On the evening of April 29, 1969, President Nixon awarded the Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington--the first time in U.S. history anyone in jazz had been so honored. To pay tribute to the maestro, a stunning array of jazz greats (among them Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall, J.J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, and Clark Terry) assembled in the East Room of the White House (another first) and performed twenty-seven Ellington songs in a ninety-minute concert.
Edward Faine takes us behind the scenes, tracing the decades-long journey that both Ellington and jazz had to travel to have their music heard in the White House, and the machinations leading up to Nixon's approval of the tribute and Willis Conover as the concert's producer. Faine then brings Duke's big night alive, describing the banquet, the medal ceremony, and the all-star concert in vivid detail. At the boisterous jam session that follows and lasts well past midnight, guests dance to the music of marine, all-star, and guest musicians (including jazz notables Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, and Willy "the Lion" Smith).
Brimming with photographs and surprising little-known facts, the book celebrates the singular White House event that had such an enormous impact on both the African American and the jazz arts communities--and on the millions worldwide who viewed the USIA documentary (a White House first) and listened to Willis Conover's VOA radio broadcasts of the event.
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Edward Allan Faine is a lifelong jazz fan and an author of children's books, notably Bebop Babies. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with squirrels in his attic.Review:
"In this masterful book about Duke Ellington . . . Faine documents everything about [the] evening, from the preparations for the concert to the memorable jam session afterward to the long-term effects of the event . . . He shows how politics rule everything at the White House and how Ellington transcended it all. The author's investigation is an overall interesting and thoughtful treatise of the important themes. [It's] a very exciting, readable account that will delight Ellington fans."--Dr. Wolfram Knauer, Director, Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, International Research & Information Center on Jazz
“On April 29, 1969, I was on patrol in Vietnam carrying (among other things) a small portable radio with an earbud listening to Armed Forces Network’s broadcast of Duke Ellington’s White House concert. It was one of the few occasions when I could escape to the normality of being a jazz fan in a place where normal had become turned upside down. Today, in comfort, I can listen again, on a well-recorded Blue Note CD, to the concert music that allowed me a brief escape 45 years ago and read Edward Faine’s book, a good companion for which I thank him immensely.” —Russ Shor, editor, VJM's Jazz and Blues Mart
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