A major new biography of Duke Ellington from the acclaimed author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century - and an impenetrably enigmatic personality whom no one, not even his closest friends, claimed to understand. The grandson of a slave, he dropped out of high school to become one of the world's most famous musicians, a showman of incomparable suavity who was as comfortable in Carnegie Hall as in the nightclubs where he honed his style. He wrote some fifteen hundred compositions, many of which, like "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady," remain beloved standards, and he sought inspiration in an endless string of transient lovers, concealing his inner self behind a smiling mask of flowery language and ironic charm.
As the biographer of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the public and private lives of Duke Ellington. Duke peels away countless layers of Ellington's evasion and public deception to tell the unvarnished truth about the creative genius who inspired Miles Davis to say, "All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke."
©2013 Terry Teachout (P)2013 Penguin Audio
I bought this book after coming across John Shaefer's interview with the author on WNYC. In the interview, Mr. James' analysis of Ellington's music was illustrated with audio clips. What a missed opportunity to do this in the audiobook. All that would be needed would be a few bars of each piece and one's understanding of the analysis would be remarkably enhanced. Now I'm aware that radio stations have a blanket license to do anything they want with music and that an audiobook would have to separately license each song. I suspect, however, that the owner of Ellington's recorded works could be persuaded that the value of this library would grow if people really knew his work.
I appreciated Ellington's long career being put in a historical context. The watershed compositions were critically discussed. His relationships with his managers, sidemen, and various recording companies were of interest. His dealing with women and family gave a revealing look into the man, not just the composer/performer.
If you liked the author's autobiography of Louis Armstrong, "Pops", you'll enjoy this latest effort.
Wonderful reading. While not exactly imitating Ellington's voice, the reader does a marvelous job of conveying the Duke's self-promoting erudite air of slickness and urbanity. You get the feeling that you're actually hearing Ellington speak.
The length precluded listening to it one sitting, but I've already listened to it twice.
I confess to being a huge Terry Teachout fan. When I receive my monthly issue of "Commentary" magazine, his column is always the first thing I read.
Overall this book provides an insightful look into Duke Ellington's life but the story just seems a little uneven. Peter Francis James is a great narrator and could make the phone book interesting, but in some places he was a little hard to understand and he mangled "renaissance" and "threepenny," as in Threepenny Opera, and "repertoire."
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