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A Drum Is a Woman

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Title: A Drum Is a Woman  
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Subject: Duke Ellington, Buddy Bolden, Ray Nance, Russell Procope, Carmen De Lavallade
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A Drum Is a Woman

A Drum Is a Woman
Duke Ellington
Released 1956
Recorded September 17, 24, 25 & 28, October 23 and December 6, 1956 (1956-12-06)
Genre Jazz
Label Columbia
Duke Ellington chronology

Ellington at Newport
A Drum Is a Woman
Studio Sessions, Chicago 1956

A Drum Is a Woman is a musical allegory by American pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington, with many songs also written by Billy Strayhorn. It tells the story of Madam Zajj, the personification of African rhythm, and Carribee Joe, who has his roots firmly in the jungle with his drums. Zajj travels out into the world seeking fame and sophistication and melds with the influences of cultures she weaves through the story, which gives a brief history of the rise of Jazz and Bebop.

It was originally recorded for the Columbia label in 1956 to accompany a television special.[1] The album was rereleased on CD in 2004 with a bonus track. Another stage performance was produced in 1988, with pianist and arranger Chris Cherney leading the orchestra and Duke's son Mercer Ellington narrating.[2]


The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow awarded the album 2 stars and stated: "Dominated by vocals and narration, the music often plays a backseat to the story, which is worth hearing twice at the most".[3]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2/5 stars[3]
The New York Times reviewer John S. Wilson commented on the 1988 performance:
Unlike other extended Ellington works, which are primarily if not entirely instrumental, "A Drum Is a Woman" is developed through songs and a narration with only occasional full orchestral passages. It was powerful, rhythmic and kaleidoscopic, with a strong vocal anchor at Friday's performance in Claudia Hamilton, a commanding presence as Madam Zajj. Luke Dogen's Carabea [sic] Joe was a genial, good-time companion with a strong inner core that emerged in a positively stated love song, "You Better Know It."[4]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. 
No. Title Length
1. "A Drum Is A Woman"   3:36
2. "Rhythm Pum Te Dum"   2:53
3. "What Else Can You Do with a Drum"   1:50
4. "New Orleans"   2:29
5. "Hey, Buddy Bolden"   4:51
6. "Carribee Joe"   3:57
7. "Congo Square"   4:55
8. "A Drum Is a Woman, Part 2"   2:47
9. "You Better Know It"   2:45
10. "Madam Zajj"   2:47
11. "Ballet of the Flying Saucers"   5:33
12. "Zajj's Dream"   3:02
13. "Rhumbop"   2:16
14. "Carribee Joe, Part 2"   3:05
15. "Finale"   3:51
16. "Pomegranate" (Bonus track on CD reissue) 2:46
  • Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York on September 17 (tracks 1, 6, 7 & 13), September 24 (tracks 2 & 3), September 25 (tracks 5, 8, 10 & 14), September 28 (tracks 4 & 12), October 23 (track 11) & December 6 (tracks 9 & 15), 1956.



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