Recommended Books

music is my mistress

Music is My Mistress – Duke Ellington (Da Capo)

“”Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one.” This is the story of Duke Ellington—the story of Jazz itself. Told in his own way, in his own words, a symphony written by the King of Jazz. His story spans and defines a half-century of modern music.This man who created over 1500 compositions was as much at home in Harlem’s Cotton Club in the ‘20s as he was at a White House birthday celebration in his honor in the ‘60s.” – Amazon

world of duke ellington

The World of Duke Ellington – Stanley Dance (Da Capo)

“In this fascinating portrait of one of America’s greatest musical legends, longtime friend and jazz historian Stanley Dance recounts the life of the incomparable Duke Ellington in his own words and in the words of the artists who played along with him: longtime co-composer Billy Strayhorn, saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, trumpeters Cootie Williams and Clark Terry, drummer Sonny Greer, vocalist Alice Babs, and organist Wild Bill Davis, among many others. There are also first-hand accounts of Ellington’s world tours, performances in churches and the White House, interviews and public appearances, and a complete discography and chronology. The result is a timeless chronicle of the long and extraordinary career of a music master.”The truest and most intimate portrait of the great Ellington that we have.”- Whitney Balliett


Reminiscing In Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington – Stuart Nicholson (Northeastern)

“Nicholson’s lively, unconventional biography of the great jazz composer, bandleader and pianist amounts to a kind of jazz collage. Keeping third-person historical narrative to a minimum, Nicholson (Billie Holiday) presents Ellington’s life through block quotes, arranging bits and pieces of some 70 years worth of painstakingly gathered interviews, Variety articles, press releases, handbills and even declassified FBI files into a composite narrative of the Dukes life. Among the notables whose words turn up are longtime Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn, show business impresario Irving Mills, saxophone great Johnny Hodges, New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell and, of course, Ellington himself.” – Publishers Weekly


Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington – John Hasse (Da Capo)

“Essential biographical guide to composer/bandleader Duke Ellington’s music, analyzing its development year by year with sidebar essays on the best recordings. Hasse (Curator of American Music/Smithsonian Institution) relates Ellington’s life largely as it ties in with the music……

The 119 photos interspersed throughout the text boost immensely the rich atmosphere of Ellington’s venues, including The Cotton Club and the tours that became the band’s mainstay. Hasse follows closely the growth of the band and its orchestrations of its finest pieces- -“Creole Love Call,” “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” etc.–and their varied recordings over the decades. Brilliantly written. (Includes a select discography, filmography, and videography)” – Kirkus Reviews

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The Duke Ellington Reader – Mark Tucker (Oxford University Press)

“This first historical anthology of writings about Ellington’s life and music, ably edited by Columbia University music professor Tucker ( Ellington: The Early Years ), is a treasure chest of some 100 essays and remembrances by such authors as Ralph Ellison, Gunther Schuller, Stanley Crouch, Nat Hentoff, Albert Murray and Stanley Dance. Topically, the essays, originally published between 1923 and 1986, include general commentary (by R. D. Darrell, Martin Williams and others), musical analysis (a chapter on Ellington’s composition, “Black, Brown and Beige”), more than a dozen interviews with Ellington, profiles of Ellington band members (Johnny Hodges, Billy Strayhorn, Ivie Anderson, Sonny Greer and Ben Webster), reviews of performances and recordings (including the first published reviews of Ellington’s music), and some of Duke’s own writings. The volume also includes the complete text of Richard O. Boyer’s 1944 New Yorker profile.” – Publishers Weekly

dukes bones

Duke’s ‘Bones – Ellington’s Great Trombonists – Kurt Dietrich (Advance Music)

Biographical sketches of the men who played trombone (and valve trombone) for Ellington, solo transcriptions, section transcriptions and musical analysis. Even if you’re not a trombonist or musician, well worthwhile as a survey of the band’s oeuvre.

lush life

Lush Life – David Hadju (North Point Press)

An award winning biography of Ellington’s right-hand man, arranger and composer William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn (1915-1967). Besides the immortal ballad Lush Life, Strayhorn also composed and arranged the Ellington band’s long-time theme song, Take the “A” Train.


Duke Ellington’s America – Harvey G. Cohen (University of Chicago Press)

“The idea of a substantial book about a major musical figure that pays relatively little attention to his music might seem counterintuitive — or, to put it less politely, pointless. That “Duke Ellington’s America” succeeds as well as it does is a tribute both to its author and to its subject.

Arguing that Duke Ellington’s “significance went far beyond the musical realm,” Harvey G. Cohen, a cultural historian who teaches at King’s College London, places Ellington’s life as a public figure and “culture hero” in a larger social and political context. Others have written about his connection to the civil rights movement, or the many State Department tours on which he and his remarkable band functioned as cultural ambassadors during the cold war. Cohen makes such matters his primary concern.” – Peter Keepnews, The New York Times


Riding on Duke’s Train – Mick Carlon (a book for the young Ellington fan in your life) (Leapfrog Press)

“Utilizing his encompassing knowledge of Ellington’s music, personnel and decades-long touring, Carlon (a veteran middle-school teacher) presents a kid’s-eye view whose drama centers on the band’s 1939 European tour.” – Kirkus Reviews

“I knew Duke Ellington for over 25 years. Duke was my mentor. The Ellington in this book is the man I knew.” – Nat Hentoff


Duke: The Musical Life of Duke Ellington – Bill Gutman (Open Road Media)

“Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was one of jazz’s greatest innovators. Join Bill Gutman as he explores the fascinating life of this legend from his birth at the turn of the century to his death at the age of seventy‑five. Interviewing Duke’s friends, fans, and fellow musicians, Gutman documents the progress of a man who dedicated his life to crafting the ever‑changing sound of jazz. Gutman plunges into the history of jazz from its origin in the honky‑tonk sounds of the Ragtime Era to the forms that are widely enjoyed today. Jazz has evolved through the years to become one of the most popular forms of music, with Duke Ellington as chief composer, artist, and perfomer. Gutman’s account of Ellington’s life as it parallels the history of jazz provides a fascinating history for both jazz veterans and those new to the art form.” – Amazon

Boy meets horn

Boy Meets Horn – Rex Stewart, edited by Claire P. Gordon (University of Michigan Press)

“One of the most innovative and inventive soloists in jazz, cornetist Rex Stewart (1907-67) became known as a writer on jazz subjects. This work, his autobiography drafted at the time of his death, has been edited from its manuscript sources by Stewart’s amanuensis, who edited his earlier posthumous collection Jazz Masters of the Thirties. With a selection of rare photographs from Stewart’s own archive, and mss. facsimiles.”

Google Books

rabbits blues

Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges – Con Chapman (University of Oxford Press)

“Alto and soprano saxophonist Johnny Hodges was one of the most singular voices in jazz. He didn’t play the horn as much as sing through it. He made a large, long-term contribution to the music, both as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra as well as on his own. Hodges was also a somewhat inscrutable, taciturn, and quiet man, with a relatively uneventful personal life. This makes him a tough case for the would-be biographer, but author Con Chapman carries off the task well. Anyone who spends several pages just parsing out how Hodges got his nicknames (Little Caesar, Squatty Roo, Jeep, but mostly, Rabbit) has things under control.

This is not really a work that breaks a lot of new ground. There are no interviews conducted by Chapman listed in the footnotes, and it appears that the information has been pieced together from secondary sources. However, in putting together this biography, Chapman seems to have drawn on every source that offered even the smallest shred of information on Hodges. His authorial voice flows well; his interpretations of Hodges’s motivations, understanding of the man’s personality, and placement of his musical contribution in a wider context are viable.”

Steve Provizer, The Art Fuse

duke ellington icon

Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon – Mercedes Ellington and Steven Brower (Rizzoli)

“Beautifully illustrated and unparalleled in scope, this is an elegant visual celebration befitting the life and work of the “prince of the piano.” Duke Ellington was the undisputed father of the American songbook. A prolific writer and consummate performer, Ellington was the author of such standards as “Solitude,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing).” With a career that spanned five decades, he is one of the defining composers of the Jazz Age. With unprecedented access to the Ellington family archives, this long overdue book illuminates the life and work of an icon of twentieth-century music from his humble beginnings to his long-lasting success. Every stage of Ellington’s career is brought to life, from sepia photographs of his early days in Washington, DC, to colorful playbills from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, his triumphant tours of Europe in the 1930s, and his pioneering explosion of form and genre in the 1940s and beyond. Alongside more than two hundred stunning images, contributions from peers such as Dave Brubeck, Cornel West, Quincy Jones, and Tony Bennett shed light on Ellington’s musical legacy, while the voice of his granddaughter Mercedes reveals the character behind the charisma, and the man behind the piano.”


Tizol book

Juan Tizol: His Caravan through American Life and Culture – Basilio Serrano (Xlibris)

“Juan Tizol is often remembered as the famed trombonist who composed the jazz evergreens known as Caravan and Perdido. Few know that this enigmatic figure was a multifaceted talent who lived an extraordinary life in the world of music. Juan Tizol Martínez was a native of Puerto Rico who divided his life into four broad segments; the first 20 years in his native land, the next several years in Washington, D.C., the third in New York City and for almost 40 years in Los Angeles. From these different venues, Tizol acquired an abundance of experiences in music that permitted him to make a contribution that has been described as one “whose Latin American touch changed the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the history of jazz.” This book provides the reader with greater details of Juan Tizol’s talents as a trombonist, composer, music transcriber and arranger. Tizol’s soft-spoken and gentle demeanor may have undermined his much sought-after talents. The recorded history of jazz confirms his many contributions to the music of Ellington, Harry James, Louie Bellson, Nelson Riddle, Nat King Cole, and others. Juan Tizol has been described as the “progenitor of Latin Jazz” and this book provides the necessary information to make a convincing case to support the description.”

Google Books

ben webster book

Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster – Frank Buchmann-Moller (University of Michigan Press)

“For a half century, Ben Webster, one of the “big three” of swing tenors-along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young-was one of the best-known and most popular saxophonists.Early in his career, Webster worked with many of the greatest orchestras of the time, including those led by Willie Bryant, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson, Andy Kirk, Bennie Moten, and Teddy Wilson. In 1940 Webster became Duke Ellington’s first major tenor soloist, and during the next three years he played on many famous recordings, including “Cotton Tail.”Someone to Watch Over Me tells, for the first time, the complete story of Ben Webster’s brilliant and troubled career. For this comprehensive study of Webster, author Frank Büchmann-Máller interviewed more than fifty people in the United States and Europe, and he includes numerous translated excerpts from European periodicals and newspapers, none previously available in English.”