Edward Green, renowned composer and professor of music at the Manhattan School of Music, has done the Ducal world of scholarship a lovely favor with The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington (Cambridge University Press). With 17 essays from scholars, musicians and even Duke’s nephew—as well as an illuminating introduction by Dr. Green himself—this volume is as necessary as it is enthralling.
Green’s introduction—an essay dealing with the question of just what makes Ellington’s music so enduringly important—is based on Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy of art and life founded by the great poet/scholar Eli Siegel in the early 1940s. Green studied with Siegel in the 1970s. One basic tenet of the philosophy is that “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” Another core tenet is that our world’s violence and hatred can be explained through understanding the unconscious power of contempt. Says Green, “The mistake, I learned, made by people throughout history is to try to build a personality for oneself through private victories of contempt.” Citing Ellington’s open-hearted embrace of all life—its beauty, its pain, its sometimes ugliness—he writes that Duke “wanted his music to be in touch with life always; to deal with and express his feeling about the concrete world.”