on 4 August 2010
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.
on 3 October 2011
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.