Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington

ISBN: 0306806142
ISBN 13: 9780306806148
By: John Edward Hasse Wynton Marsalis

Check Price Now


Biography Biography Autobiography Currently Reading Default Jazz Jazz Ellington Library Music On Bookshelf To Read

Reader's Thoughts


Ok, so this was initially a bit of a fluff book--it lightly described Duke Ellington's life without going into the nitty gritty of relationships but deeper into the book it starts to examine Duke Ellington's politics, his influence on early recording technology, the music industry as well as the development of jazz as a legitimate American art form. Particularly of interest are photos which lend to the mood of Ellington's emphasis on appearance. The man was a great dresser and a lady's man. But the book tells you more, so you should read it!

Andrew Kopp

Absolutely wonderful history of not just a musician, but of jazz itself. I highly recommend listening to the tracks listed at the end of each chapter. (Most can be found on YouTube). The listening gives a very good sense of the style of any given time. They also give a wonderful overreaching arch of Duke Ellingtons progression and maturation through music.


Basic but solid Ellington bio. The primary focus is how Ellington balanced artistic ambitions with commercial survival over the course of his career. Discussion of the music as music is limited, but the listening suggestions at the end of each chapter are helpful.


I would have preferred to give this a 2.5, but choosing between 2 and 3, I choose 3 stars simply because the book is extremely helpful and does what is intended. The book does a very good job of chronicling his band and bandmembers over the years, although towards the end of the book is almost exclusively focused on that. I have some issues with Hasse's writing approach, and the book seemed flawed to me in a few ways.(1) He has a tendency to state certain conclusions he makes REPEATEDLY throughout the book (e.g. in talking about Ellington's method of balancing commercial with art or his hustler tendencies) as if he never mentioned it before. It's a tactic I used in high school and a freshman in college to extend a paper's length. It's annoying.(2) Hasse has a problem reconciling Ellington's flaws with the image of him being a great, historic figure. For instance, Hasse seems defensive when he talks about how Ellington abandoned his girlfriend for another but left his children (along with all his clothes apparently) in the apartment with that previous girlfriend. It is still possible to simultaneously address the contradictions and the huge accomplishments of a complex individual.(3) The most important flaw of this book is that I don't really get a sense of what Ellington's actual influence was on the music world, let alone jazz. Hasse hammers it in over and over on how unique his compositions were and how he stood out from the pack, but he hardly ever talks about the concrete contributions he made to jazz. I can only remember a part when Hasse mentions how many of the big band leaders of the time adored him, such as Paul Whiteman and Tommy Dorsey, and used to attend his shows at the Cotton Club. The "weird" or "strange chords" that Hasse and Ellington's band members constantly allude to changed the face of jazz and, what would become, popular music. That's big.All in all, this is very good book to start with on learning about this great jazz figure.

Katherine Pena

Duke elington is one of my favorite musicians of all time, the book is almost 500 pages but trust me, it is a great read :)


A solid overview and a fine appreciation-- even if it sacrifices depth for breadth, especially where Duke's recordings, and his relationship with Strayhorn, are concerned.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *