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The Genius Of Duke Ellington

The genius of Duke Ellington. Terry Teachout joins us on the great “Aristocrat of Jazz.”

Composer and bandleader Duke Ellington is photographed playing the piano in this undated photo. (AP)

Composer and bandleader Duke Ellington is photographed playing the piano in this undated photo. (AP)

Duke Ellington had a touch so elegant and a band so great, he raised the roof on American jazz and invited in multitudes.  From the Cotton Club to Carnegie Hall, he could set a mood indigo or set the hall hopping.  Miles Davis said all musicians should get down on their knees and thank Duke Ellington.  A new biography gets inside the music and behind the suave demeanor to the great showman and enigmatic man.  Up next On Point:  exploring Duke Ellington.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Terry Teachout, critic, playwright, blogger and biographer, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal and critic-at-large of Commentary. Author of, “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington,” “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong” and “All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine.” (@TerryTeachout)

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today: ’Duke’ reveals the music behind Ellington — “Ellington wasn’t formally trained or even well-versed in classical music, so he found it difficult to write hummable tunes or structurally develop themes with any complexity. But he could meld together disparate musical fragments from his band members’ solo performances, mastering a ‘mosaic method of composition.’ While not a flagrant plagiarist, Ellington still took most of the credit.”

Dallas Morning News: Book review: ‘Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington,’ by Terry Teachout — “Teachout probes deeply into Ellington’s offstage associations. Affairs and flings long hidden from view are laid out for our inspection, as well as Ellington’s quarrels and feuds. His complex, often unconventional relationship with his family is also presented in all its quirkiness. Where other biographers have held back, often due to personal loyalty to Ellington, Teachout digs in all the deeper.”

Read An Excerpt of “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington” By Terry Teachout

Playlist

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  • HonestDebate1

    Now we’re talking!

  • liminalx

    Indeed so, this is American “classical” music! And let us not forget Duke Ellington’s collaborator Billy Strayhorn, the genius behind the genius.

    • HLB

      Visit the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh. Named for Gene Kelly & Billy Strayhorn. HLB

  • HLB

    I better hear the strains of Mood Indigo or I’m going to be disappointed.

    Thanks much. HLB

  • Eric

    I always loved the big band sound that I associated with Duke Ellington, but it wasn’t until I heard the album Money Jungle that I appreciated the full depth, complexity, and spontaneity of Ellington’s creativity. As he joined the greats Charles Mingus and Max Roach in a stripped down ensemble, the music they created is free and beautiful, yet anchored in tradition. Hearing these giants of different generations collaborate made me think that music might just have no limits.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Nat Hentoff, in his book “Jazz Is”, quotes Ellington describing his song “Harlem Air Shaft”:

    ‘So much goes on in a Harlem airshaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one big loudspeaker. You see your neighbor’s laundry. You hear the janitor’s dogs. The man upstairs aerial falls down and breaks your window. You smell coffee. A wonderful thing, that smell. An air shaft has got every contrast. One guy is cooking dried fish and rice and another guy’s got a great big turkey. Guy-with-fish’s wife is a terrific cooker but the guy’s wife with the turkey is doing a sad job. You hear people praying, fighting, snoring. Jitterbugs are jumping up and down always over you, never below you…I tried to put all that in “Harlem Air Shaft.” ‘
    Duke refined all the human senses and created enduring, infectious music from them.

  • Terry Fitzgerald

    You should talk with Wynton Marsalis, who organizes a national competition for high school jazz bands featuring songs by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and brings 15 finalists to the Lincoln Center in New York each spring, as a way to keep the music alive among young musicians. The talent on display is amazing and encouraging.

  • truegangsteroflove

    I still have the “Hot in Harlem” album I bought in the early 1970s. It has songs like Doin’ the Voom Voom, Rent Party Blues, Paducah, Jazz Convulsions and Jungle Jamboree. It still has the price tag on it – $1.98. It was in the bargain bin at a pre-Kmart discount store. It’s different from what we usually associate with Duke Ellington, but great music

  • rootspiano
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