24 January 2014


I had never heard of the song Egyptian Ella until 2012 when on YouTube I came across some of the New Orleans street bands performing it. The music appeals to me because the Chorus (32 bars, structured a - a - b - a) is a moderately fast, catchy tune with the 'a' section tumbling down the chromatic scale. Also it's a tune in a minor key and we don't get enough of those in traditional jazz. There are plenty of versions of it on YouTube but beware: some of them do not include the Verse.

This song is very much of its time. It would not be considered 'politically correct' today. But it is fun.

It was written in 1931 by Walter Doyle who was a popular vaudeville composer. I guess he wrote the words as well as the tune. He also composed Mysterious Mose, which is still sometimes heard.
As well as its 32-bar chorus, Egyptian Ella has a 24-bar verse - worth including if you have a singer, as it sets the scene with regard to Ella's biography.

I doubt whether I shall ever get to perform this tune with a band but I decided to add it to my mini-filofax collection, so that I could learn it, at least for my own amusement. It sounds good in C minor, so I put it in D minor to suit my Bb cornet.

The words tell the story of a dancer called Ella who 'started getting fat'. She soon got the sack and also 'lost her fella'. So she went off to Egypt and started a new life. But she found they liked fat dancers there! So she is now a big star. 'She weighs two twenty but they don't care; they like 'em plenty that way out there'. When she dances by the River Nile, 'the boys all take their old sweethearts and throw 'em to the crocodiles'! 'How they love Egyptian Ella!'