I don’t know how I missed it, but The Wall Street Journal ran a fall preview on September 14 in which “New York’s taste makers” were asked to talk about what they were most looking forward to reading, hearing, and seeing. Amazingly, I didn’t find out until yesterday that Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington was cited twice in the piece, by musical-theater star Michael Cerveris, the best Sweeney Todd I’ve ever seen, and by Maria Popova, the super-cool proprietor of Brain Pickings. Knock me down!
You can read all about it here.
In addition, I wrote a short piece about Duke for Biographile, an online newsletter about biography and memoir, in which I talk about Ellington’s lack of formal musical education:
Was Ellington wise to steer clear of the classroom? Certainly he would have profited from learning more about the rules of large-scale composition. He ran into difficulties when he tried to write larger, more ambitious pieces later in life, precisely because his unwillingness to learn from the classics forced him to fumble for wheel-inventing “solutions” to basic problems of musical architecture. On the other hand, Cook [Will Marion Cook, one of Ellington’s early musical mentors] steered his young protégé straight when he told him to avoid obvious solutions and go his own way. From the very beginning of his long career, Ellington did things his way or not at all, and his iron determination never to be anybody but himself was the reason why all of his music, early and late, was so powerfully individual….
Read the whole thing here.