Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington By: Terry Teachout 

Duke: A Life of Duke EllingtonBy: Terry Teachout
b93z-square-1536Narrated by: Peter Francis James
Length: 17 hrs and 43 mins
Release date: 10-17-13
Publisher: Penguin Audio

Any faithful reader or former faithful reader of this blog may notice that I’m posting on a steady basis again. Yes, but…. You may also see that it’s a daily post. Yes, but… Before the buts get stacked up I want to say that It seemed like I took a hiatus from the reviews. I sort of did at least posting the reviews. I would still write them up or at least outline them. So now I spent some time putting them all together and setting them up to post on a regular basis until I get caught up. I don’t want to overwhelm you so I set up the auto posting to do one a day until I get caught up, which may take a while.  So let’s get back to it.

Once again I visit a biography, this time around I delve into the Jazz & Swing music with this Duke Ellington biography. Terry Teachout knew exactly what I wanted in a biography. Just the facts without too many details. Most of the time the details can go off in a tangent that starts to get too much like a tabloid publication. Sure it’s nice to hear some sordid details just not all. Teachout has the perfect blend of details and tells a great story about the life of one of Jazz’s greats.

Publisher’s Summary

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.”

©2013 Terry Teachout (P)2013 Penguin Audio

This book will not only guide you through the good and bad times of the Duke, but also it gives the reader/listener a feel for how the music biz was run in the early to mid 20th Century. I was surprised at how much of music at the time was a collaborative effort, whether by choice or just flat out stealing other peoples works.

While Terry Teachout writes about the specific events in the Duke’s life he also goes into very nice details on specific songs, so much so that halfway through the book I went and grabbed as many Ellington recordings I could find. Working in radio really came in handy there. I even found a 78rpm pressing of “Perdido” which was awesome to hear. Sure it was a bit hissy and scratchy but I could just visualize someone in the day sitting around the Victrola and enjoying some Jazz. Teachout describes the music so well that once I received the recordings I would listen at times to the music and the audiobook at the same time. It would have been really nice for the publisher to do that for the audiobook but licensing issues I completely understand.

The narrator, Peter Francis James’s voice was perfect for this book. After listening to this book I saw him on some of my favorite television shows (CW Tv’s Arrow & Legends of Tomorrow) and was glad to see his face matched pretty well what I was picturing in my head. Great delivery for this great biography of a Jazz Great.