"Cotton Tail" - Duke Ellington

In our exploration of musical forms, we will next look at thirty-two-bar or AABA form. Each of the four sections in the form last eight measures. The musician/s play the "A" section twice, an 8-bar "B" section (often called the bridge), then a closing "A" section. This form was very common in popular music, on Broadway, and in jazz, during the first half of the 20th century. Many of the Broadway songs adopted by mid-century jazz musicians use this form, so they often composed using it. Some examples of AABA form include "Take the 'A' Train," "Body and Soul," "I've Got Rhythm," and its contrafacts. In a contrafact, the composer borrows the chord changes of an existing tune, and writes a new melody. "Cottontail" is a contrafact of George and Ira Gershwin's song "I've Got Rhythm."

Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail," written and recorded in 1940, makes this musical form easy to hear and understand. The catchy melody is heard in each "A" section of the form.  Ellington purposely left the "B" section open to accomodate a short improvised solo, featuring one of the musicians in his band. This tradition continues when musicians perform "Cottontail" today, someone will solo over this brief section. Listening to the original recording from 1940, you will hear trumpeter Cootie Williams solo on the bridge. After the melody, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster solos. When the saxophone section enters following that solo (at 2:05), they play a soli. A soli is a written out solo featuring an entire section of the big band. In this case, Ben Webster wrote the saxophone parts for the soli. For a different interpretation, check out this recording of the guitarist Wes Montgomery with a rhythm section. They take the tune at an impressive tempo!