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Day-by-Day Duke

Want to know exactly what Duke Ellington did on June 17, 1943? Pick up Duke’s Diary, a new book by jazz historian Ken Vail, and you’ll wonder no more. Vail’s two-volume Ellington biography details the bandleader’s life in a near day-by-day account, telling us all where the Duke was, what he was doing there and who he was with— right up to his death in 1974.

The books are big and heavy and bound like college texts, but their content is more fun and interesting than chemistry or accounting ever was. Volume 1 covers the years 1927-1950 but also devotes a few early pages to Ellington’s childhood. Volume 2, slightly thicker, tells the rest of Duke’s story and concludes with a eulogy by Stanley Dance. Each volume is also chock-full of vintage photographs, show programs and newspaper clips, providing some relief from the massive amounts of data Vail has culled together.

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