The Grandest Duke

The Duke Box

Storyville, eight CDs, $79.98

Music was not a predestined career choice for Ellington. He liked to draw and attended a commercial art school, and in his teens ran a sign-painting business. But by age fifteen he had discovered the profits and pleasures of music, acquiring the musical knowledge he needed not systematically but by absorbing what he could from every musician he encountered, whether formally trained or not, plunging into the heart of an emerging musical culture of vital exchanges: “The ear cats loved what the schooled cats did,” he wrote, “and the schooled guys, with fascination, would try what the ear cats were doing.”

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