Tag Archive: jazz


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.

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eminenthipsters

Audiobook Review: “Eminent Hipsters”

written and read by Donald Fagen

Published by Penguin Audio

Approx. 4.5 hours

I’ve always been curious about musicians and have built a bit of a library of musician biographies and autobiographies. This time around I was offered this book, “Eminent Hipsters,” thinking it was an autiobiography of one of my favorite musicians, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. What this turned out to be was not really an autobiography, but rather a brief glimpse at Fagen’s influences and then the spewings of a cranky old man on tour.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still an entertaining book, but Fagen only offered a glimpse of his musical background. Maybe that’s all we need to understand this private man’s life and raison d’etre. The “hipsters” he talks about are pretty specific. These range from his first musical influence, the Boswell Sisters (introduced to Donald as a child through his mother’s 78rpm records) to Henry Mancini to radio personalities: Jean Shepherd, best known for narrating A Christmas Story, and late-night jazz DJ Mort Fega. It is pretty certain that jazz music was a big influence on Fagen’s music.

There is a short section on how and where Fagen met the co-founder of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, and how the two were arrested by G. Gordon Liddy on trumped up drug charges and later how those charges would come back to haunt him while touring in Canada.

The book is read by Donald Fagen and while as a whole it allows the listener to understand the true feelings of the musicians mind and words, at times his speech whether his natural pattern or something else was a bit slurred (for lack of a better term) and hard to understand. But once his rhythm of speech is heard for a while, he becomes easier to follow and for the most part slipping into the mind of Donald Fagen.

One of the best reasons for the book being read by the author, is prevalent in the last half of the book. The last half of the book Is what seems to be readings from a journal he kept while on tour with “The Dukes of Septembe”. “The Dukes” primarily are; Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. Fagan delivers the journal readings in the manner of what could easily be considered the ramblings of a cranky old man. This cranky old man, however, happens to be an aging rock, jazz and soul musician who needs a little more than just performing a show, he needs the crowd response to be perfect, the equipment to be perfect, the room’s acoustics to be perfect and the musicians must always be on it. Fagen rants on about autograph hounds, physical ailments, and humanity’s downfall through pop culture. The younger generation is referred to as TV children and his bitterness is aimed strongly at them.

While his sarcasm and wit is very bitter and harsh, it is funny if you give him a big ol’ southern “bless his heart” which is a southern way of saying, “hey, he ain’t right, but maybe he’ll get better.”

If you can stand the harsh criticism of humanity and the whining for better conditions on tour, this book will reward you with some interesting anecdotes from the essays and journal entries that make up this book and expose a bit of Donald Fagen’s psyche.

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