This is a great example of Duke Ellington’s “jungle sound.” As the leader of the house band at the Cotton Club, Ellington had to cater to the white patron’s desire to have an “exotic” experience. This style of music was born of that desire. The growling brass, the haunting, almost devious sound of the music, it all gives a mysterious and almost dangerous feeling. Duke took a bad situation and created something really wonderful. This track, in particular, has always reminded me of the point in March of the Wooden Soldiers when they head into Bogeyland. There was something sinister about that place and this music feels like it fits right in.
Check out the part that comes at 1:34, where Baby Cox is growling away like a trumpet. I can’t get over what she is doing with her voice there. It’s unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as the fact that next to nothing is known of Baby Cox. She’s a jazz apparition. Given the time, the community, and the way white America viewed the art in its early stages, there are countless figures like Baby Cox that come in and out of jazz history. They do something innovative, ahead of their time, AMAZING, then disappear never to be heard from again.
For some reason I’ve long been fascinated by Baby Cox in particular. I guess her voice on this track has always captivated me. That I can’t find anything out about her, other than what is linked to above (and I only found that recently), is frustrating and wondrous. It also speaks to the injustice and hardship lived by so many that their contributions can so easily be overlooked, their lives so easily lost. Now, when I listen to this song, not only do I have the wonder and mystery induced by Duke and Baby Cox’s musical talents, but also the bewilderment and sadness of knowing that so many people and their accomplishments were lost because the world was too prejudiced to take note.