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“Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz”


Imagine a world with no iPods and no MP3 players.

There are no CDs, no VCRs, no DVDs, no video games, and, in fact, no television in that world.
Roads aren’t paved because there aren’t any cars to drive on them. Computers don’t exist, and indoor bathrooms are rare. There are no telephones and even radio is a few years away.

The main entertainment for families is – are you ready for this? – based around a piano.

Now imagine becoming a famous musician in a world like this.

Sounds kind of impossible?  Well, that was the world in which Edward “Duke” Ellington was born over 100 years ago but Duke loved to embrace new technology and that made him a star. Read more about the Duke’s life by grabbing “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” by Stephanie Stein Crease.

When Edward Ellington was born in 1899, Washington D.C. was an exciting place for African Americans. The neighborhood where Edward was born, the “Uptown District” was close-knit and residents were proud to live among black-owned stores, restaurants, and the finest schools.
Washington D.C. was segregated then (as were many cities), but young Edward still had a typical childhood like most boys of his time.

Early in his life, Edward (nicknamed “Duke” by his best friend) was fascinated with baseball and he was an awesome artist. His parents were afraid he’d be hurt by the sport, and they encouraged his artistic talents. But everything changed when Duke was fourteen years old.

He re-discovered piano.

Ragtime music was very popular then and Duke was obsessed by the syncopated beat. He studied it day and night and practiced piano. Soon, he was playing music with his friends and other musicians.

For over 50 years, Duke Ellington embraced “new” technology and made music. By seeing the advantages of radio and record albums, movies and telephones, he was able to bring his innovative compositions and experimentation with new sounds to people of all colors. You can still find the Duke’s music on CD and internet, and maybe on your own iPod.

While “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” is a good book and quite interesting for a grown-up, it’s meant for kids 9-and-up, which is curious. In the first chapters, author Stephanie Stein Crease draws parallels between Edward Ellington’s life and that of children today, which gives kids a bit of a reference point.

By the middle of the third chapter, though, Crease has gone into territory that could tend to lose a kid’s interest: band members, who played where, other information better suited for the child’s grandparents rather than the child.

Yes, the activities are kid-friendly (and may be great for a rainy-day grandparent-child project) but this book is, for a 9-year-old, a little too much unless said 9-year-old is a music fiend with a propensity toward jazz.

Having said that, if your older child – say, 12-to-17 – loves a variety of music, this book will quickly become a favorite. For them, “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz” is out of this world.