DUKE ELLINGTON IN PERSON: An Intimate Memoir by Mercer with Stanley Dance Ellington


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The meandering voice of Ellington's only son--in what reads annoyingly like one of Stanley Dance's tape-recorder transcript books--doesn't add much to what we already know of the superstitious, fastidious, paradoxical, fantastical Duke. Some musical and artistic Ellington cousins are introduced; Mercer confirms that the Duke's mysterious scar was the result of a knife-cut from Mercer's mother; and he believes that his father ""had a basic contempt for women"" (he liked them numerous and ""slightly misproportioned"") and developed a ""pronounced form of paranoia"" over the last 25 years of his life. Otherwise, the subject is mostly the music and the band (Mercer was trumpeter, road manager, and now leads)--the coming and going of the great soloists, the foreign tours, collaborators Mills and Strayhorn, the internal problems of discipline and jealousy. The only real novelty here is Mercer's own ambivalent relationship with a father who ""would make certain he remained on top regardless of whom he knocked down, including me,"" whose ""every act was to keep my interest in another band from amounting to anything."" But that theme, like all the occasionally provocative details, gets lost in the drift of poorly organized, under-edited, and flavorless first-or second-hand reminiscences.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin