Based on lengthy interviews with Ellington's bandmates, family, and friends, Duke Ellington and His World offers a fresh look at this legendary composer. The first biography of the composer written by a fellow musician and African-American, the book traces Ellington's life and career in terms of the social, cultural, political, and economic realities of his times. Beginning with his birth in Washington, DC, through his first bands and work at the legendary Cotton Club, to his final great extended compositions, this book gives a thorough introduction to Ellington's music and how it was made. It also illuminates his personal life because, for Ellington, music was his life and his life was a constant inspiration for music.
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A. H. Lawrence was a professional jazz trombonist from 1944-48, playing with the bands of Hot Lips Page, Benny Carter, and Luis Russell. Through Russell, he met and befriended Ellington and remained friends with him throughout his life. Lawrence served as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution for the exhibit, Jazz in Paris 1915-40. He lives in Cambridge, MA.From Kirkus Reviews:
A workmanlike portrait of the legendary composer/pianist/bandleader. The author, who played jazz professionally before giving it up to attend college, initially planned to publish a series of socio-biographical interviews of Harlem musicians before being pre-empted by Nat Hentoffs Hear Me Talkin to Ya (1966). After Ellington's death in 1974, Lawrence decided to organize his material around this revered jazz master, but its origins show: capsule biographies of virtually every musician who ever worked in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, though quite interesting in themselves, interrupt the narrative flow and make it difficult to focus on Ellingtons life and career. However, Lawrence does a decent job of outlining the basic facts. Born in 1899 into a middle-class Washington, D.C., family, Edward Kennedy Ellington acquired a sense of strong racial pride from his high school principal, a noted African-American historian. Though his elegant clothes and demeanor won him the nickname Duke while he was still a teenager, and though he would be hailedespecially in Europeas a composer equal to Ravel and Stravinsky, Ellington never denied his roots and was proud to write and play Negro folk music, as he remarked during his wildly successful tour of England in 1933. Hits like Mood Indigo and Take the A Train, as well as his more ambitious suites, reflect Ellingtons refusal to accept limits on his creativity. Lawrence describes all the music lovingly; hes particularly sensitive to the contributions individual band members like trumpeter Bubber Miley and arranger/composer Billy Strayhorn made to the unique Ellington sound. His coverage of the Dukes personal life seems an afterthought. Frequent references to Ellingtons narcissism dont provide an especially useful key to his character. Most performers are narcissistic; few shared the stage as graciously as Ellington. Jazz buffs will appreciate Lawrence's solid knowledge of the art forms history and key participants; general readers looking for a good biography will be disappointed. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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