For Nonfiction Monday today, we are sharing the Caldecott Honor book and Coretta Scott King Awardee picture book Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by the multi-awardwinning Brian Pinkney. Click here to be taken to the Nonfiction Monday round-up post which is being hosted today by Playing By the Book.
Pathways to Expertise, Duke Ellington ragtime style. I have always been fascinated by people who are eminent in their chosen fields – which is probably the reason why I made it my life’s work to do research on them. It pleases me to no end that I can marry my academic work with my passion for children’s literature.
This award-winning picture book clearly demonstrates in a stunning pictographic way how extremely talented people, such as Duke Ellington, eventually reach the peaks of their career.
Duke had to start with the piano basics, his fingers playing the same tired tune – one-and-two-and-one-and-two. Daisy (mother) and J. E. (father) made Duke practice day after day.
To Duke, one-and-two wasn’t music. He called it an umpy-dump sound that was headed nowhere worth following. He quit his lessons and kissed the piano a fast goodbye.
Stories like these are hardly surprising. We often hear quite a number of talented musicians being bored by musical theory and notation – losing sight eventually of the things that made them gravitate towards music to begin with.
It was not until Duke became familiarized with ragtime music that his love for piano playing was rekindled:
The ragtime music set Duke’s fingers to wiggling. Soon he was back at the piano, trying to plunk out his own ragtime rhythm. One-and-two-and-one-and-two… At first, this was the only crude tinkling Duke knew.
But with practice, all Duke’s fingers rode the piano keys. Duke started to play his own made-up melodies. Whole notes, chords, sharps, and flats. Left-handed hops and right-handed slides.
Believe it, man. Duke taught himself to press on the pearlies like nobody else could. His one-and-two-umpy-dump became a thing of the past. Now, playing the piano was Duke’s all-time love.
All that Jazz and Shades of the Moon. The husband and wife tandem (Andrea and Brian Pinkney) went on to share how Duke Ellington eventually made it big at the Cotton Club, described to be “Harlem’s swankiest hangout, a big-time nightspot.”
They also traced Duke Ellington (and his orchestra’s) journey to New York and eventually to sunshiny Hollywood. Duke’s supreme achievement is his grand performance at the symphony hall of New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Few African-Americans had played at Carnegie Hall before. Duke and his Orchestra performed on January 23, 1943. Outside, the winter wind was cold and slapping. But inside, Carnegie Hall was sizzling with applause. Duke had become a master maestro.
What I find particularly amazing about this picture book is how both author and illustrator depicted music coming out of various instruments as whorls of stars and moonlight and waves of colors – such a dazzling sight!
In this review by Steve Barancik of Best Children’s Books – he noted that illustrator Brian Pinkney has science on his side since Duke Ellington is said to suffer from a neurological condition called synesthesia. Steve quoted from Ellington who described his condition as such:
“I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin.”
If you wish to know more about Duke Ellington and his life and passion for music, this is his official website.
Andrea Davis Pinkney currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. She is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of many picture books and novels (both historical and fiction). She was also said to be recently named one of the “25 Most Influential Black Women in Business” by The Network Journal, a publication for Black professionals and was named among “The 25 Most Influential People in Our Children’s Lives” by Children’s Health Magazine (source here).
Brian Pinkney is also a multi-award-winning illustrator (and author) of children’s picture books. He is a graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and holds a master’s degree in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Brian has won numerous awards including two Caldecott Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors and a Coretta Scott King Award, and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (source here). For Duke Ellington, the artwork is said to be prepared as scratchboard renderings with luma dyes, gouache, and oil paint. Click here to be taken to his official website.
A video tribute to Duke Ellington. To celebrate the beauty that is jazz music, let us watch a few video clips of Duke Ellington’s many performances, courtesy of youtube. Enjoy!
Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train
Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing
Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Scholastic, Inc., New York, 1998. Bought my own copy of the book.