Jazz Professional               



Bookcase Index

A JAZZ JOURNEY - 1925-1994


Ken Rattenbury
Parts 1 2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12/13/14/Conclusion

PART XIII: (1985 - 1990)


SO, after two-and-a-half years of intensive research into the musical phenomenon which is Duke Ellington, then the assembly of my strictly analytical/musicological thesis into the same order, I felt like taking an extended breather, sure I did. It was a difficult job, because the more you discovered about Duke and his methods, the more side-issues and possibilities presented themselves; they, in turn, to be explained as best one could. On Ellington's life, there have been at least five biographies and, of course, his autobiography - "MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS" - but nowhere in any of these works could I find a direct concentration on the music itself. Bags of history, reams of anecdotes, but very little on the content, inspiration and structure of the pieces themselves. Obviously, then, that had to be the brief to pursue in yet another tome on the great jazzman.

Professor Dickinson, my guide, philosopher and friend at Keele University, when our most pleasurable and challenging collaboration had run its course, wrote to me, suggesting that a book based on my findings and analyses could possibly be derived from that somewhat adipose study on "DUKE ELLINGTON, JAZZ COMPOSER ", suitably condensed into a more manageable, publishable size. Well, I set about the task of doing just that and, after and period of about two-and-a-half years, emerged with a manuscript of approximately 85,000 words, trimmed down from 155,000 words - pretty well half the bulk of the original. The hardest part was deciding on what to leave out. Three of the eight full scores had to be jettisoned, due to some aspects of repetition, as indeed my chapter on Billy Strayhorn, whose musical ideas and style ran so close to those of Duke that it was/is always difficult to decide where Stray's had left off and Duke had begun. But, after all, the study was about Duke, although I did manage to give his illustrious partner some well-deserved acknowledgement here and there in the text. The least I could do.

So, by 1989, the job was done and I set about finding a publisher. Now, I don't know whether you have ever tried getting anything into print in the book line, but I can confirm that it is no push over! I approached all of our native university presses and one or two foreigners, to no avail; "too complex a publishing problem"; "there will be myriad skirmishes over copyright"; "I take it there will be numerous musical examples, in notation and they are expensive to engrave" . . . . and so on. But during my researches Stateside, I had had occasion to approach Yale University (which supports an Ellington "Chair" on its faculty) and had enjoyed much fruitful correspondence with the ever co-operative Ms. Vivien Perlis, Head of Music at Yale.

So I wrote . . . . did she have any thoughts on where I could send the manuscript ? - by this time, bearing the scars of much postal to and fro-ing. She replied, succinctly and to the point and this was the full content of her letter - "WHY NOT SEND IT TO US? WE HAVE A UNIVERSITY PRESS OF OUR OWN"! I didn't know that . . . . not a lot of people do . . . . but, suiting the action to the word, I airmailed the opus to Yale forthwith, to their offices in New Haven, Connecticut. To cut a long story short, the text went to a reader, a musicologist of international renown and, in due course, his report came back (four A4 pages of closely written comment and suggestion, with the following blissful recommendation as its final sentence: "AMEND AS SUGGESTED, THEN PUBLISH"!

So, with alacrity, I did just that, only demurring where I didn't quite see eye to eye with the report, but there were a few instances where I just had to stick to my own guns and retain my own arguments. Then, the Yale Editor of Music, himself a distinguished musicologist, had a little go at it . . . very little rearrangement really . . . then all my handwritten scores and musical examples were beautifully engraved (that's what I admire about Yale, it just HAS to be right, and hang the cost!) and in due time, I received a hardback copy of the finished volume, with a lovely dust jacket in black, brown, beige and magenta colours including a superbly atmospheric shot of the Duke at the piano - and off it went. It hit the bookshops worldwide in December 1990 . . . just in time for Christmas! Collected some fine reviews and, praise be, is still selling briskly today and now has gone into paperback for yet another run.

I have made many new friends from all over the world through this most happy circumstance, all bonded together by the love of jazz in general - and of Duke Ellington in particular. Yes, an international family, speaking a common language. Isn't jazz a miracle of communication - ever developing in its range, its attractiveness and downright humanity?

Whether you subscribe to classic New Orleans, rural and country blues, "modern" jazz, or the avant garde faction too, you are absorbed, effortlessly, into the mainstream (a surging tide, in truth!) of the most unpredictable, moving, exciting hybrid of a music that the world has ever known. A 20th Century phenomenon, an explosion of all that is best in the open-ended idiom which relies so completely on personal, individual creativity and imagination, be it extemporised or composed/written down. Some of the greatest tunes ever assembled belong to jazz, pretty well all of Ellington's - MOOD INDIGO; SOPHISTICATED LADY; PRELUDE TO A KISS; IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD . . so very many.

And all bound by that exciting amalgam stemming from the blues, ragtime and Tin Pan Alley. This is surely what it's all about, and this was the main motivation behind my study of Ellington, a past master in the art of mixing and melding of those inter-related influences. And in genuine jazz, the folk element, the bluesy core, is never very far away. To sum up, I quote from one of the last sentences in my book: "WHAT DID ELLINGTON CONTRIBUTE TO 20TH CENTURY MUSIC?"

"First, he managed to liberate the music of Europe from the strictures of the 12 note system. His special musicianship achieved a freedom which is noticeable on close examination of his representative performances. And this emancipation was achieved without recourse to musical anarchy . . . he never subscribed to the dubious principle that creative brilliance could result from randomness and coincidence: he integrated free blues into a European musical formalism without diluting or caricaturing either genre; for me, then, this constitutes his greatest single contribution to 20th Century music." There, I have said it. And it took 327 pages to arrive at that conclusion. As I suggested, there is a book in everybody . . . There won't be another such tome from me, I just haven't the time now - but, by golly, it was grand fun doing it ! . . . .

Copyright Ken Rattenbury © 1994