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The Duke Ellington Reader Hardcover – 24 Feb 1994
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`gripping, constantly fascinating miscellany of writings about and by Ellington...Tucker's book is full of classic descriptions of him at work, in a swaying train compartment or on a bus, with a manuscript pad on his knee and his hat tilted back on his head.'Humphrey Carpenter, Sunday Times
`meticulous collation of critical responses'Times Literary Supplement
'It would have been possible to put together a perfectly decent anthology of pieces from easily available sources, but Mark Tucker has done much better than that'Observer
'A valuable book has just been published: The Duke Ellington Reader.' Alun Morgan, Kent Today/Kent Messenger
'comprehensive collection of writings on the composer'Andy Hamilton, The Wire
'Mark Tucker's splendid volume ... offers a rich harvest of information and insight without attempting a final appraisal - which is just how Duke would have wanted it.'Geoffrey Smith, Country Life, April 1994
'All his admirers will want to own The Duke Ellington Reader, admirably selected and edited by a professor of music at Columbia University.'The London Review of Books. Nov '94
a carefully selected anthology of well-known and fugitive pieces, offers multiple perspectives on an elusive reader, sardonic and mocking genius who transcended the constraints of white racism and paternalism...deserves serious attention. Mark Tucker, an authority on Ellington's early life, provides succinct introductions to this and another hundred 'Selections' in a compilation which is both a joy to read and an indispensible addition to American Studies, Ellingtonia and jazz criticism. (American Studies vol 29 part 1)
this mighty tome on a giant of jazz will please new and old aficionados ... "any book that brings together a selection of articles and reviews from these magazines, and some lesser known ones, is to be welcomed, and THE DUKE ELLINGTON READER is a must for fans of his music." (Colin Cooper, Beat Scene, No. 23) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
About the Editor: Mark Tucker, author of Ellington: The Early Years, is Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University.
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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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I read read the book start to finish, and I listened to Duke's recordings over again as I read. There's at least four years of music school in this fine book to learn from. One man's view, but I think this is an important book that all Americans should read. It's a book whose concern is the life and music of one of the very best of us.
If you know and love Duke's music, you'll love this book. If you don't know Ellington and his music, buy and read this book, buy and listen to his recordings. Several of the writers here claim that Duke was America's foremost composer. I would not discount their view, especially now, almost 40 years after Duke's death. His orchestra, as many have pointed out over many years, was his instrument.
Duke, when asked about his relationship with jazz, almost always responded that he wasn't sure, exactly, what jazz was, but that his own intention was to compose music of the American negro, what today we would call Afro-American music. No one did this as richly or as inventively or as swingingly. Plus the man could flat play the piano!