Biography: Duke Ellington: the Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear by Karen S. Barbera

Duke Ellington

Karen Barbera and Randall Keith Horton were strangers who met on a train. A cordial conversation led to an eight-year collaboration to tell new and enlightening stories about Duke Ellington and to bring his forgotten masterpieces back to life. The results are concerts and Duke Ellington: the Notes the World Was Not Ready to Hear, which ends up being a biography of both Ellington and Horton focused on their unique relationship and the musical and cultural importance of the music they made.

Duke EllingtonThe book illuminates the historical significance of the compositions that helped create a paradigm shift in American music, race relations and culture. It is an engrossing story of “mysterious callings” that led Ellington to choose Randall Keith Horton as his assistant composer, conductor, and pianist in 1973, and the author’s serendipitous connection to Horton.

Known as the king of swinging Jazz, throughout his 50-year career Duke Ellington also shattered racial barriers and stereotypes, bridged cultural divides, helped audiences feel their shared humanity, and dared people to imagine — even if even for a single evening — a world without categories. He believed it possible and imperative to elevate Jazz and American composers on par with their European counterparts.

Like a true pioneer, Duke Ellington took risks to provide music that audiences needed to hear, and in doing so, set lofty expectations for a country that was ill-prepared to live up to them during his lifetime. A deeply interesting look at two important American musicians. ◊

You can buy the book here.

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