JW: You write that Ellington borrowed extensively from other musicians. Do you view him then as a great original composer or a brilliant recycler who leveraged scraps to create bigger, more dramatic works?
TT: He was both. The Ellington who cobbled together “Sophisticated Lady” out of a pair of melodic fragments supplied by Lawrence Brown and Otto Hardwick was, to use your apt phrase, a “brilliant recycler.” But the Ellington who wrote masterpieces like “Ko-Ko” from scratch, on the other hand, was a truly great original composer–and you mustn’t forget that most of his music was completely original….
To read the first installment of our two-part conversation, go here.