I was doing a class this past Thursday in which the students were high schoolers taking one or two college classes to get a leg up on future course credits. They would have been born in the mid-2000s. Their regular instructor had sent me a list of topics selected by the students for their upcoming assignment. One of the students had selected artistic futurism. With that in mind I took two record albums from our library collection to show the students, one by Duke Ellington and the other by Miles Davis. My main purpose was to show the evolving nature of media itself, but I also wanted to make the point that what we think of as “traditional” was “modern” in its own time. What is more, we often regard some things as remaining modern even after they have long entered the canon; whereas other things come to be seen as staid and conservative. A century later the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso is still considered avant-garde, but the music created by Ellington and Louis Armstrong at more or less the same time is perceived by many as nostalgia.

Above is the actual record set I showed the students, sides 1-2 of “This is Duke Ellington” released on RCA Victor in the early 1970s. Many had never seen an actual album, and so I took the record out of its sleeve and passed it around like the Rosetta Stone.