It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)

"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]

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)"
Song by Duke Ellington
WrittenAugust 1931
Released1932 (1932)
RecordedFebruary 2, 1932
Composer(s)Duke Ellington
Lyricist(s)Irving Mills


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


  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. 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. 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. Yanow, Scott (2003). Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. Backbeat Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0879307554.
  8. "It Don't Mean a Thing – MC Shan". AllMusic.
  9. "It Don't Mean A Thing – Matthew Morrison". AllMusic.
  10. ""It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" Jazz Standard Cover by Robyn Adele Anderson". YouTube.
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