All ages and levels of experience welcome.

What is the Seven Tones Project?

The Seven Tones Project was co-created at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic by Paul Glenshaw and Darroch Greer. It is all about joy. It is a free opportunity for creative expression for musicians and filmmakers, whatever their experience level. Professionals, amateurs, and students welcome!

Participants collaborate on short films based on the music of the great American composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The project is an all-volunteer effort. As of February 2021, 38 films have been made, ranging from nature films to romances to film noir to travel films to mini-documentaries to short narratives. 

Why Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn?

Ellington said, “Any time you have a problem you have an opportunity. If you had just seven good tones, those were the tones that had to be used.” Ellington and his collaborator Strayhorn composed thousands of pieces of music which range from swing dance hits to blues to ballets to tone poems to ballads to sacred music. Their music is completely immersed in the black American experience, American history, and draws from cultures all over the world. It is music completely suffused with the range of human emotion. All are welcome in the music of Ellington and Strayhorn. In their rich world, there is truly something for everyone.

How Do I Participate?

The rules are very simple and allow for full creativity on the participants. The overriding rule is this: This is all about play and having fun – you can really do whatever you like. This is a chance to stretch in any direction you like! Your work has to fall within the very simple guidelines below.

For musicians:

  • Submit a recording of your performance of any piece by Ellington and/or Strayhorn played however you like. There are no restrictions on style, instrumentation or length. You can perform solo or with a group. You do not have to be a jazz musician – we’ve had classical players, country, rock, and blues musicians contribute. All genres welcome.
  • You can record using professional recording equipment or simply your phone (which several musicians have done). You can submit tracks you have previously recorded as well – so long as you have permission to do so.
  • Your recordings will go into a pool from which filmmakers select tracks they’d like to work with. When your track is selected, we’ll let you know and who selected it.

For filmmakers:

  • You will be given access to a pool of recordings made by the participating musicians. Listen to the tracks, and when you find one that inspires you, let us know which one it is, and download it. The track will then be taken out of the pool.
  • Use whatever equipment or source of footage you wish. Several of the films have been shot on iPhones. Some have used previously shot footage. Some have used public domain archival footage. Some have used stills.
  • Your film can be anything you like, so long as it follows these guidelines:
    • Your film must be the length of the track you selected
    • You cannot alter the track in any way without the permission of the contributing musician
    • You must have permission to use the images in your film
    • Your film must be appropriate for viewing by any age audience

For musicians and filmmakers:

  • All submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis.
  • We will be happy to connect the musicians and filmmakers if desired. Several of the films have been made in close collaboration.
  • When the film is finished, we’ll review it, and if it meets all the guidelines, it will be posted on the Seven Tones YouTube channel and Facebook page, and made available to share as far and wide as we can!

What if I Don’t Really Know Duke Ellington or his Music?

Then welcome to a wonderful new world of music! We have had many participants who were unfamiliar with Ellington and Strayhorn and have found pieces they found exciting and fun. If you’re completely unfamiliar with their music, that’s just fine. A great place to enter this world is by checking out some of the films that have been made already. Here’s a selection you can find on our YouTube channel:

  • Solitude. This was one of the first films in the project, shot with an iPhone the day after DC locked down for the first time.
  • Lush Life. A celebration of the joy of family and friends set to a shape-shifting interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”
  • Creole Love Call. A romance, also shot with an iPhone, starring a magnolia petal and set in a rainy gutter to a solo clarinet.
  • Daydream. A mesmerizing visit under the sea set to a father-son clarinet/synth duet.
  • Come SundayThe monuments to Duke Ellington in DC intercut with scenes from the BLM protests this summer and set to a soaring Ellington hymn.
  • Fluerette Africaine. A mini-biopic of the first African-American fighter pilot set to a classical guitar duet of one of Ellington’s most exquisite compositions.

We’re also happy to supply Spotify and YouTube playlists of the Ellington band from its 50-year career, as well as suggestions of recordings to buy!


Leave a comment