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Larry Kart

Terry Teachout's "Duke" -- any thoughts?

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I have some and will weigh in later on. Here, however, are some Facebook posts from Loren Schoenberg:

1) "VERY TROUBLED as I begin Terry Teachout's seemingly tremendously ignorant recent book on Ellington.

2) "For starters, the pejorative attitude he brings to bear from page one. Any positive comment is preceded and sometimes followed by negatives. He clearly doesn't understand the role of IRONY in African-American culture in general, and in Ellingtonia specifically, which is suffused with it. The comments about Duke not being educated enough to write a score without hearing the guys play it during the compositional process is just pure merde, nothing more. The comparisons with classical music are also way off the mark.

"But above all, it's the patronizing tone. He is the true heir in his race insanity to Collier and Sudhalter, though unlike the latter, and like the former, he is a dunderhead when it comes to real musical analysis.

That's just for starters."

3) "NO mention of Woodrow Wilson's administration and it's effect on the teenaged Ellington and family. NO qualification of the plaudits he directs towards the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And the ever-present stench of stewing race insanity. It must be said that there is also much in the way of original research, but, as in the case with Sudhalter's Lost Chords, it is suffused with a Riefenstahlian (did I write that?) myopia.

"And to be clear, I only link Teachout to Riefenstahl (and Griffith) in his nascent and/or disingenuous racism, not in aesthetic terms."

4) "IMNSH, everyone should write, everyone should read, and everyone should write about what they read! There are important things in Teachout's book, new scholarship, but those nuggets are all marinated in a ton of racial excrement."

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Teachout is a hack, beginning with his name. Just my opinion.

Edited by paul secor

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My thoughts, from an e-mail I sent to a friend:

"Leaving aside [Loren's] claims of racism, which I'm happy to do, I'm not happy with what seems to me to be TT's fairly consistent obtuseness. For one thing, and this runs throughout, there's TT's more or less aghast, hand-wringing stance at Duke's sexual behavior. No, neither your nor I would have behaved as Duke did, or so I assume, but beyond a certain point what's the point of all this? And in the world or worlds of which Duke was a part, how bizarre, if at all, was his behavior?

More important, though, there is the theme of "Duke was not at all a well-versed (that is, trained in the techniques and principles of classical composition) composer," thus his would-be long-form pieces largely fail to cohere, etc. Let's stipulate as to the latter, up to a point and with some exceptions. But why does TT think that such training would have, in Duke's case, led him (I emphasize him) to create coherent long-form pieces of real merit? BTW, in that vein TT keeps throwing "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris" in Duke's face and in our faces too. If those are TT's standard of long-form American works that really cohere formally and are of real merit, I'm at a loss. I mean, they're fun, they're tuneful, they're forever popular, but come on. Further, and this is my main complaint, after all the major and semi-niggling negatives about Duke's life, lifestyle, and music that TT musters, he himself must face something like "Ko Ko" (and of course the list of such Ellington works is a lengthy one) and not only describe and account for the nature and quality of those works but also relate them to the nature and quality of Duke's musical career as a whole. This last issue, I think, if "issue" is the way to put it, again has something to do with TT's apparent belief that a classically trained Duke was what was called for, either that or his lack of classical training was a clear-cut deficit. But if, as I think we can safely say, the Duke of "Ko Ko" or you name it knew some very important things about how to make music that no one who would have/could have given him classical training (certainly early on and probably at any time) probably knew and/or was willing to sufficiently/insightfully credit, what then? In any case, it seems to me that whenever TT gets to stuff like "Ko Ko," he kind of shuts down, just doesn't manage, doesn't even really try to, relate these achievements to everything else. And that, to my mind, is the one place one has to go satisfactorally and insightfully if one is going to deal with a figure like Ellington. Not the only place one needs to go, yes, but.... That is why, with all of Andre Hodeir's at times annoying baggage (annoying at times at least to my mind), his writing about Ellington's masterpieces remains so important.

There's more to be said, including some niggling complaints of my own -- e.g. "[sam] Woodyard's playing was forthright in a way that meshed well with the recent arrival of rock and roll" (what?!), and of the work of the Ellington, Woode, Woodyard team at Newport on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," "No other rhythm section, not even Count Basie's crack team of musical arsonists, had ever played with such unquenchable fire." Leaving aside the fact that Basie's "crack rhythm team" were not "musical arsonists" -- to set things on fire metaphorically was neither their style nor their goal -- but enough....

Later on, responding to a FB post in which Schoenberg called Teachout "either intellectually dishonest or racially insane -- I suspect it's the latter," I said:

'I too found Teachout's general approach and conclusions in "Duke" to be unfortunate to say the least, though I don't need to go to "intellectually dishonest" or "racially insane" to get there. I would just say that TT is a rather smug and prissy professional middlebrow who is not as intelligent as he needs to be.'

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"No other rhythm section, not even Count Basie's crack team of musical arsonists, had ever played with such unquenchable fire."

That sounds like something Crouch would write before his morning coffee.

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"No other rhythm section, not even Count Basie's crack team of musical arsonists, had ever played with such unquenchable fire."

That sounds like something Crouch would write before his morning coffee.

:smirk:

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I wrote the following to the Duke-LYM listserve:

"I haven’t read the book yet so probably shouldn’t comment but several of the reviews have mentioned that EKE rarely gave Strayhorn credit. I’ve listened to a lot of Ellington’s radio broadcasts and I think he rarely played a Strayhorn composition without acknowledging the composer. I’ve just now been listening to a a Jubilee show in which he introduces Mid Riff by saying “This next selection is written by my composing, arranging companion: Billy Strayhorn.”

David Hajdu’s “Lush Life” is a great biography of Strayhorn but it over-empahises the extent to which Duke can be considered amongst those who did not acknowledge Strayhorn’s contribution to the band. Unfortunately most writers who have followed him have not noticed that Hajdu never lets nuance get in the way of a good story. (I once read piece in the NY Times where someone wrote that a Duke would play Lush Life without crediting the composer. Of course the band never played Lush Life except on a couple of occasions when Billy was at the piano. )

I hope that Teachout hasn’t reiterated what is now (unfortunately) the received opinion."

Never-the-less I'll probably read this book-- partly because I am interested in Duke's sex life. The other biographies I've read have all tip-toed around the subject so much that I never could tell whom he was married to or living with at any given time.

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I had planned to read the Teachout book, but now I don't know whether to read it or avoid it. :) I thought that his biography of Louis Armstrong was not bad, but this one sounds terrible.

I agree with Mejuck's comment about Lush Life. There was a documentary not long ago, inspired by this book no doubt, that almost went as far as to suggest that the "Ellington genius" was something stolen entirely from Billy Strayhorn - as if everything that Ellington accomplished in the 20s and 30s before he even met Strayhorn isn't sufficient evidence to the contrary.

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I admit to being a bit surprised at the tone in the early chapters which seemed overly critical but I have found some of the detail fascinating so far. In my view, no single writer will ever have the whole, balanced story and I read these works with that thought in mind.

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Teachout is a hack, beginning with his name. Just my opinion.

More or less agreed. I've always had a violent aversion to his writing, and won't be checking out the latest.

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as sortakinda per Andre Previn re:Duke vs Kenton, Terry Teachout writes a bigass book, Duke gives 90-ish seconds of patter, and who tells the most truth?

And exactly who is enjoying the shadow of whom? And do they not realize that when they kill the light, their shadow will no longer exist? What fools these mortals be!

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I once sent a copy of this to McLuhan's daughter. (I was a student of McLuhan and separately a friend of one daughter.) She loved it and said Duke seemed to like her father but never-the-less kept hitting on her mother.)

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I wrote the following to the Duke-LYM listserve:

"I haven’t read the book yet so probably shouldn’t comment but several of the reviews have mentioned that EKE rarely gave Strayhorn credit. I’ve listened to a lot of Ellington’s radio broadcasts and I think he rarely played a Strayhorn composition without acknowledging the composer. I’ve just now been listening to a a Jubilee show in which he introduces Mid Riff by saying “This next selection is written by my composing, arranging companion: Billy Strayhorn.”

David Hajdu’s “Lush Life” is a great biography of Strayhorn but it over-empahises the extent to which Duke can be considered amongst those who did not acknowledge Strayhorn’s contribution to the band. Unfortunately most writers who have followed him have not noticed that Hajdu never lets nuance get in the way of a good story. (I once read piece in the NY Times where someone wrote that a Duke would play Lush Life without crediting the composer. Of course the band never played Lush Life except on a couple of occasions when Billy was at the piano. )

I hope that Teachout hasn’t reiterated what is now (unfortunately) the received opinion."

Never-the-less I'll probably read this book-- partly because I am interested in Duke's sex life. The other biographies I've read have all tip-toed around the subject so much that I never could tell whom he was married to or living with at any given time.

Walter van de Leur's excellent IMO "Something To Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn" (Oxford University Press), among other things, assembles in great detail the facts (based in large part on Van De Luer's study of the manuscript evidence) of who wrote what between Ellington and Strayhorn, the latter having written a good deal more of the band's material than previously has been acknowledged or understood. Van De Leur explains that it's not at all difficult to tell the difference between an Ellington composition or arrangement and a Strayhorn composition or arrangement, both on the basis of musical orthography (the manuscripts again) and the considerable differences in compositional style/techniques. That a good deal of Strayhorn-composed works were taken by many to be by Ellington no doubt stemmed in large part from the fact that the distinctive sound of the band was so pervasive a factor and was so much an Ellington creation. Also, apart from Ellington's variable willingness to give Strayhorn credit on a consistent basis for all that he did, Ellington's publicists and record companies very often failed to acknowledge how much Strayhorn wrote for the band as a matter of policy more or less.

This is not IMO to devalue Ellington, who as has been pointed out wrote so much superb music before Strayhorn came on the scene. Rather, it is a matter of setting the record straight as to who did what; and Van De Leur does that.

Further, though I admire Strayhorn's music, I have no doubt that Ellington was the greater composer.

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Actually, Strayhorn wrote that, too. :)

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I love how the attempts to create a grand design of idealization keep getting interrupted by the recurring reality of the stuttering motif, just as repeated attempts to devalue or otherwise rate Ellington by the grand yet wholly irrelevant criteria of the would-be holder's wholly self-focued beholdings are interrupted by the reality of Ellington's actual output into Ellington's actual world.

Outsiders looking in thinking they are on the inside teaching out, well, hey, there's you Great Jazz Books Of The 21st Century Collection, that right there. No wonder the kids don't wanna read any more, I can hardly blame 'em!

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OK I'll bite: Does part of this sound like something by EKE or Strayhorn?

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No, it's a metaphor for the author/book under discussion in this thread

To wit:

I love how the attempts to create a grand design of idealization keep getting interrupted by the recurring reality of the stuttering motif, just as repeated attempts to devalue or otherwise rate Ellington by the grand yet wholly irrelevant criteria of the would-be holder's wholly self-focued beholdings are interrupted by the reality of Ellington's actual output into Ellington's actual world.

Outsiders looking in thinking they are on the inside teaching out, well, hey, there's you Great Jazz Books Of The 21st Century Collection, that right there. No wonder the kids don't wanna read any more, I can hardly blame 'em!

In other words, this guy, this author, he seems to be trying to create some fantasy idea of what he think/wants Ellington to have been.

Fortunately (for us)/Unfortunately (for his attempts), the ugly stuttering of reality interrupts his idyll, and he is left being seen as the sincere but fatally flawed misunderstander that he is. He will try to place the flaw on Ellington, but since Ellington IS Ellington, the flaw is ultimately his, for thinking that Ellington was gonna be, could be made into, something/anything besides Ellington.

Besides, that's one hipass piece of music, no matte what metaphor you want to hang on it. Janacek roolz, as does Ellington.

Terry Teachout, not so much.

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I actually read this entire book and I must admit that by the end, it had me viewing Duke in a very reduced light. Not good, IMO. I think this is somewhat of a hatchet job, in fact. I do not believe that what Teachout has written is objective or necessarily factual. I'm not sure what his agenda was but I really don't find this work to be a useful addition to the scholarship on Duke and his music. It really seems concerned with trying to tear down his memory and minimize his achievements and, despite the fact that he periodically refers to Ellington's "genius," it's not at all supported by the tone of his narrative. If anything, he spins a tale that Duke was NOT deserving of his reputation. I came to the conclusion that the book is dishonest. If Teachout's version was reality, it's hard to imagine Duke Ellington rising to the level that he did in Jazz and the American music lineage. Lastly, I'm beginning to entertain the possibility that the charges of racism may have some validity here. It's hard to imagine what other reasons would cause this author to have such an axe to grind.

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glad you said that; it's my feeling too. Just crap.

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I actually enjoyed Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong, so I was looking forward to this, but like the other posters, I am somewhat dismayed at the negative tone and the position that Ellington was no classical composer and that is what what we are to judge him by. I am quarter of the way into the book since December and so far I am left more disappointed in Teachout rather than the Duke. I am reading it so slow, as I find Teachout's negative vibe off putting and distracting to the genius of Ellington.

After reading some of the recent biographies: Duke Ellington's America by Harvey Cohen and Stuart Nicholson's Reminiscing in Tempo, I am inclined to agree that this is a hatchet job, or was written in a state of melancholic depression where even the music of Ellington was coloured bad.

I seem to remember Teachout was a guest speaker at the Amsterdam Ellington conference this May, but he isn't on the webpage anymore(?). Perhaps I was wrong, in any event, Cohen is, and he will likely prove a much more interesting and reliable speaker me thinks. Indeed, Mr Teachout might find himself getting a right bloody nose from someone!

Edited by ArtSalt

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I have some and will weigh in later on. Here, however, are some Facebook posts from Loren Schoenberg:

1) "VERY TROUBLED as I begin Terry Teachout's seemingly tremendously ignorant recent book on Ellington

4) "IMNSH, everyone should write, everyone should read, and everyone should write about what they read! There are important things in Teachout's book, new scholarship, but those nuggets are all marinated in a ton of racial excrement."

What were the "those nuggets"? I checked all the footnotes and found almost nothing that was not form another pre-existing source.

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I finally finished the book. I had thought that Teachout's bio of Satch was actually a bit too admiring. I wonder if maybe he felt that and decided to go the other way with Duke, and simply went too far. It seemed as if *every* time he had the opportunity for a balanced appraisal, he went to the negative, and I thought he gave way too much space to the opinions of various critics. Because the tone was so negative, when he did stress Ellington's accomplishments or mention his genius, it rang hollow, as if he were only paying lip service. Disappointing book.

gregmo

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Teachout is just a hack who uses famous names - Armstrong, Ellington, Ross Macdonald - to try and sell books.

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Teachout is just a hack who uses famous names - Armstrong, Ellington, Ross Macdonald - to try and sell books.

:tup

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"Don George, who wrote songs with him, claimed: ‘Duke would check into two, three or four hotels, hand out keys to different ladies, then, later on, pick out the hotel room he wanted to go to.’

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home

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