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December 5, 2013

TT: Merry Christmas to Duke!

James Gavin, the biographer of Chet Baker and Lena Horne, reviewed my new Duke Ellington biography in this coming Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Here's some of what he said:

Ellington's newest biographer, Terry Teachout, clearly saw the challenge of writing about the enigmatic legend. In "Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington," he calls Ellington "a riddle without an answer, an unknowable man who hid behind a high wall of ornate utterances and flowery compliments that grew higher as he grew older."

Yet in his cleareyed reassessment of a man regarded in godlike terms, Teachout, the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, delves behind "the mask of smiling, noncommital urbanity that [Ellington] showed to the world." The facts an stories he relates aren't new, but rarely have they had such a compelling narrative flow or ring of reliability. As in his last book, "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong," 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 the lyrical flights of fancy favored by such authors as Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs. Teachout writes in an earthbound style marked by sound scholarship and easy readability. He particularly shines in his portraits of Ellington's renowned sidemen....

"Duke" humanizes a man whom history has kept on a pedestal.

No link yet, but it's coming.

UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.

Posted December 5, 2013 7:47 AM

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