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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential reference, 2 Sept. 2012
Udeen (Northumberland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Duke Ellington Reader (Paperback)
The Ellington Reader gives some fascinating insights into the career of one of the most influential figures in the history of popular music through contemporaneous writing. The texts cover the full range of opinion (including The Duke's), resulting in a far more rounded and credible portrait than Ellington's very guarded autobiography, Music is My Mistress (Da Capo Paperback).

The book underlines how highly the younger Duke was regarded by devotees of classical music. Many people seem to have seen in him a figure with the potential to create something new and very exciting that might marry the intellectual rigour of the best classical music with the visceral attractions of the popular. The acid test for these people was whether Ellington could master the longer form, and he seemed determined to rise to the challenge. The overwhelming view here is that Ellington failed in this quest. He produced some three-minute pieces that qualify as timeless classics, but he never displayed a mastery of the structure of longer works. Maybe this does not matter. Those three minute pieces say enough on their own.

I was very happy to see a whole essay, written by André Hodaire, devoted to one of my favourite Ellington works, 'Concerto for Cootie'. Hodaire is also (unintentionally) responsible for one of the funniest parts of the book. Like many critics, he seems to have felt embarrassed and betrayed by some of Ellington's later works, especially inferior remakes of old classics. In 'Why Did Ellington 'Remake' His Masterpiece?', written in 1958, Hodaire rants hysterically about a rehash of 'Ko-Ko'. His text ends with a warning: "... it (the article) ... is meant to put the reader on guard against the enticements of a once glorious name which now represents only an endless succession of mistakes. This was the most ghastly mistake of all, and nothing can ever redeem for it."

Ouch! Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned. Ellington offered this defence: "... I don't want anyone to challenge my right to sound completely mad, to screech like a wild man, to create the mauve melody of a simpering idiot, or to write a song that praises God, if I so desire." Not bad, eh?

Mark Tucker has done a first-class job in selecting from what must have been a bewlidering choice, and I can't fault the way the book is organised. Amongst the many highlights I have two personal favourites: Pete Welding's 'On the Road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra' (1962) is wonderfully vivid and evocative; Max Harrison's 'Some Reflections on Ellington's Longer Works' (1964) is a brilliant and incisive piece.

The Ellington Reader is by far the best book about the man and his music that I've read to this point.
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The Duke Ellington Reader
The Duke Ellington Reader by Duke Ellington (Paperback - 1 April 1995)
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