The Ellington Century

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Professor Schiff is not attempting to argue that the 20th Century belongs, musically, to Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. He has not written biography or a book on jazz. Nor, most definitely, has he written for the musical newcomer, oh, my, no. Mining this work for all its gold would require one to follow the dictum of Ezra Pound, that one should give to reading a book as much as the writer gave in writing it This book could easily fall into the wrong hands.

Mining this work for all its gold would require one to follow the dictum of Ezra Pound, that one should give to reading a book as much as the writer gave in writing it loosely quoted. Certainly my musical limits were quickly reached in many technical passages, and even though I possess an extensive collection of Ellington recordings as well as hundreds of 'classical' works, I still spent time looking for musical clips on the webmostly unsuccessfully, I admit.

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This book wants more of you than merely reading odd pages. It wants listening. What Schiff has done is compare and contrast Ellington's body of work and I must mention Billy Strayhorn here as part and parcel of the Ellington 'sound' being discussed with Debussy, Berg, Copland, Parker, Brian Wilson, and on and on. Phrase by phrase, sometimes note by note having some of the scores wold have been very helpful , Schiff dissects various pieces, directs us to 'borrowings', influences, and meanings.

If one needs to understand every word one reads, and lacks an extensive grounding in music: stay away. If you have the needed musical background, you may well revel in the musical ideas expounded here. And if you fall in between, and want to understand what you are hearing a bit better, this book will confound, ignite, illuminate and educate. Be prepared to find some of the music and listen to it, even if you have worn out a recording or two of the pieces already.

The Page 99 Test: David Schiff's "The Ellington Century"

Recommended, with caveats. Phil rated it really liked it Sep 18, Jane rated it it was amazing Jun 23, John Gillies rated it it was amazing Dec 14, Leah Ray rated it it was amazing Aug 20, Joshua Enos rated it really liked it Sep 25, Peter Cresswell marked it as to-read May 31, Spencer marked it as to-read Sep 07, Steve marked it as to-read Oct 27, Renah marked it as to-read Jan 02, Anthony marked it as to-read Jan 29, Alex You added it Feb 01, David is currently reading it Apr 26, DJ Yossarian marked it as to-read May 27, JMM marked it as to-read Nov 30, Jbondandrews marked it as to-read Dec 21, Eric Riser marked it as to-read Jan 11, Judy marked it as to-read Feb 20, Kassidi Jones added it Sep 24, Rose Pruiksma marked it as to-read Jul 14, Pat marked it as to-read Dec 27, Ben Fitts added it Aug 21, Eric marked it as to-read Nov 11, Patrick Murtha marked it as to-read Dec 28, Ryan marked it as to-read Jan 15, Bayard Williams marked it as to-read Jan 19, Missy marked it as to-read May 25, Deneisha added it Nov 09, Mark Hageman marked it as to-read Jul 28, Philip added it Apr 14, I wanted to show that Ellington is really addressing these same issues that music has always dealt with.

We can listen to his music as very profound explorations of these issues, just as in classical music. In this book I decided to talk about tone color, rhythm, melody and harmony, and I based each chapter on an Ellington piece that I thought exemplified those qualities. Then I selected others that might be listened to in parallel. Each section of the piece uses a different instrumental color.

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Ellington was trained as a graphic artist, so he thought that way. After that there were three recordings by Ellington; in the following year he recorded just excerpts from it. And then in he recorded a version of it with Mahalia Jackson, which again is much shorter than the original. So the story that most critics saw was that Ellington just salvaged parts people liked.

What I found is that Ellington kept playing different parts of it for the rest of his life. It became his central project and leads right to the Sacred Concerts. It was the central story he wanted to tell, the history of the African American experience. It turns out that the right setting for it was a cathedral; it was the only place grand enough for this music.

Strayhorn tends to work more like a classical composer in that he takes an idea and keeps developing it. Generally, Ellington works in what I call the cubist style, the juxtaposition style. Very much. Many of the pieces are made up of distinctive elements. The first half is like modern music, a noise piece with modern harmonies.

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Yes, absolutely: think about his emphasis on color and Matisse and Kandinsky. And the same goes with the idea of different kind of structure, interruptions and juxtapositions. Part of the challenge is that he never published his arrangements. Jazz, unlike classical music, values the individual sound.

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So the challenge is, well, what do we do with it? There are bands that try and recreate the music as it was played, or you can also say if Ellington had these players this music would have come out differently.

Would it be more honest to Ellington if musicians were allowed to show more individuality, or even improvise? If they know how. You talk about how Stravinsky borrowed from jazz and jazz musicians nod to him. Do other classical composers have this kind of relationship?

Duke Ellington (1933)

Stravinsky is an interesting case because he took jazz very seriously. He went out and listened to it.

Read Him Madly: A Duke Ellington Bibliography

I just found out he had a meeting with Charlie Parker once at the headquarters of Dial Records in Hollywood. God knows what they talked about.

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A lot of composers were going back and forth. The notion that these were separate worlds is just not true. Ellington came up to him and congratulated him on the way he used jazz in the piece. What was Ellington doing hanging at new music concerts? These worlds overlap much more than you think. I think the essential 20th century composer for jazz listeners is Ravel. Ravel was also very interested in jazz.

The Ellington Century The Ellington Century
The Ellington Century The Ellington Century
The Ellington Century The Ellington Century
The Ellington Century The Ellington Century
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