Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
A modern harsh dissection of the man and the myth
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.