TBT Review: Biographies bring jazz giants Ellington, Parker to life

November 19, 2013 / No Comments


Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times Book Editor

Some books make me wish they came with sound tracks. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker are both that kind of book.

These two new biographies of giants of 20th century American music focus on the mid-century decades that saw an explosion of creativity and interest in jazz, and their authors’ passionate evocations of that music had me reaching for YouTube or iTunes every few pages.

Both books were written by men who are notable critics and jazz enthusiasts. Duke is by Terry Teachout, an accomplished music and drama critic, author of biographies of Louis Armstrong and George Balanchine and himself a jazz musician. It’s a full-length biography of the man born Edward Kennedy Ellington in 1899 in Washington, D.C. Grandson of a slave and son of a butler, he grew up to lead one of America’s most popular orchestras, compose more than 1,700 pieces of music and receive the Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon.

Source: Tampa Bay Times