HELP! by Thomas Brothers


The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration
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A convincing case that some of the greatest music in history was not the work of one brilliant mind but rather a result of the commingling of ideas that happens when two complementary artists team up.

In the first half of the book, Brothers (Music/Duke Univ.; Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism, 2014, etc.) focuses on Duke Ellington and his many collaborators, most notably the composer Billy Strayhorn. Many compositions that were the work of two or more musicians were credited solely to Ellington; according to Brothers, this has led to misunderstandings about the way much of his music was composed. The author’s portrait of Ellington pulls no punches but remains sympathetic. The Beatles were another story: John Lennon and Paul McCartney were open about their creative codependency from the start, signing all compositions “Lennon/McCartney” no matter who wrote what or how much in a given song. Brothers insists that the oft-repeated saw that the Beatles rarely collaborated after the release of “Revolver” is false. Rather, he claims that some of the greatest achievements of their late period were the result of intense collaboration. Ellington embraced the myth of the solitary genius that the musical establishment saddled him with and benefited from the resulting obfuscation, while Lennon and McCartney situated themselves squarely within the ganglike nature of rock-’n’-roll groups, an egalitarian approach to music-making that had its roots in the African-American vernacular tradition from which jazz also emerged. Some of the music jargon may fly over the heads of nonmusician readers, but for the most part, Brothers frames his analysis in smooth, relatable prose that anyone familiar with the music of Ellington and the Beatles can understand. Along the way, the author provides a sweeping history of 20th-century popular music, the rich backdrop against which the incredible music of Ellington and the Beatles was composed—music that is incredible primarily because of the cooperative spirit that brought it to life.

A fresh blend of scholarly musical analysis and provocative ideas about creativity and how composers create great art.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-24623-0
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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