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Reminiscing in Tempo: Duke Ellington Documentary

The sound he created was a tapestry of bluesy textures, lowdown swing and solo instrumental voices that growled, cried or wailed. Ellington led the band with a majesty that made him seem truly royal. His was a grand tightrope act. Dressed in tails, grinning broadly from the piano, he stayed ever suave and impeccable.

A biography by James Lincoln Collier focused on the music and sidestepped the personality. Middle-class blacks of the time, like his parents, knew that upward mobility depended on adopting the whitest mannerisms possible.

Jazz was blossoming in the form of ragtime, and he fell in love with its syncopated rhythms. Musically he was largely self-taught, and soon after he started his first combos, he formed a concept that had little to do with ragtime. He unleashed it in at the Cotton Club, the gold ring for black entertainers.

Duke Ellington Life Times by David Bradbury - AbeBooks

He needed a powerful white champion to truly make it big, and he had found one in Irving Mills, a music publisher who managed the band. He had enormously complicated feelings about women, a fascinating mixture of attraction, hatred, and—above all—distrust. 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. Read An Excerpt. Paperback —. Add to Cart. Product Details. Inspired by Your Browsing History. Related Articles. Looking for More Great Reads?

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But that's the way it went with this charming sacred monster Strayhorn's nickname for "Edward" was in fact "Monster" who insisted on running his own show. A former "spoiled child, and proud of it," Duke said of himself: "I'm easy to please. I just want to have everyone in the palm of my hand.

Pianist Marian McPartland said Ellington "had so much sex appeal it was almost frightening.

A Life of Duke Ellington

The personal details are fascinating, but it's the music that counts, and Teachout is especially good at describing and commenting on the compositions of a man who when young also practiced visual art: "It is Ellington's command of instrumental color that sets his work apart He treated his sidemen as 'found objects' whose one-of-a-kind timbres he used like the painter he had been. In the classic "Harlem Air-Shaft," Teachout notes, "seemingly unrelated musical episodes are shoved up against one another in the manner of a Cubistic collage.

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Ellington was "a disciplined lyric miniaturist," the author states, "who knew how to express the grandest of emotions on the smallest of scales. As for the innermost thoughts and secrets of this sardonic maestro: "Everyone knows him - yet no one knows him," Teachout concludes. Maybe so, but thanks to this frank and sympathetic biography - whose every page is studded with sharp phrases and keen insights - we now seem to know Duke Ellington as well as we ever will or need to. E-mail: books sfchronicle.