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The King of All, Sir Duke by Peter Lavezzoli

Peter Lavezzoli’s book The King of All, Sir Duke is a labor of love. The problem is that there is a lot of love here, but not much labor. Among the author’s several premises, there are two that stand out. One is unassailable: Duke Ellington was a highly influential genius. A second is specious: that Ellington’s influence extends to “a powerful lineage in pop music,” he says, including Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, George Clinton and Prince, “all of whom have permanently changed the course of modern music.” He states that they all “learned many important and specific lessons from Ellington on leadership, innovation and excellence,” yet doesn’t cite how and when they learned those many important lessons, and he doesn’t ask them directly. The best Lavezzoli can do in Prince’s case is quote Miles Davis saying, “For me, he could be the new Duke Ellington of our time if he just keeps at it.” That is Davis paying a compliment, not suggesting that Ellington influenced Prince.

Perhaps worst of all, the book seems slapped out overnight in the fashion of a sleep-deprived college sophomore. It fairly chokes with hyperbole and superlatives. Nothing that Ellington does passes by without Lavezzoli referring to it as “unique,” “a milestone” or “unmatched genius.” The sources he cites-mostly secondary-are fewer than most self-respecting sophomores would dare to include in a bibliography. In a list, he offers 11 books and one magazine article, which he at least once, in the case of a biography of Sun Ra, uses shamelessly.

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