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Duke Ellington's America Paperback – 1 May 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (21 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226112640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226112640
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 618,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Harvey G. Cohen, a cultural and political historian, teaches in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King's College London. Before joining King's College London in September 2006, Harvey Cohen was a Fellow and Resident Scholar at the John W. Kluge Center, at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where completed the research for his book "Duke Ellington's America," which was named one of the best books of 2010 by the Washington Post.

Cohen's work has appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, the Independent (UK), Metro International (Sweden and Denmark), at the London Jazz Festival, the British Film Institute, and on various BBC and NPR radio stations and on SkyNews. He is on the Advisory Group of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Cohen is also a musician and songwriter, and has recently started hosting a monthly radio programme at King's College London Radio entitled "Whenever You're On My Mind". Check it out at this site:

For more info on Cohen's new book "Duke Ellington's America," including excerpts, chapter-by-chapter summary, reviews and a top 10 list of Ellington YouTube clips, please visit:

Product Description


"Harvey G. Cohen's new book illuminates Ellington's career as never before, and also helps to deepen our understanding of larger trends and issues in American politics and culture. No previous book on Ellington has followed the money so rigorously, laying bare the interworkings of art and capital." (Times Literary Supplement) "The book makes nuanced sense of the hard choices at every turn, in years when it often fell to Ellington to pioneer new audiences and new venues, and to insist on a level of dignity rarely accorded to African-American artists." (Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books) "Cohen's volume... is substantial, richly sourced, intelligent.... Unlike many other writers on Ellington, Cohen gives proper attention to all phases of Ellington's career, and in so doing unveils information that is new or has been overlooked.... This is an important work and one that Ellington scholarship will benefit from and draw on for new debates." (Times Higher Education) "Duke Ellington's America attempts to get under the skin of this apparently most imperturbable of men, and the results... are fascinating.... An extremely intelligent and formidably documented book - a welcome change from much that has been published about Ellington." (Claudia Roth Pierpont, New Yorker)"

About the Author

Harvey G. Cohen, a cultural historian, is associate professor of cultural and creative industries at King's College London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Frits Schjøtt on 4 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Duke Ellington's America is near to the definitive work on both subjects: The greatest american composer of the 20. century - and the inside story of the greatest country at the same time. For an Ellington-afficionado and connaisseur the contents are most satisfactory, both concerning the human and the musical side of the subject, and as a surplus you get a most revealing and - for an european - chilling account of the abysmal racial depths, where the USA were in that period (and still are fighting its way up). The description of the indignities from society and the bravery and courage from the minorities is fantastic and very well written, and the author's scholarship and thoroughness is amazing.
I heartily recommed the book for anybody with a brain and a heart who has some interest in music, present day history (of the western hemisphere) and the two specific subjects: Duke Ellington and The USA.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 3 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A comprehensive biography, but - in a word - turgid. I've been listening to Ellington's music on record for more than 50 years, and I had the privilege several times of seeing him and his orchestra in various concerts over here. So, knowing a certain amount the man and his music, maybe I had unrealstic expectations of this book. What I'd have liked is something that placed a bit more, quite a bit more, emphasis on his realtionship with his musicians and their relationships with each other; and on the actual music. Derek Jewell's much earlier biography was considerably better in this respect.

But there is plenty here that is good: his realtions with people like Irving Mills; his approach to civil rights issues; his serious, extended compositions.

I was glad to get to the end of it. And if that leads anyone to wonder at the three star rating, that's because of the research and scholarship that went it. I am certainly now better informed, but it wasn't terribly entertaining.

The sad thing is that this might well be the definitive biography of Duke Ellington.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Ellington biography! 3 May 2010
By Loek Hopstaken - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Biographer Harvey G. Cohen has made a valuable contribution to understanding the complicated work, life and times of Duke Ellington. Despite the academic approach the 600+ page book is an accessible and enjoyable read. Although Cohen clearly is a fan, he never gets carried away by his admiration for the Duke, and keeps the kind of critical distance necessary for a good biography. Highly recommended, not only for Ellington aficionados, but for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of 20th century American cultural developments, and more specifically, the roles of African-American art and artists.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Excellent with a minor caveat 25 Jun. 2010
By Richard G. Wright - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an outstanding analysis of the person Duke Ellington was. Having followed his music to a modest degree I was intrigued about the author's focus on Ellington as a person and his socio-political views. The book is extremely well-written and easy to read. I disagree with the recent NYTimes review which argued that although they liked the book, their criticism was the lack of discussion about Ellington's music. In this case, I think it's completely appropriate and helpful NOT to go into technical discussions about Ellington's music. I am not a musician and I'm not interested in the specifics about technically what Ellington did. As Ellington himself would not, if the music moves you (e.g., the listener) then that's what matters. My personal feeling is that if you want to understand/hear Ellington's music, you buy the music and draw your own conclusions.

Cohen's focus on Ellington's 1960's work was also very illuminative. I liked his analysis about how Ellington (to a fault) refused to acknowledge his age (and impending mortality).

My ONLY significant wish about this book is that Cohen should have contrasted Ellington with other seminal African-American artists who were in similar positions to Ellington (although at different points in his life). For example there is virtually no discussion about the roles of Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Marian Anderson, all of whom held unique positions as African-American artists. The lack of comparison/contrast to particularly Robeson, Cole (and to a lesser degree Louis Armstrong - who Cohen does discuss a little more), creates the false impression that Ellington was truly alone as a prominent African-American artist. The sole compatriot which Cohen does draw an analogy to is Langston Hughes which is a thoughtful and insightful analysis.

Another minor point of regret is I wish Cohen had discussed Ellington's relationship with Billy Strayhorn more. Although he does discuss how Strayhorn's death affected Ellington, there is a lot more which could be discussed.

Overall if you want to understand who Duke Ellington was and his contributions to American culture (and obviously jazz) I would highly recommend this book.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Too much, too awkward 21 Aug. 2010
By Brooklyn Bob - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Being a lifelong fan of Duke Ellington's music, and being familiar with most of the books written about him, I grabbed Mr. Cohen's book from the shelf the moment I saw it. Once I started reading, I realized it was a good thing I was such a fan. Otherwise, I never would have finished it.

Mr. Cohen has done a prodigious amount of research, uncovering a lot of previously unpublished material. But someone should have explained to him: just because you've found new material doesn't mean you have to print ALL of it.

Repetition is one of the book's greatest faults, along with Mr. Cohen's turgid, awkward, clumsy writing style. The book reads as if it had been translated phonetically from the original German.

The reviewer who said he needed a tough editor was right. The book would have been much better with prudent but ruthless inside cutting -- two or three phrases here, a couple of sentences there, an entire paragraph now and then. The result would have been a book 50 pages shorter and considerably cleaner and more enjoyable for the reader.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Worth the investment of time and effort 9 Sept. 2011
By G. Brozeit - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a biography of cultural and social history that adds incredible depth to understanding why Duke Ellington's contributions to America are so vital and important. It is not an analysis of Ellington's music. Try John Edward Hasse's book if that is what you are looking for.

I found the discussions of how Ellington led by example, composition, and performance to quietly inspire elements of the African American community in the civil rights movement to be incredibly interesting and illuminating. The analysis of the controversial "we ain't ready yet" quote that was taken out of context by a journalist (won't waste ink on writing his name) and how it led to serious misconceptions about Ellington's views on civil rights particularly well done by Cohen.

Cohen's thorough discussions about Black, Brown, and Beige, the story behind the 1956 Newport Festival Concerts (now I know why the concert ended with mellow tones), the Sacred Concerts, and the State Department Tours are incredibly fulfilling for anyone who loves and reveres Ellington's music and career. His discussions made me pull out the cds and listen again with a renewed appreciation that was missing from my earlier experiences with them. Cohen's understanding of the incredible depth of Ellington's later works--including my personal favorite, The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse--paint a picture of a genius who never tired of learning and creating. And that is really the essence of Ellington, as Cohen so rightly understands.

For the other reviewers who gave up early on this book, it reminded me of Cohen's descriptions of the public reaction to Ellington's more complex and subtle works. You need to give them time and thought. Patience is not only a virtue, but it can lead to a deeper appreciation. Too bad they were only looking for the swinging beats. As Cohen so aptly demonstrates, Ellington was about so much more than that. Anyone who takes the time and effort to read this book will be rewarded with a greater love of Duke Ellington and what it means to be an American.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Superb and detailed overview. 4 Dec. 2010
By musico - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have 5 shelves of jazz history. I've read the other reviews. This book is nothing less than 5 stars. Not the typical lightweight gush, but excellent start to finish.
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