Art & Jazz: Duke Ellington, "Take the A Train"

[From the Art & Jazz Series]

"Take the 'A' Train" is a jazz standard written by Billy Strayhorn in 1939 that was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The song includes lyrics that describe taking the New York subway "A" train up to Harlem. The story behind this title comes from a time when Ellington wrote directions for Strayhorn to get to his house by subway, and the directions began with "Take the A Train." As this song became a jazz classic, one could also suggest that it was a directive for jazz fans, because taking the A Train up to Harlem allowed one to reach the most-famous jazz clubs of the day, such as The Apollo Theater, Lenox Lounge, Minton's Playhouse, and many others.


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I like the fact that this video features Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in a train car - if you look closely, they're packed in the train car and you can see the landscape outside passing by. However, it's kind of funny, because the "train" that they're supposedly in is certainly not a NYC subway train, and the landscape outside is not what one would see heading up the Upper West Side of Manhattan on your way to Harlem. At any rate, put those details aside and enjoy the music in the video, and then scroll down for our description of the art project to accompany this music ...

The Art Project: using your art materials of choice, color or decorate the printable PDF of a NYC subway car, available below left (click on the image to get the PDF). You can decorate your own "A Train" any way that you want - whether you just want to color it, draw designs on it, make your own "graffiti" on it, or even cut up images from a magazine and make a subway collage. We'll give you a few ideas below as a starting point, but go with it in any direction you want - and why not work on your art while listening to Duke Ellington as inspiration!


Click image below for a printable coloring page:

image link for a printable PDF coloring page of a subway car

Here's a graffiti-covered subway car idea:

example of a subway car with graffiti on it


Illustration of a bridge on a subway car:

photo of a subway car with a bridge painted on it

Building with subway theme by Os Gemeos

a building painted like a subway with figure holding on by Os Gemeos

When you're finished with your subway art project, if you'd like to share your art with us, please send us a jpeg and we'll post a few of them on our blog!

Return to the main Art & Jazz series page.