Hasse took on a job which has often been tackled before—to write a credible general biography of Duke Ellington—with the advantage that he had full run of the Smithsonian’s massive Ellington archive, which had never been pillaged before. Hasse treats his subject with a reverence that borders on the religious and organizes his facts in such a way as to help them make sense—no small feat, as Ellington was one of the most mercurial and overlap—prone musical minds of this century.
Whereas James Lincoln Collier’s Ellington bio was a little more daring, controversial and probably accurate about the artist’s work habits (which seem to have often included appropriating melodies from his individual band members), Hasse sticks to hard facts and rarely speculates. Unfortunately, he tends to underplay the importance of arranger-composer Billy Strayhorn’s role in the definition of the classic Ellington sound—and this is something only Collier has so far addressed (and even he hasn’t been strong enough in his expression of Strayhorn’s value). This is probably the most friendly-to-the-uninitiated biography of Ellington there is, as well as the most definitive. SH
Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 480 pages