The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America

The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America

by Larry Tye

Narrated by Dominic Hoffman

Unabridged — 16 hours, 44 minutes

The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America

The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America

by Larry Tye

Narrated by Dominic Hoffman

Unabridged — 16 hours, 44 minutes

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Satchel and Bobby Kennedy, a sweeping and spellbinding portrait of the longtime kings of jazz-Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie-who, born within a few years of one another, overcame racist exclusion and violence to become the most popular entertainers on the planet.

This is the story of three revolutionary American musicians, the maestro jazzmen who orchestrated the chords that throb at the soul of twentieth-century America.

  • Duke Ellington, the grandson of slaves who was christened Edward Kennedy Ellington, was a man whose story is as layered and nuanced as his name suggests and whose music transcended category.
  • Louis Daniel Armstrong was born in a New Orleans slum so tough it was called The Battlefield and, at age seven, got his first musical instrument, a ten-cent tin horn that drew buyers to his rag-peddling wagon and set him on the road to elevating jazz into a pulsating force for spontaneity and freedom.
  • William James Basie, too, grew up in a world unfamiliar to white fans-the son of a coachman and laundress who dreamed of escaping every time the traveling carnival swept into town, and who finally engineered his getaway with help from Fats Waller.

What is far less known about these groundbreakers is that they were bound not just by their music or even the discrimination that they, like nearly all Black performers of their day, routinely encountered. Each defied and ultimately overcame racial boundaries by opening America's eyes and souls to the magnificence of their music. In the process they wrote the soundtrack for the civil rights movement.

Based on more than 250 interviews, this exhaustively researched book brings alive the history of Black America in the early-to-mid 1900s through the singular lens of the country's most gifted, engaging, and enduring African-American musicians.

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Tye brings his subjects to life as both forces of social change and three-dimensional human beings who lived and breathed their art, from Ellington’s soulful, 'Shakespearian' arrangements to Armstrong’s 'heart as big as Earth' and Basie’s 'Buddha-like' temperament. It’s a vibrant ode to a legendary trio and the 'rip-roaring harmonies' that made them great.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “Like the best music created by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, The Jazzmen SWINGS. As Tye makes clear, their story is the story of America in the twentieth century.” — RICKY RICCARDI, Grammy Award–winning author of What a Wonderful World and Heart Full of Rhythm

The Jazzmen begins with colorful people and flows to rich history so beautifully it is musical.” — JUAN WILLIAMS, author of Eyes on the Prize 

“Proud and important history, beautifully told.” — DEVAL PATRICK, former governor of Massachusetts, assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bill Clinton 

The Jazzmen reveals how these three musicians, when they express themselves through their instruments, become magical.” — MERCEDES ELLINGTON, dancer, choreographer, and Duke’s granddaughter 

“Larry Tye has written a masterpiece. These three are not only the most important people in American music, but they changed the whole world in their individual ways.” — WENDELL BRUNIOUS, New Orleans bandleader and trumpeter 

The Jazzmen tells an uplifting and unifying story that is especially important now, when times are so fractured.” — SONNY ROLLINS, Grammy Award–winning tenor saxophonist 

“Entertaining and engrossing, and a warm invitation to an essential part of American history.” — TRACY KIDDER, Pulitzer Prize–winning author 

“I thought I was already well-informed about these jazz heroes, but Larry Tye reveals so much more about their musical journeys and personal experiences. It’s like meeting them all over again. I couldn’t put it down.” — GARY BURTON, Grammy Award–winning jazz vibraphonist

“Tye has found that there are new things to say about The Three Musketeers of Jazz. Read, learn, and enjoy.” — DAN MORGENSTERN, jazz author, historian, editor, educator, and former director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies

Library Journal

★ 05/01/2024

One might have thought that there wasn't much left to say about jazz's holy trinity, but Tye's thematic discursions on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie have a fresh perspective and different angles. He draws on his previous works—including Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon—for some lenses through which he views these three men who've had a profound influence on American music and culture. The chapters navigating their travels through the American South (especially in Pullman cars) and contributions to the civil rights era are incredibly vivid. The thematic arrangement of the chapters and side-by-side comparisons of how each man navigated everything from racism to romance to the recording industry seem especially suitable for a book that is, after all, about jazz. It also makes each artist all the more distinctive compared to his peers. VERDICT A refreshing and attentive suite of composite portraits for jazz fans and readers interested in the intersection of art, culture, and politics in the 20th-century United States.—Genevieve Williams

Kirkus Reviews

An examination of the lives of three kings of jazz and their impact on American society.

Tye, the bestselling author of biographies of Satchel Paige, Joseph McCarthy, and others, embarks on his first voyage into music history. In a single volume, he has essentially produced fairly substantial biographies of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, contemporaries who became three of the most decorated and celebrated musicians in American history. The author capably delineates their struggles with, and impact on, the often harrowing and sometimes violent complexities and shifting dynamics of American race relations during the first half of the 20th century. The most striking aspect of the book is the astonishing amount of research Tye conducted, the sometimes overwhelming yield of which clears up myths that the golden trio themselves often perpetuated regarding their upbringings, their turbulent personal lives, and the technical evolution of their music. The author takes a fascinating look at the religious backgrounds and beliefs of Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington, who were the most prominent frontmen of the music that fanatics and public figures long blamed and targeted for societal degradation. Tye also explores the friendly but fierce professional rivalry among the three. The author’s vivid style brings readers front and center into the myriad of clubs and studios where Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington played, as well as the social vibe of the cities and towns where their music left an indelible mark. This thoroughly enjoyable musical journey is succinctly titled, yet the scope of Tye's research demonstrates why and how Armstrong, Basie, and Ellington transcended jazz and even music itself to establish themselves in American culture forevermore in words that a young Ellington employed to describe himself: "beyond category." For Ellington, “it wasn’t a contradiction to be an artist as well as a showman.”

A delightful read.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159583130
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 05/07/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 409,451
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