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0879307554.
  10. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2023-04-22.
  11. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (2004). Louis Armstrong: The Life, Music, and Screen Career. McFarland and Company. p. 162. ISBN 0-7864-1857-5.
  12. ^ "Top Album Picks". Billboard. February 9, 1974. p. 61.
  13. ^ Gantt, Diedre R. (2013). "Talking Drums: Soca and Go-Go Music as Grassroots Identity Movements". In Diouf, M.; Nwankwo, I. K. (eds.). Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World. University of Michigan Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-472-02747-7.