The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America

Mariner. May 2024. 416p. ISBN 9780358380436. $32.50. MUSIC
One might have thought that there wasn’t much left to say about jazz’s holy trinity, but Tye’s thematic discursions on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie have a fresh perspective and different angles. He draws on his previous works—including Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon—for some lenses through which he views these three men who’ve had a profound influence on American music and culture. The chapters navigating their travels through the American South (especially in Pullman cars) and contributions to the civil rights era are incredibly vivid. The thematic arrangement of the chapters and side-by-side comparisons of how each man navigated everything from racism to romance to the recording industry seem especially suitable for a book that is, after all, about jazz. It also makes each artist all the more distinctive compared to his peers.
VERDICT A refreshing and attentive suite of composite portraits for jazz fans and readers interested in the intersection of art, culture, and politics in the 20th-century United States.
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