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.”
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Terry Teachout, the drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about Armstrong’s life and times. He lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From Chapter 5
Black and Tan also marked—literally—a transition in Ellington’s private life. After 1928 his left cheek bore a prominent crescent-shaped scar that is easily visible in the film’s last scene (and in the photograph reproduced on the cover of this book). Though rarely mentioned by journalists, it made fans curious enough that he felt obliged to “explain” its presence in Music Is My Mistress:
I have four stories about it, and it depends on which you like the best. One is a taxicab accident; another is that I slipped and fell on a broken bottle; then there is a jealous woman; and last is Old Heidelberg, where they used to stand toe to toe with a saber in each hand, and slash away. The first man to step back lost the contest, no matter how many times he’d sliced the other. Take your pick.
None of Ellington’s friends and colleagues was in doubt about which one to pick. In Irving Mills’s words, “Women was one of the highlights in his life. He had to have women. . . . He always had a woman, always kept a woman here, kept a woman there, always had somebody.” Most men who treat women that way are destined to suffer at their hands sooner or later, if not necessarily in so sensational a fashion as Ellington, whose wife attacked him with a razor when she found out that he was sleeping with another woman.
Who was she? One possible candidate is Fredi Washington. The costar of Black and Tan had launched her theatrical career in 1922 as a dancer in the chorus of the original production of Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along. Sonny Greer later described her as “the most beautiful woman” he had ever seen. “She had gorgeous skin, perfect features, green eyes, and a great figure. When she smiled, that was it!” Washington was light enough to pass for white but adamantly refused to do so, a decision that made it impossible for her to establish herself in Hollywood, though she appeared with Paul Robeson in Dudley Murphy’s 1933 film of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (for which her skin was darkened with makeup) and starred in Imitation of Life, a 1934 tearjerker in which she played, with mortifying predictability, a light-skinned black who passed for white. Ellington never spoke on the record about their romantic involvement, but Washington later admitted to the film historian Donald Bogle that she and Ellington had been lovers: “I just had to accept that he wasn’t going to marry me. But I wasn’t going to be his mistress.” Their relationship was widely known at the time in the entertainment world, enough so that Mercer Ellington could write in his memoir of “a torrid love affair Pop had with a very talented and beautiful woman, an actress. I think this was a genuine romance, that there was love on both sides, and that it amounted to one of the most serious relationships of his life.”
Reprinted by arrangement with GOTHAM BOOKS, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © TERRY TEACHOUT, 2013.
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Book Description Gotham, 2013. Book Condition: New. Both of Edward Kennedy Ellington's parents were pianists but it was not until the teenage 'Duke' heard a ragtime piece in 1913 that he took the instrument seriously. By the 1920s he was in Harlem, New York, leading his own orchestra and on the path to worldwide fame. This biography assesses the life and artistic legacy of the most prolific and influential jazz composer of all time, drawing on private papers, scrapbooks, musical manuscripts and interviews.Felt-tip mark on lower trimmed edge. Bookseller Inventory # 219521
Book Description Gotham, 2013. Hard Cover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition, First Printing. This is a new hardcover first edition, first printing copy in a new, mylar protected DJ, white spine. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 066469
Book Description Avery, 2013. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. 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, Ellington 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 night-clubs where he honed his style. He wrote some seventeen hundred compositions, many of which, like "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady," remain beloved standards, and sought inspiration in an endless string of transient lovers, always hiding his inner self behind a smiling mask of flowery language and ironic charm. Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout, who played jazz bass professionally before becoming a full-time writer, has drawn on unpublished private papers, musical manuscripts, scrapbooks, and transcripts of breathtakingly frank interviews to uncover the facts about the public and private lives of Duke Ellington, placing him in the context of the Harlem Renaissance and examining his influence on twentieth-century art and culture. The first full-length Ellington biography in nearly two decades, Duke peels away countless layers of evasion and 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.". Bookseller Inventory # 000132
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