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on 26 October 2015
I found Duke a fascinating but challenging read. I have wavered between giving 3 and 4 stars. On the positive side it is a useful modern addition to books on Ellington. If you want the dirt and gossip about his womanising you won't be disappointed! I think it provides a necessary antidote to some of the hero worshipping content from the past. Unfortunately most of the extra detail is negative. Duke is not the only one who gets a hard time from Teachout, Ben Webster and John Hammond get it too. I feel one of the ironies of the book, after reading some of the pieces that Hammond wrote in the Duke Ellington reader, is I get a similar vibe from Hammond and Teachout's prose, that at the core the content is driven by a deep dislike of Ellington. When it got to the point that Teachout criticised Ellington retaining an old fashioned politically incorrect haircut then after a few pages he criticised Ellington for wearing modern trendy jackets in the 60's to try to pull in a modern audience I couldn't help thinking "come on, give the guy a break!" The content implies his controlling relationship with Strayhorn was a large factor in his alcoholism ignoring the multifactorial nature of alcohol dependence and also some of the more balanced comments from Lena Horne that although there was a destructive aspect to the relationship Ellington was still a far better father figure than Strayhorn's obnoxious real Dad.
I think that the Duke Ellington reader remains the most comprehensive way to get close to the complexities and contradictions in Ellington personality and life. I also think that Beyond Category remains the best, most balanced way in to reading about Ellington. I wouldn't recommend Duke as a first book to read about Ellington as although I think it is a necessary caustic critical viewpoint on him it is at the end of the day only that - a view, not the whole picture. I would still recommend this Duke, its a well written informative book to read but only at a point when you have read enough to know other views are available.
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This is a scholarly work, whilst at the same time eminently readable. The biography itself runs to just over 350 pages, plus a list of suggested recordings, a select biography, source notes, and index. The author traces Duke's development, both musically and as a person, the composition of and changes within the band, including the personalities involved, and analyses the musical landmarks of recordings and concerts. En route we learn about Ellington's personality, and the often difficult relationships with family, friends, musicians and women, most of which he succeeded in keeping concealed throughout his lifetime. There are just two small points that I picked up on. Reference is made on page 162 to the Goodman Trio being "a racially integrated band-within-the-band", and on page 217 to Goodman being "the first white leader of a racially integrated big band". Without detracting from Goodman's approach, the fact remains that the Goodman Trio was a quite separate entity from the Goodman big band. On page 263 reference is made to "the British musicians' union (as being) as sticky in 1948 in allowing foreign musicians to work in England as it had been in 1933". Just for the record, many American bands and musicians visited England during the twenties, but when attitudes changed there was, if anything, greater hostility from the American union side. Those minor cavils apart, this is a well-constructed account of the life of one of the major jazz musicians of the 20th century, which should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the music.
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on 15 June 2015
A forensic account of the great band leader's life that makes unwelcome reading at time but nevertheless somewhat grudgingly acknowledges his contribution to the 20th century music form that Duke himself preferred not to call 'jazz.' It was indeed orchestral music of a unique kind and whether he wrote all of it, or his collaborators and fellow musicians played a greater or lesser part in the process than was acknowledged at the time, is neither here nor there. Most composers have their influences and discretely placed 'helpers' during their life times. Let's not go there and just remember the joyous Ellington sound of 'Cotton Tail,' 'Happy Go Lucky Local,' 'East St. Louis Toodle Oo' and 'Take the A Train'. Incidentally there is no mention made of 'Ellington '55' one of his best recorded and most satisfying album performances that ranks in alongside 'The Atomic Mr .Basie' as one of the greatest big band albums of all time - in my opinion. After all it introduced me to 'Rockin' In Rhythm' and that extraordinary piano introduction not to mention a shattering trumpet section. But one should read this riveting story to set the Duke's life in context and accept that like most people, he had his flaws. It won't make the music sound any less wonderful.
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on 30 December 2015
Ellington's music has been part of my life for over 60 years. His gift to the world of music (not just jazz) is inestimable. If I had read this book before hearing Duke's music I wonder if I would have put him on the Olympus he rightly occupies. This is serious warts-and-all stuff. I even had the feeling that there was not much of Duke's music that really got the author off his backside and jumping - as it does for old farts like me!
That's not to say this book isn't good. It is excellent in its way because it clearly gives us Ellington the human. A man with the gifts his God gave him but with the contrasting frailties we suspected but knew little of. Teachout has given us a Duke most of us never knew. It's as well we know the facts so we can assess our hero anew. There is no such thing as an unblemished human but so what, Duke was a magician and this is a book that goes behind the magic. He is still The Master for me. Don't miss this!
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on 9 March 2014
There are quite a few Duke biographies out there. I've read three of them and I would say this is the best I've come across.
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on 19 December 2013
This was bought as a present for my husband who is fanatical about Duke Ellington. He absolutely loved this gift.
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on 17 February 2014
this is a brilliant book,i have 6 other books on ellington,most view their subject through rose tinted glasses! this one attempts to describe the man as bandleader,composer and human being... in the first two,he succeeds, in the latter he finds out that nobody new the real ellington something ellington made sure that only his music would be his true legacy....
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on 11 January 2014
This was a Christmas present so I am still reading it.So far, once I got passed the prologue, a good read
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on 25 June 2014
Interesting reading for hard-core Ellington aficionados. A complement to other books about the maestro, e g Mercer Ellington's book, which I recommend.
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on 2 March 2014
This was a gift for my father for Christmas. It was exactly what he wanted and appreciate the swift delivery.
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