The Ellington Century

The Ellington Century

The Ellington Century

The Ellington Century

Synopsis

Breaking down walls between genres that are usually discussed separately--classical, jazz, and popular--this highly engaging book offers a compelling new integrated view of twentieth-century music. Placing Duke Ellington (1899-1974) at the center of the story, David Schiff explores music written during the composer's lifetime in terms of broad ideas such as rhythm, melody, and harmony. He shows how composers and performers across genres shared the common pursuit of representing the rapidly changing conditions of modern life. The Ellington Century demonstrates how Duke Ellington's music is as vital to musical modernism as anything by Stravinsky, more influential than anything by Schoenberg, and has had a lasting impact on jazz and pop that reaches from Gershwin to contemporary R&B.

Excerpt

As a composer I spend the better part of my life happily adrift with only the haziest idea of what I’m doing. Composing veers from the directionless to the inevitable (calm sea to prosperous voyage) so suddenly that both phases seem beyond my control. Writing about music, for me, is most enjoyable when it feels similarly unwilled and when, like Columbus, I end up in a different place from the one I thought I was trying to reach. For better or worse, that is what happened many times in the course of writing this book.

The initial impulse for The Ellington Century sprang from my love for Duke Ellington’s music (a devotion that began in high school when, browsing through the record store bins between Miles Davis and Maynard Ferguson, I came upon the LPs At His Very Best and Daybreak Express and which later was magnified by the pioneering research of Gunther Schuller and Mark Tucker) and my consequent dissatisfaction with most histories of twentieth-century music. Ellington’s name rarely appeared in these accounts, and when it did he figured as an anomaly, a composer in a genre defined by improvisation, a “serious” popular musician who, unlike George Gershwin, never crossed over to the forms of the concert hall or opera house, a successful song writer who worked far from the commercial machinery of Tin Pan Alley and who never composed a hit Broadway musical. Music history conceived as separate stories about classical music, musical theater, and popular song placed Ellington’s music on the periphery, somehow extraneous despite . . .

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