Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
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A major new biography of Duke Ellington from the acclaimed author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century—and an impenetrably enigmatic personality whom no one, not even his closest friends, claimed to understand. The grandson of a slave, he dropped out of high school to become one of the world’s most famous musicians, a showman of incomparable suavity who was as comfortable in Carnegie Hall as in the nightclubs where he honed his style. He wrote some fifteen hundred compositions, many of which, like “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated….

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98% Funky Stuff: My Life In Music, by Maceo Parker

98% Funky Stuff: My Life In Music, by Maceo Parker, Chicago Review Press, 2013, pp. 200.

98% Funky Stuff: My Life in Music, released in February 2013, is the autobiography of legendary funk saxophonist Maceo Parker. The writing is straightforward and engaging, often understated, and the two hundred pages go by quickly. Over the course of ten chapters, Parker provides a glimpse of his early life and influences, his experiences performing with artists including James Brown and George Clinton, and his gradual ascent to leading his own band. Parker’s uniquely laidback and sensible personality is present throughout, as is his commitment to his values, family, and music.

Parker covers pretty much everything in a roughly chronological breakdown of his life. His story begins with his childhood and early life in Kinston, North Carolina, growing up in a nurturing environment with supportive parents and siblings. The writing evokes an image of a young boy, drawn to music, first by the singing of his parents’ church choir, then by the sound of the piano, and finally by the allure of the marching band. By his sophomore year in high school, Parker’s band with his siblings and friends, the Mighty Blue Notes, were gigging around town.

After a stint in college, Parker and his brother Melvin pursued a gig touring with James Brown. Several chapters are dedicated to this period playing with Brown, beginning as a novice, a two year interruption serving in the military, and his return as an integral contributor to the band’s live shows and seminal tracks such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” In an act of protest, many members of James Brown’s band quit in 1970, forming Maceo and All the King’s Men. However, this was short lived, with Parker eventually returning to James Brown and the First Family of Soul after a brief hiatus in the rubbish-removal business. Further chapters cover his time touring as a member of George Clinton’s band, his work as a session musician and solo performer, and his work as a musical ambassador of funk.

Of course, Parker introduces the readers to the important characters in his life, including his family, teachers, bandmates, friends, and musical influences and acquaintances, including Ray Charles, Prince, Dave Mathews, Ani DiFranco, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, and many others. The relationships he made and his esteem for those people comprise a significant part of the narrative.

Not merely relating his own story, Parker reflects on the cultural significance of the times, relating experiences of racial tensions, as well as the pride and hope of direct involvement in civil rights activism. His career spanned the segregated South, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the rise of black pride exemplified at the 1968 Olympics, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and beyond. Racial and social politics are significant themes throughout the book, as is the power of music in spreading a “message of love.”

In fact, Message of Love may be a more apt title for this book. Prevalent throughout is Parker’s sense of personal responsibility and avoidance of the vices (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity) that typify the story of so many musical icons. Parker’s tone is never judgmental or condescending, he simply relates events as they happened. His stories about performing with some of the biggest names in popular music are casual, often funny, and revealing about the personalities involved. The highlights of 98% Funky Stuff are Parker’s accounts of musical sparring with James Brown and the theatrics of performing with George Clinton.

Parker tells his story as it relates to the people around him and the events of the era. Consistent throughout is his devotion to music and to developing a unique musical identity, his personal values of family and friends, and the ability of music to spread positivity. The only real criticism is that his terse writing style often leaves the reader wanting more. Major events are glossed in a few short sentences, and Parker seems to underestimate the value of his own sentiments on such occurrences. Overall, 98% Funky Stuff is an entertaining and revealing portrait of one of the major, yet largely underappreciated, figures in soul, rhythm and blues, jazz, and funk music. As such, it is a fine introduction to Maceo Parker, a performer deserving of attention.

Reviewed by Mike Oppenheim

http://mikeopmusic.com


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A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians–from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between

A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians--from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
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A fascinating celebration of the piano, including tales of its masters from Mozart and Beethoven to Oscar Peterson and Jerry Lee Lewis, told with the expertise of composer and author of Temperament, Stuart Isacoff.  This history takes us back to the piano’s humble genesis as a simple keyboard, and shows how everyone from Ferdinando de’ Medici to Herbie Hancock affected its evolution of sound and influence in popular music. Presenting the instrument that has been at the core of musical development over the centuries in all its beauty and complexity, this explores the piano’s capabilities and the range of emotional….

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Jazz Age: People and Perspectives (Perspectives in American Social History)

Jazz Age: People and Perspectives (Perspectives in American Social History)
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A collection of essays encompassing a wide variety of topics, people, and events that embodied the Jazz Age, both familiar and obscure.

• Written by experts from a variety of fields including history, music, literature, African American studies, and religious studies

• Includes an extensive chronology of the defining moments of the Jazz Age from the worlds of politics, society and culture, the arts, business, and more

Jazz: The American Theme Song

Jazz: The American Theme Song
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Praised by the Washington Post as a “tough, unblinkered critic,” James Lincoln Collier is probably the most controversial writer on jazz today. His acclaimed biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman continue to spark debate in jazz circles, and his iconoclastic articles on jazz over the past 30 years have attracted even more attention. With the publication of Jazz: The American Theme Song, Collier does nothing to soften his reputation for hard-hitting, incisive commentary. Questioning everything we think we know about jazz–its origins, its innovative geniuses, the importance of improvisation and spontaneous inspiration in a performance–and the jazz….

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Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s

Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s
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New York City witnessed a dazzling burst of creativity in the 1920s. In this pathbreaking study, Carol J. Oja explores this artistic renaissance from the perspective of composers of classical and modern music, who along with writers, painters, and jazz musicians, were at the heart of early modernism in America. She also illustrates how the aesthetic attitudes and institutional structures from the 1920s left a deep imprint on the arts over the 20th century. Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Virgil Thomson, William Grant Still, Edgar Varèse, Henry Cowell, Leo Ornstein, Marion Bauer, George Antheil-these were the….

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Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
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A great artist who was also a good man. A genius born in poverty who became known in every corner of the world. An entertainer who knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts four decades after he cut his first record. Terry Teachout has drawn on a cache of important new sources unavailable to previous biographers to craft a sweeping new narrative biography of Louis Armstrong, the twentieth century’s most influential jazz musician.

The Cambridge History of American Music (The Cambridge History of Music)

The Cambridge History of American Music (The Cambridge History of Music)
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The Cambridge History of American Music is the first study of music in the United States to be written by a team of scholars. The volume begins with a survey of the music of Native Americans and then explores the historical and cultural events of musical life for the period up to 1900. Other contributors then examine the growth of popular music, including film and stage music, jazz, rock, and immigrant, folk, and regional music. The volume also includes chapters on twentieth-century art music, including the experimental, serial, and tonal traditions. Cambridge Histories Online

The George Gershwin Reader (Readers on American Musicians)

The George Gershwin Reader (Readers on American Musicians)
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George Gershwin is one of the giants of American music, unique in that he was both a brilliant writer of popular songs (“Swanee,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”) and of more serious music, including “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris,” and “Porgy and Bess.” Now, in The George Gershwin Reader, music lovers are treated to a spectacular celebration of this great American composer. The Reader offers a kaleidoscopic collection of writings by and about Gershwin, including more than eighty pieces of superb variety, color, and depth. There is a who’s who of famous….

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The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s

The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s
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F. Scott Fitzgerald named it, Louis Armstrong launched it, Paul Whiteman and Fletcher Henderson orchestrated it, and now Arnold Shaw chronicles this fabulous era in his marvelously engrossing book, appropriately called The Jazz Age. Enriching his account with lively anecdotes and inside stories, he describes the astonishing outpouring of significant musical innovations that emerged during the “Roaring Twenties”–including blues, jazz, band music, torch ballads, operettas, and musicals–and sets them against the background of the Prohibition world of the Flapper and the Gangster. The Jazz Age offers an insider’s view into the significant developments and personalities of the jazz age, including….

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