Duke Ellington, Jazz Composer


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Ken Rattenbury

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American composer, pianist, and orchestra leader Duke Ellington was the first genuine jazz composer of truly international status. In this book Ken Rattenbury offers the most thorough musical analysis ever written of Ellington’s works, assessing the extent to which Ellington drew on the black music traditions of blues and ragtime and the music of Tin Pan Alley, and examining how he integrated black folk music practices with elements of European art music.


Rattenbury, a professional jazz musician for over fifty years, investigates Ellington's methods of composing, focusing on works written, performed, and recorded between 1939 and 1941, years that witnessed the full flowering of Ellington's genius. He discusses the infinite care with which Ellington selected his musicians—players possessing, in addition to technical accomplishment, the unique folksy qualities of timbre and delivery necessary to contribute to the "Ellington sound."  He remarks on Ellington's gifts as a melodist and songwriter, shedding light on the commercial aspect of his involvement with Tin Pan Alley. After examining two early Ellington compositions for piano, he closely analyzes full scores of five significant pieces transcribed from their original recordings and including all extemporized solos and variations in performance.  These transcriptions range from a duo for piano and double bass, through pieces for small groups, to compositions for Ellington's full orchestra.


Drawing at length from the observations of Ellington himself and of the members of Ellington's orchestra, as well as from his own, extensive musical knowledge, Rattenbury provides new perspectives on Ellington's life and music, the interpretations of some of his most creative soloists, and the evolution of the jazz tradition

"This is an unusual survey of the first—and formative—third of Duke Ellington's career as a composer. There are many analyses of the music and copious illustrations in notation."—Stanley Dance, author of The World of Duke Ellington

"Ellington has inspired nearly twenty biographies . . . and several discographies, yet this appears to be the first book-length study of his methods of composition."—Library Journal

"An exhaustive musical analysis. . . . Rattenbury has painstakingly transcribed the music from the original 78 rpm recordings, listening through the scratches and writing down every note from every player, for Ellington's scores no longer exist. . . . The analysis is highly technical. . . . For musicians, arrangers and students, it can be fascinating, like X-raying a painting by Vermeer and seeing what lies beneath the surface and how the colours were mixed."—David Lancashire, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Ken Rattenbury's book asserts Ellington's importance by treating his music to serious analysis."—Tony Augarde, Oxford Times

"Breaking new ground. . . . It's not just analysis with the occasional section of music notated: the words are accompanied by a complete score, or rather transcription, of each piece. . . . They are an invaluable part of the book's virtues. . . . Rattenbury is good on Ellington's organic use of [blues scale and sequence, and rhythmic features of ragtime], even providing an appendix of statistical findings, and he is especially good on the characteristics of Duke's brass players and their integral incorporation of mutes. . . . Should be warmly welcomed."—Brian Priestley, Wire Magazine

"Rattenbury examines such relevant points as the influence of ragtime, the blues, and Tin Pan Alley on the composer . . . [and] his own complete transcriptions (including the improvised solos) of five of his subject's works from the early 1940s. . . . A book for the trained musician, for whom it serves a long-overdue purpose. The transcriptions are meticulous. . . . Of invaluable assistance to future students of Ellingtonia."—Francis Davis, Times Literary Supplement

"Deeply thoughtful. . . . Rattenbury has long pondered every detail, including such matters which connect with Ellington's several musical backgrounds, and hammers away at minute relationships between note and note until they yield not all their secrets—nobody could expect that—but more than ever before. . . . The most searching statement thus far on the greatest jazz musician."—Max Harrison, Ham and High

"This is a full step forward in the analysis of Ellington, building on what has been published and performed. . . . Here is a new format for the musicological of Ellington, and a new presentation of Ellington for trained musicians. Ellingtonians not able to read music will be able to understand almost all of the author's insights. All have a new model of a detailed sophisticated analysis to understand and enjoy Ellington in greater depth."—Bruce M. Kennan, Newsletter for the Duke Ellington Society

"Rattenbury's thoroughness and perception are commendable, and his awareness of the musician's standpoint when describing the role of innovations from Bubber Miley, Joe Nanton, Johnny Hodges, Cooties Williams, and Rex Stewart is especially sagacious. . . . Musicians and those desiring a deeper understanding of Duke's technical methods will find much to interest them."—Art Lange, Down Beat

"A thorough analysis of Ellington's works, concentrating on compositions written, performed, and recorded between 1939 and 1941."—Music Educators' Journal

"Appendixes include a chronology of Ellington's career, commentary on many of his principal sidemen, a selective discography of works discussed in the text, and a list of Ellington's compositional collaborators, as well as the number of works copyrighted during each year of his career. . . . It will be useful . . . to those interested in seeing, through the actual written scores, how Ellington and his sidemen created their magic."—Choice

"[Rattenbury's] enthusiasm sweeps the reader into and through the unique and wonderful world of Duke's multiple melody lines and unmatched harmonic intricacies reached during the first third of his never-ending creative life, to the final bars. . . . This book is an important one for everybody interested in Ellingtonia."—Benny H. Aasland, International Duke Ellington Music Society Bulletin

"No mere biography but a serious attempt to get inside Ellington's compositional techniques to show what made him so unique within his field. . . . Ellington with his highly sophisticated use of simple materials, deserves a conspicuous place in the gallery of music composers. Rattenbury's close and scholarly (yet very readable) study is a major contribution towards putting him there."—Wally Horwood, Winds (Journal of the British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles)

"It is refreshing to find a new publication which has a perfect balance of the written word and musical reference. . . . [It] will be a standard reference book for years to come."—Geraint Ellis, Jazz Express

"This estimable book by a British jazz trumpet player and arranger combines much of general appeal for Ducal fans with an erudite analysis of Ellington's music, with notated examples, for those of a more academic bent."—Chris Lee, Manchester Evening News

"Ken Rattenbury's self-imposed brief — to examine how Duke Ellington became jazz's foremost composer, assessing both his utilisation of black musical tradition and his selection of suitable band members — finds its full expression in his detailed analysis of five full scores and, impervious to matters extra-musical, succeeds triumphantly."—Chris Parker, Music Magazine

"A quality product which has had loving care expended on it. . . . Lucid and penetrating scholarship. . . . [The author] succeeds wholeheartedly in leading the reader through the labyrinth of 'influences' and fashion to the uniqueness of the man and his unmatchable music."—Michael Garrick, Musician
ISBN: 9780300055078
Publication Date: January 27, 1993
348 pages, 6 x 9