Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Vous voulez voir cette page en français ? Cliquez ici.

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering.
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Start reading Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington [Hardcover]

Terry Teachout
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 31.50
Price: CDN$ 19.75 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
You Save: CDN$ 11.75 (37%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
Usually ships within 2 to 3 weeks.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.ca. Gift-wrap available.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition --  
Hardcover CDN $19.75  
Paperback CDN $16.79  
Join Amazon Student in Canada

Book Description

Oct. 22 2013
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.”

Frequently Bought Together

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington + Kansas City Lightning + The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Price For All Three: CDN$ 65.52

Some of these items ship sooner than the others.

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

Product Details

Product Description


"Compelling narrative flow...poised impartiality. . . .Teachout writes in an earthbound style marked by sound scholarship and easy readability. . . . Duke humanizes a man whom history has kept on a pedestal.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A thoroughly researched homage…Teachout delivers a Duke unlike any we’ve seen in previous biographies…At last, Teachout affirms that music was Ellington’s greatest mistress – and to her, the composer was unrelentingly loyal.”
Essence Magazine
“Comprehensive and well-researched…important….[an] entertaining and valuable biography.”
Booklist, Starred Review
“Teachout gives much insight into Ellington's life, personality, working habits, and compositions. This work should appeal to Ellington enthusiasts as well as casual jazz fans.”
Library Journal
“Revealing…Teachout neatly balances colorful anecdote with shrewd character assessments and musicological analysis, and he manages to debunk Ellington’s self-mythologizing, while preserving his stature as the man who caught jazz’s ephemeral genius in a bottle.”
Publishers Weekly
"Terry Teachout’s biography is destined to be the definitive biography of bandleader, composer, and complex man—Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington."
The American Rag

One of The Daily Beast’s Fall 2013 Must-Reads
Chosen as a Top 10 Music Book by Publishers Weekly

A Conversation with TERRY TEACHOUT, author of DUKE 
Exactly how important a composer was Duke Ellington?
Ellington was the most important jazz composer of the twentieth century, and one of the greatest composers in any genre of music. Not only was he a major composer of purely instrumental music, but he wrote some of the century’s most successful popular songs, including “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated Lady,” many of which continue to this day to be performed and recorded. No jazz composer has left a deeper mark on world culture.
What kind of a person was he in private life? Was he trustworthy? Loyal? Honest?
That’s a tricky question! Like many geniuses, Ellington was almost entirely self-centered, though his selfishness didn’t exclude kindness and benevolence—on his own terms. But a fair number of his sidemen considered him unscrupulous, and I can’t say that I blame them for feeling that way.
Was Ellington as great a lover as he’s said to have been?
Even greater, by all accounts. Throughout his life Ellington was catnip to women, and he rarely said “no” when they invited him into their beds. I didn’t even try to count his lovers—I can’t count that high.
Did Ellington really write all of his hit songs and instrumental compositions—or did he have unacknowledged collaborators?
He had many unacknowledged collaborators, starting with Billy Strayhorn, his closest musical associate. He wasn’t a plagiarist, but to an extent that’s not generally realized or fully understood by most of his fans, Ellington created his music collectively—though he was always the auteur, the man who made the ultimate decisions, and he was solely responsible for writing most of his major instrumental pieces. On the other hand, bits and pieces of the melodies of most of his big pop hits were written by his sidemen. To be sure, he usually gave credit where it was due, but not always, and he tried whenever possible to buy those bits and pieces for flat fees instead of cutting his collaborators in on the songwriting royalties.
What effect did Ellington’s middle-class family background have on his personality and music?
It was absolutely central to his personality—as well as to his music. Ellington saw himself as a member of the light-skinned black bourgeoisie, an elegant, cultivated gentleman who insisted on being taken seriously by the white world and performing not only in nightclubs but in concert halls.
For the uninitiated, what should be the three Ellington songs one should listen to first? Why?
I’d start with “Ko-Ko,” Ellington’s most perfect instrumental composition, written and recorded in 1940. It’s an explosively dynamic blues that comes as close as any record can to summing him up in three minutes. Then I’d choose the original 1930 recording of “Mood Indigo,” which shows us Ellington in a quiet, pensive mood. Last of all, I’d opt for the frenzied live recording of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” that he made in 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival. Not only will that give you a taste of Ellington’s large-scale compositions, but it’s of enormous historical importance as well, for its popular success shaped the last part of his life.
What was the most surprising fact you came across in your research of his life?
Speaking as a musician and a scholar, I was most surprised by the extent of his borrowings from other musicians. I knew he was in the habit of doing so, but I didn’t fully realize the extent to which his compositional process was shaped by his need to collaborate—which arose in large part from the fact that he found it difficult to write memorable tunes. (I’ll admit, though, that the details of his very enthusiastic sex life occasionally surprised me as well!)
How did Duke get that scar on his face? Why was he so ashamed to show it?
Edna, his wife, attacked him with a razor when she found out in 1929 that he was sleeping with Fredi Washington, a beautiful black actress. I think he was ashamed of the scar because he hated the idea of anyone knowing that he’d ever been at the mercy of a woman. He had enormously complicated feelings about women, a fascinating mixture of attraction, hatred, and—above all—distrust.
Now that you’ve extensively researched Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, who do you have more of an affinity for? Why?
Again, that’s a tricky question. Louis Armstrong was clearly the more likable man, in part because his personality was so completely open and unguarded. Ellington, however, was far more intriguing, for the opposite reason: he only showed you what he wanted you to see, and nothing more. I guess I’d have to say that I would have preferred to be Armstrong’s friend—though I think it would have been great fun to hang out with Ellington on occasion. I’m not sure I would have wanted to work for him, though.

About the Author

Terry Teachout, the drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about Armstrong’s life and times. He lives in New York City. 

Customer Reviews

5 star
2 star
1 star
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Seems to diminish Ellington's talent March 9 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a thorough, revealing, and readable account of Ellington's life both personal and professional. It tends to highlight more his skill as a bandleader and arranger than as a composer, reiterating over and again the many compositions credited to Ellington that were more or less written by someone else. In particular, great attention is given to the genius of Billy Strayhorn (which makes the reader want a biography of Strayhorn himself!). Nevertheless Teachout shows reverence for Ellington while not avoiding less wholesome traits like his relationships with women.

The book focuses quite a bit on times when Ellington was down for the count, times when his compositions flopped, or his band members failed to perform, or he himself seemed worn out. Teachout gives negative reviews for many of Ellington's compositions, leaving one with the impression that the Duke was not as great as Teachout tells us he was in his summary paragraphs.

One of the major impressions we are left with after reading this book is Ellington's singular devotion to his craft - never, even when his reviews were bad, or when his health was failing, or when he was struck by the loss of a treasured soloist, was he able to stop working, touring, and writing. This book paints a very interesting picture of an artist at the mercy of his craft without a way to detach himself from his work and his art.

The book itself is well-written and detailed, although it drags at times. It seemed to me like some of the stories were repeated (e.g. the story behind Black Brown & Beige), but perhaps I'm misremembering.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars It is good but incomplete Feb. 27 2014
As an overview of Ellington's life this book is fine. If you are an Ellington aficionado, it skims over those recordings and that period of time you likely listen to the most and most affected by. Also its main theme is that Ellington is a compiler of music rather than a pure composer which gives the reader of Duke the impression that Ellington is a musical cheater. I don't agree with this. What Teachout does not explore is that Miles Davis used his soloists to create his greatest hits, or Paul McCartney use and reuse of his best bits, or mash ups like the Beatle's Love. Ellington exploited this writing form to create great music.

Teachout also does not look at the consistent great engineering and mixes of Duke's recording and how that has contributed to his ongoing popularity and legacy. I truly appreciate the Blanton-Webster period, but I listen mostly and repeatedly to the post 1956 recordings the most (as do most of the hardcore Ellington listeners) - his Impulse!, Columbia and RCA recordings are outstanding and virtually every true audiophile has those recordings. I am often surprised that someone with a $50,000 stereo will demonstrate how great it is with Ellington. Aside from great sound it is great and interesting music. Why does this attachment exist?

If Duke's music is a mash up or based on the riffs provided by the soloists - why does it work so consistently? The reader is left with an impression that Ellington found an angle, more a process rather than genius. That is why I think this work is incomplete.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
By Stuart Jefferson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was going to write an in-depth review but why? If you're familiar with Teachout's great book on Louis Armstrong, this is very much in that mold. Plus, when I looked closely at the cover photograph, I noticed that it was Ellington's left side--with the long scar from a razor cut inflicted by his wife in 1929--something he attempted to hide. So I was intrigued and fairly sure that this was no glossy, shallow (there's 81 pages of Source Notes!) look at Ellington. While Teachout never really is able (through the circumstance of Ellington not being able to speak for himself) to delve into the nitty-gritty of who and what Ellington really was (he never talked much about himself), his penchant for detail gives the reader a long inside look at Ellington himself.

Some details about the man's lifestyle (his self-centeredness for one, taking credit for compositions not entirely his own is another), and his views on life and people (he was a lifelong procrastinator and treated people--especially women--poorly) might surprise you. His life, both in music (most of the book) and out, the music itself (Teachout feels that Ellington may have tried to go further musically than he was able), and the people (Billy Strayhorn and their relationship is a good example) are looked at in depth. Plus, the many musicians/people he crossed paths with (including the 900 musicians who passed through his bands) throughout his life are open to Teachout's research and help immensely in giving a new, valuable, and interesting look at Ellington--even though his friends and band mates struggled to understand the "real" Ellington. Through years-long, diligent, in-depth research and the (relatively few) photographs from various periods in Duke's life we come away with even more respect, closeness, and awe for Ellington's many accomplishments.

If you're a jazz fan, or a fan of good music in general, or want to learn more about one of the Twentieth Century's true geniuses, then you should read this tome on Ellington. As I said, Teachout goes the route of including much detail about his subject, and for some that may be a bit of a challenge if you're wanting a broad, general overview of Ellington. If so, Teachout lists a number of biographies on Ellington for reference. Also included is a list of some of the main musical pieces Ellington was known for. But Ellington was responsible for so many great compositions and so much actual music its hard (if not impossible) to list every great thing he's recorded. But in the end those details are what gives the book (and Ellington) a foundation and adds more information about Duke (a nickname possibly given to him by childhood friends "...partly because of his princely manner...and partly because his mother dressed him so stylishly."). And those details--some of them seemingly inconsequential--are the mark of an author who takes his subject seriously, and it shows all through this book. And fans are ultimately all the better for those details.

To paraphrase Miles Davis--"All musicians should get on their knees and thank Ellington." This book balances Ellington's life and viewpoints with his music-making (areas which are oftentimes at odds with his public perception), and gives the reader a look into a man with flaws much like all of us. Ellington did so much for jazz and music in general. So its about time that someone, who is qualified to write a book with so much detail about a giant of music, has finally done so. And jazz/music lovers are the better for it. With its embossed jacket title of "DUKE", and end papers filled with color reproductions of record labels, this is a well put together book. This book can sit next to Teachout's Armstrong book (and other good biographies) in your library. One of the better books of its kind this year.

Also, if you're looking for a good overview of Ellington's music from the 1920's into the 1970's, look for a book (pub. 1993 by Oxford, edited by Mark Tucker) titled "The Duke Ellington Reader". Included in it's 500 pages (not including two indexes) are reviews, critiques, essays, and interviews (Ellington and various band members) that cuts across several decades, and from many sources that really have the flavor of those particular times. This is a book that Ellington fans should have in their library--and it's still available from several sellers on Amazon, or check your neighborhood used book dealer. It's a valuable look through time at Duke's music.

AND SPEAKING OF GREAT BIOGRAPHIES ON DESERVING JAZZ MUSICIANS, check out "WAIL The Life of Bud Powell" (pub. 2012), by Peter Pullman. If Armstrong and Ellington are important to you, and you're a jazz fan--you need Pullman's book. His research on Powell is every bit the equal (and may be better) than Teachout's look at Armstrong and/or Ellington. Its available as a Kindle edition on Amazon, but I prefer a paper book that I can hold in my hands--to each his own--so I e-mailed Pullman (Google his name and book title) and purchased a "hard" trade size, soft cover copy, and received it in short order. A very fine piece of research and writing. This is (and will continue to be) the best book on Powell and his music. Miss this at your own loss.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this first! Dec 13 2013
By Milton Wimmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am not an Ellington scholar, by any stretch of the imagination. But I have read quite a bit about him and have played and studied 100 or more of his 3 1/2 minute chestnuts. That said, I can say without reservation that this is the best single piece of Ellington scholarship I've read to date. There are opinions galore, of course, but most appear to be based on fairly solid research. (The bibliography and footnotes section at the end of the book are as extensive as I've ever seen in a biography.) I'd certainly recommend you read Terry's book before you read Duke's autobiography, which, to me, was largely a waste of time. As in most things personal to Ellington, the concept of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth appear to have been largely alien to him.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great bio, for fans and non-fans alike Nov. 16 2013
By G. Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Terry Teachout's new bio of Ellington is briskly and engagingly written, and very informative. He has mined about as much personal information on Ellington as we are likely to get. There's no heavy musical analysis but lots of information about the music. He keeps the story clipping along and provides plenty of interesting anecdotes and social history of the period. I would highly recommend it for established fans, who will get a clearer understanding of Ellington as a person, as well as for the lay person, who will get a broad overview of Ellington's work and a nice glimpse of jazz culture.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just the facts please March 29 2014
By J. McCampbell - Published on Amazon.com
If you want to find out how much of a slimebag he was, read Don George's book, Sweet Man. If you want to find out how much of a credit stealer he was, read David Hajdu's book on Strayhorn. If you want a great overall view of how people saw him, read either Mercer Ellington's book or Stuart Nicholson's Reminiscing in Tempo. If you want to read a book where the author cannot keep his own voice out of the text for more than a page, read this book. Teachout's problem is two-fold. One, he comes to the same conclusion most older author's on Ellington's career did, where the best period is the Blanton-Webster band. Two, he constantly suggests that Ellington wanted to be a composer at the level of a classical musician, and that he failed doing it. Both of these ideas cloud the entire book, which (typically) short changes the last three decades of his life. Teachout comes across as being what my mother would call "snippy." For those of us who view Ellington's work as a great front runner for a lot of modern music in many fields, we let the classical concepts of his work go. It is what it is, and in that, it has a lot of merit. Furthermore, there is the amazing story in merely keeping his band together under the banner for so long it became an institution. Having read numerous other books on Ellington, this one ranks as just a brief overview. Most of his research seems to be out of other author's work. I would worry that suggesting this as a first read for someone interested in Ellington, would turn them off.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unavoidably about the life of the Maestro's music June 3 2014
By Samuel Chell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Recently I heard an experienced, high-profile moderator of a syndicated, "mainstream" jazz show tell his worldwide audience that he chose not to play "early jazz" (i.e. Louis, Duke, Prez, Bird) not because he had anything "against it" but because he didn't "know much about it." What initially seemed like a commendable moment of candor soon became a gnawing question in my mind: why not learn? My shelves of books about jazz now fill an entire room, but there is always room for another study about the music's most elusive, enigmatic and arguably greatest musician. Teachout's book helps demystify the man without diminishing the music of jazz' most protean, prolific, complex musical genius (comparing Ellington's "Concerts of Sacred Music" to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is like moving from the art of Shakespeare, who embraces a worldly, earthly, sensuous aesthetic, to the visionary poetry Shelley, a vatic artist whose upward, or Apollonian, trajectory is at once more narrow and focused in reach and scope.

As an impressionable student of the music (beginning with Marshall Stearns groundbreaking "The Story of Jazz"), I recall that with respect to Ellington I often experienced disappointment when his public persona did not always seem to measure up to his reputation (as gathered from jazz histories, Downbeat and Metronome reviews, and of course those Columbia long-playing records). His celebrity, I sensed, was often ill-served in popular media like the Johnny Carson Show, which simply refused to acknowledge rank, loyalty and privilege. (Moreover, I suspect Doc and the band were relatively clueless about his actual importance.) His "family" (i.e. the Ellington band) would give me assorted, sometimes contradictory, stories. Russell Procope was the most loyal, expressing a regard for the Maestro that was never less than reverential. All of the other guys had problems, gripes, demons of one sort or another. Sam Woodyard became irascible at the very mention of Duke's addition of a 2nd drummer (Jimmy Johnson, Elvin Jones). Truth be told, the life of the road was not easy--especially for aging noblesse oblige in the most venerable of all road bands (Duke's was not one of the overnight ensembles that Stan and Woody would assemble by raiding college bands like those at North Texas State for talent that was rough but ready, promising players "made to go"). The Ellington band's manager Al Szelle was tired and weary, Paul Gonsalves was an imploding potential disaster, Johnny Hodges was a temperamental, demoted diva, Lawrence Brown--once as crucial to the Ellington ensemble sound as Hodges--was no longer getting his due. Toward the end, bassist Joe Benjamin summed it up for me: "Be glad you didn't pursue a music career. It's a lousy way to make a living."

But out of this frequently discordant family came music the likes of which the world of jazz, or of music, has never heard or seen. Few remember that Duke at first resisted the "swing thing." His music was about detail, nuance, timbre and color--apparent in every measure of, for instance, "Flamingo," which is far more than a period piece arranged as "background" for its baritone vocalist, Herb Jeffries. (The last living member of an Ellington band before his recent passing at the age of 100+, Jeffries also had a productive career in the movies as the Bronze Buckaroo of "race Westerns" and was once married to stripper Tempest Storm.) Some are unaware of the intricate arrangements of the Blanton-Webster band, and how quickly Duke was able to showcase his new prodigy, Jimmy Blanton--the first virtuoso bass player in jazz--with the same attention to musical detail as in the Jeffries hit song. No boring bass solos for Blanton. Duke exploited this new talent to the most musical of ends, making the instrument sing through a combination of Blanton's unprecedented chops and arranging ingenuity of the Ellington-Strayhorn dynamic duo.

For me the great paradox of Duke was a profound one, centered on the relationship of the human voice, initially the only instrument African-Americans were allowed to employ on plantations run by Protestant overlords, and the instruments that became increasingly important around the turn of the century, especially in New Orleans. Duke's music, more than any other, represented that relationship so well that every Ellington performance (not merely his "Black, Brown and Beige: A Tone Poem Parallel to the History of the American Negro") is an "aural avatar" of the African-American experience. To be more specific, on the one hand, Ellington insisted on players who, in addition to expressing their tonal personalities through their horns, were capable of "vocalizing" on their instruments. Bubber Miley, Tricky Sam Nanton, then Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams and later Clark Terry and the albums Duke recorded with as many as three plunger-equipped trombones--the instruments "speak" with a personal authority found in no other musical ensemble. On the other hand, he saw his vocalists as, above all, "instruments" in his band. In early pieces like "Creole Love Call" the wordless human voice was merely another "instrumental voice" in the richly textured ensemble. When he wrote pop tunes, the melodies were as angular and elliptical as Monk's original compositions, intimidating to most vocalists: "Sophisticated Lady," "In a Sentimenal Mood," "I've Got It Bad" (all with octave leaps within the first two measures), "Prelude to a Kiss" (congested chromatics that eventually reach a carefully conceived goal). His "Heaven" was typical Duke, a Shakespearean "sensuous" and worldly heaven with "pretty things"; not a Dante-like Romantic or spritual vision. And he persuaded Sweden's greatest--Alice Babs--to "nail" each of the notes in his final, eschatalogical, Biblical works.

It's easy, especially for Ellington connoisseurs, to treat the 1956 Newport event as inferior Duke--most of it was a reconstruction; it was more about the social fuss and mini-riot than the music; it became Duke's biggest seller yet Columbia would fire Duke 4 years later in favor of Monk and Mingus (and Miles). But upon listening to the CD restoration of the concert it rises in historical importance, finally earning its popular reputation as musical peak in the musical career of Duke. What started out to be a diastrous evening, with 4 band members missing, was masterminded by the Maestro into the band's moment of glory. Despite low expectations surrounding Duke's aging warriors, the band on that night proved they could swing harder than any band of any size, thanks to Duke's clever dovetailing of two old blues arrangements ("Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue"), along with Duke's vocal encouragement and strategically placed, percussively played, piano accompaniment, setting the stage for the most famous solo (and deservedly so) in not just Newport's 60 years but the entire history of jazz festivals, and moreover "Ellington at Newport 1956" was a harbinger of Woodstock. Only Paul Gonsalves had the humility and self-possession to be able to remain "within himself," eschewing showboating in favor of minor alterations in each of his 28-choruses to maintain interest, and above all remaining content to "ride the groove." Coltrane, Rollins, Hawk, Jaws--they couldn't have done it. They would have overwhelmed the moment, arresting the flow by directing attention to themselves. But not the modest Paul, whose ambitions never seemed to extend outside of the Ellington world. Ellington At Newport 1956

And Duke's first LP, with Louis Belson's "Skin Deep" and the most ambitious "A Train" on record--a bebop scat solo by Betty Roché followed by a raging up-tempo finish by Gonsalves--it's a recording that strangely was neglected (as were many others), and now we come to a moment in history where time has yielded to a plethora of simultaneous moments, all of them being streamed to us as digital files unrelated to anything but themselves.

Duke Ellington was an American original. I somehow missed much of the reputed elegance and eloquence--maybe I was too late. I saw the musician, the leader, the force who, even to the greatest musicians--like Joe Williams and Frank Sinatra--seemed inscrutable, the creator of music they could scarcely account for let alone sing. (Sadly, Sinatra gave up on "Lush Life" after recording the first half with Nelson Riddle.) And the ONLY master take of Duke's vignette representing "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" is the original vinyl copy of "Such Sweet Thunder." It's only the original Columbia album from 1956 that captures the moment when Clark Terry makes his fleugelhorn speak the immortal words of Puck: "Such fools these mortals be." [Look for a used copy of the original LP on eBay: all reissued editions of one of Duke's inarguable masterpieces employ the wrong original tape.}

Duke had enough on his mind just to "make" the music (while attending to his public persona) without the burden of archiving, organizing, and curating the music--most of it in ragged shape as score. The last I looked, the most popular Ellington album on Amazon was the least of his meetings: "Ellington and Coltrane." It's a nice gesture, an iconic and symbolic meeting between two of the seminal giants, past and present (who would have believed Trane would precede Duke's passing by 6 years?). But it's an insult to Duke's music, more evidence that the many of the remaining jazz public can't seem to "get" the Ellington sound or comprehend why, for many of us, just hearing a few measures of the unique ensemble sound in an otherwise bad performance will suffice.

The last time I saw Duke was at a 4-hour prom 2 blocks from my house. Four long and interminable hours, with only a bus ride from Kenosha, WI to Kansas City for the next night's gig to look forward to. Duke received 4 requests for "Satin Doll"--not because the crowd loved it that much but because they were clueless about its previous performance. Duke acknowledged each request, and the band played the song, with Duke playing the old white beater I personally had refused to used on 5-6 occasions. The total cost for the band was $2000--and this was almost 10 years after the Beatles had invaded America, leading to entertainers receiving obscene amounts for their appearances, with all sorts of petty demands in their contracts. But Duke kept the rusty old A Train on the warped tracks, sounding almost like new. And he remained on stage for all 4 hours, writing music during intermission. At the end of the evening, a trombone player sleeping on the floor of the bandstand had to be carried out, and finally it was Duke and me--with Harry waiting in the limo. The temperature was below freezing, but it didn't matter to Duke. In another month he would give a solo piano concert at the Whitney Museum in NYC. At that moment, I not only loved him madly but began to understand why.

Needless to say, we'll never see another pair of American Maestros like Duke and Leonard Bernstein (I doubt that a Paul Whiteman was in the same league). Perhaps both had too many irons in the fire, and it cost them (I've noticed as much fuzziness in people's memory when I bring up the name of Bernstein as that of Ellington. Perhaps Ellington would strike greater recognition in a mass survey than "Lennie.") Even so, it's crucial that writers like Teachout continue to write about Duke (and will we ever see Vol. 2 of Gary Giddins' Bing Crosby biography that ended at the 1940 mark?) The written word is becoming ever cheaper. The amount of published text is doubling every 5 years. If in addition to the melting of the polar ice caps we experience a meltdown of our cultural memory, the battle is lost.

I wish Teachout had focused primarily on the art rather than the artist. Duke's music was at once universal and so personal that to know his music is to know the man. And to those jazz disc jockeys, who apparently are too old to learn and who claim to favor "mainstream jazz" but only if it's a Blue Note date recorded in the '50s by Van Gelder, why not play some Ellington, even if you haven't been able to reduce the music to your understanding?--and not simply his "popular hits" but the music itself--as it sounded only when the Maestro played it on his instrument, which was NOT a piano: it was the Duke Elliington Orchestra.
Search Customer Reviews
Only search this product's reviews

Look for similar items by category