My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was six years old the first time I ever touched a piano. Being the stereotypical Korean parents that they were, my parents insisted on my taking piano lessons before my feet could even touch the pedals.
Thus began my tempestuous relationship with classical music – I loved to listen to it and hated playing it. I went from being a mediocre pianist to a downright awful violinist. I certainly never blossomed into the prodigy that my parents dreamed of bragging to their friends about.
But I’ll always be thankful for the piano lessons because they paved the way for me to understand and appreciate jazz music.
And jazz has no greater hero than Duke Ellington.
Ellington penned an autobiography in 1973, when he was seventy-four years old. The life experience he’d racked up at that point was impressive. He’d traveled all over the world and become a household name in a time when blacks were allowed to play the hottest clubs, but not to frequent them. His was a truly a life less ordinary.
Ellington describes his childhood, his family, and his introduction into the music scene with no less flair than you’d expect from one of the forefathers of jazz. While his writing doesn’t necessarily flow (he was better at the music than the words), some of his anecdotes about the people he met on his musical journey had me on the floor. When you’re a musician, you meet some real interesting cats.
There are some drawbacks to reading a man’s account of his own life, however. He’s free to omit whatever he chooses. He speaks constantly of his son Mercer, but never mentions who Mercer’s mother was. I had to hop on Wikipedia to discover that her name was Edna Thompson and that she was Duke’s childhood sweetheart. I had to go to WikiAnswers to find out that they were married from 1917 to the late 1920s. Beyond that, I’d probably have to read a biography of Duke Ellington.
But reading Ellington’s firsthand account of his musical escapades was worth the while. It’s almost as good as living it myself.