This volume by Matthew Cooper represents the first book-length study devoted exclusively to Duke Ellington as pianist. As such, it should be regarded as a substantial contribution to the Ellington scholarship for the very reason that the piano was central to the Duke’s achievements as a musician. He composed at the keyboard; he improvised at the keyboard; he led his musicians from the keyboard; and he—as the leading member of the rhythm section—delivered the fundamental energy of his creations on the keyboard.
In his consideration of both representative and landmark recorded performances, Professor Cooper reports the views of a host of authorities and provides original commentary. He identifies three practices in Ellington’s piano work: an early foundational stride style, a style typical of his swing maturity, and an atypical, post-bop / modern style. What might be understood as rather fascinating is that Dr. Cooper argues that all three “existed side by side from the 1940s (or perhaps earlier) until the end of his career.” The author’s conclusions are supported by copious transcriptions.