Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington [NOOK Book]


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 ...
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Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington

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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.”
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Terry Teachout's Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong won accolades; now this seasoned journalist/bassist sets his research sights on another iconic jazz figure. Composer/bandleader/pianist "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974) enjoyed an audience far beyond local club venues. He appeared in scores of movies and numerous television shows. The grandson of a slave and the son of a butler, he carved his place first as a musician near the center of the Harlem Renaissance and then as an apparently tireless performer and songwriter. (He composed more than 1,500 songs.) Teachout's Duke reveals the man behind "Mood Indigo" as a sly, taciturn man who guarded his secrets well. Obviously a labor of love, this 480-page biography sheds new light on one of the most important figures in the history of American music.

The New York Times Book Review - James Gavin
…in his cleareyed reassessment of a man regarded in godlike terms, Teachout…delves behind "the mask of smiling, noncommittal urbanity that he showed to the world." The facts and stories he relates aren't new, but rarely have they had such a compelling narrative flow or ring of reliability…Teachout keeps his psychoanalyzing within safe limits; he contextualizes historically without sounding contrived, and honors his subject's musical achievements through just the right amount of close analysis…Teachout relates even the most dramatic episodes in the Ellington story with a poised impartiality. He doesn't take a novelistic approach, nor does he describe music with…lyrical flights of fancy…Teachout writes in an earthbound style marked by sound scholarship and easy readability.
Publishers Weekly
The revealing biography chronicles the life of the legendary jazz bandleader and composer, who conjured great music out of other men’s ideas. Wall Street Journal critic Teachout (Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong) presents a charismatic, charming, debonair man who brought a new artistic depth to a disreputable popular entertainment—and a self-centered bastard who suavely manipulated everyone from his sidemen to his countless paramours. (His infidelities provoked his wife to slash him with a razor and a mistress to pull a gun when she caught him in bed with another woman.) Teachout’s focus on his subject’s creative process sometimes clashes with his assertion that Ellington was “the greatest composer in the history of jazz”; the unevenness of the Duke’s oeuvre and his reliance on tunes appropriated from writing partner Billy Strayhorn and other band members without proper crediting raises the question of whether his “radically collaborative” methods really comport with our notion of a brilliant composer. Yet Ellington’s crucial role as a shaper and solidifier of his band’s improvisational musical outpourings comes through clearly in the book. 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. Photos. Agent: Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu, Writers’ Representatives. (Oct. 21)
Library Journal
Teachout (drama critic, Wall Street Journal; Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong) this time tackles the life, work, and music of Duke Ellington. Although Ellington wrote an autobiography (Music Is My Mistress) and has been profiled in several other books over the years, few of these get at the complexity of Ellington's private life and his personality as a bandleader. Teachout's writing is clear, the facts seem to be well supported both from previously published sources and from interviews, and some of the awareness that the author provides (e.g., the extent to which Ellington was a collaborative composer who used ideas from his band members) will expand readers' view of the man who was perhaps the greatest jazz composer of the 20th century. Photographs sprinkled throughout are well chosen to provide support to Teachout's points in the text. VERDICT 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.—James E. Perone, Univ. of Mount Union, Alliance, OH
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-28
With this exhaustive, engaging study of the greatest jazz composer of his era, Wall Street Journal drama critic Teachout solidifies his place as one of America's great music biographers. Many have cited jazz as America's only true indigenous art form, so it is at once surprising and disheartening that major publishers are seemingly hesitant to champion books that tackle the subject--especially considering that when an author is allowed the freedom to dive into the life and music of a jazz titan, the results are often brilliant, something that Teachout demonstrated with his justifiably revered Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (2010). After Armstrong, chronologically speaking, bandleader/composer/arranger/pianist Duke Ellington was jazz's next game changer. Aside from his undeniably astounding ear, Ellington, like Armstrong, was a personality, one of the rare jazzmen who was able to combine heady music with showbiz panache without diminishing his art. With his vibrant prose and ability to get into his protagonist's head and heart, Teachout captures this essence and charisma in a manner worthy of Ellington's complex yet listenable classic "The Queen's Suite." One of Ellington's most notable nonmusical qualities was his loyalty, and the author gives some of his longtime sidemen and compatriots--e.g., composer Billy Strayhorn and saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves--their due. Finally, as was the case in Pops, Teachout's musical analysis is spot-on, at once complex and accessible. It will be appreciated equally by those who have 100 Ellington albums and those whose awareness of the Duke is limited to his best-known tunes like "Take The 'A' Train" and "Satin Doll." Hopefully, the brilliance of Teachout's treatment will compel the industry to let authors take a crack at the lives of, say, Ornette Coleman, Count Basie and Charles Mingus. Like most Ellington albums, Teachout's in-depth, well-researched, loving study of this American treasure is an instant classic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780698138582
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/17/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 209,272
  • File size: 13 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Terry Teachout
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. 
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 5

Black and Tan also marked—literally—a transition in Ellington’s private life. After 1928 his left cheek bore a prominent crescent-shaped scar that is easily visible in the film’s last scene (and in the photograph reproduced on the cover of this book). Though rarely mentioned by journalists, it made fans curious enough that he felt obliged to “explain” its presence in Music Is My Mistress:

I have four stories about it, and it depends on which you like the best. One is a taxicab accident; another is that I slipped and fell on a broken bottle; then there is a jealous woman; and last is Old Heidelberg, where they used to stand toe to toe with a saber in each hand, and slash away. The first man to step back lost the contest, no matter how many times he’d sliced the other. Take your pick.

None of Ellington’s friends and colleagues was in doubt about which one to pick. In Irving Mills’s words, “Women was one of the highlights in his life. He had to have women. . . . He always had a woman, always kept a woman here, kept a woman there, always had somebody.” Most men who treat women that way are destined to suffer at their hands sooner or later, if not necessarily in so sensational a fashion as Ellington, whose wife attacked him with a razor when she found out that he was sleeping with another woman.

Who was she? One possible candidate is Fredi Washington. The costar of Black and Tan had launched her theatrical career in 1922 as a dancer in the chorus of the original production of Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along. Sonny Greer later described her as “the most beautiful woman” he had ever seen. “She had gorgeous skin, perfect features, green eyes, and a great figure. When she smiled, that was it!” Washington was light enough to pass for white but adamantly refused to do so, a decision that made it impossible for her to establish herself in Hollywood, though she appeared with Paul Robeson in Dudley Murphy’s 1933 film of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (for which her skin was darkened with makeup) and starred in Imitation of Life, a 1934 tearjerker in which she played, with mortifying predictability, a light-skinned black who passed for white. Ellington never spoke on the record about their romantic involvement, but Washington later admitted to the film historian Donald Bogle that she and Ellington had been lovers: “I just had to accept that he wasn’t going to marry me. But I wasn’t going to be his mistress.” Their relationship was widely known at the time in the entertainment world, enough so that Mercer Ellington could write in his memoir of “a torrid love affair Pop had with a very talented and beautiful woman, an actress. I think this was a genuine romance, that there was love on both sides, and that it amounted to one of the most serious relationships of his life.”

Reprinted by arrangement with GOTHAM BOOKS, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © TERRY TEACHOUT, 2013.


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