In the beginning of July, Jack Chambers – professor of Linguistics at the University of Toronto and well-known jazz writer – published a new book. This time it is about Duke Ellington and entitled Sweet Thunder.
It is not a traditional biography but a book, which explores the music of the Maestro by tracing nine themes throughout his 50-year career as composer, orchestrator, pianist and leader.
It brings together into a comprehensive unity articles on Ellington topics that Chambers has published in Coda, IARJC Journal, Blue Light etc. or presentations given by him to the members of the Toronto Duke Ellington Society Chapter 40. They have all been revised and adjusted for the purpose of the book.
Each chapter is really a kaleidoscopically written essay full of information and reflections. Together they give a very rich perspective on Ellington’s music. Some of the themes are Ellington’s Harlem – Lotus Eaters Unite (about Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn) – Bardland (Shakespeare and Ellington) – Afro-Eurasian Ellington – Three Steps Into The River.
The references and playlists at the end of each chapter are also very valuable.
An advantage of Chambers’ approach with themes is that it gives different ways to read the book. It can be read chapter by chapter in chronological order. But the reader can also reshuffle the book and read the chapters in a personalised order.
Which is the targeted audience of the book?
It seems that it is as Chambers says, “relative newcomers to Ellington’s 50-year creative journey”. This kind of readers should get a lot from reading the book. However, a problem for them might be that the book right from the start gives a lot of names which might not mean anything to them. So they should possibly be advised to read David Bradbury’s Duke Ellington or John E. Hasse’s Beyond Categories before plunging into Sweet Thunder.
Should those, who already know a lot about Ellington read the book? Chambers hopes that “the organization into themes will bring new insights to listeners who already know Ellington’s music.” It did so for the web editor and this might also be the case also for others with good knowledge about Ellington and his music.
The Toronto Ellington Chapter has sponsored the book with a “generous grant”.
Also DESS has contributed towards the production cost to show its support for the book. Hopefully this will encourage many DESS members to buy the book.
Sweet Thunder can be bought on Amazon’s sites both in North America and in Europe. The web editor bought his copy on amazon.de for 28 euros (=300 SEK) but in Europe it is also available om amazon.co.uk and amazon.fr. Avoid buying it from Amazon.com. It is much more expensive with shipping and taxes.