How Music Perceives Itself and How Copyright Perceives Music
Edited by Andreas Rahmatian
Chapter 5: Who wrote Duke Ellington’s music? Authorship and collective creativity in ‘Mood Indigo’
The copyright system privileges composition over performance, particularly improvisation, and melody over harmony. Both of these evaluations are problematic in the field of popular music, which is often the result of collaborative processes involving improvisation, and where harmonic structures may be of greater importance than recognisable tunes. In this chapter, Björn Heile will illuminate the creative process of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Often regarded as, variously, America’s or the twentieth-century’s ‘greatest composer’, Ellington arguably comes closest to a traditional authorial figure in jazz. Nevertheless, the majority of his most famous creations are the result of often complex collaborative processes. Using ‘Mood Indigo’ as a case study, this chapter will reconstruct the creative contributions of various individuals in detail, evaluating their originality and significance for the final result. As the chapter will show, although he was by no means the sole creator of the song, Ellington did take most of the fundamental creative decisions and, as bandleader, lent the tune a ‘brand identity’. Keywords: Copyright authorship; musical works; jazz; Duke Ellington; Mood Indigo; Billy Strayhorn
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