Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington (1999)


 United States Edition              United Kingdom Edition



‘Despite the current avalanche of laudatory books and articles that amounts to an Ellington cottage industry, Mr. Nicholson’s book takes a permanent place in the essential bibliography of America’s greatest composer, one that will prove informative and delightful to neophytes and Ellington experts alike.’ GROVER SALES, WASHINGTON TIMES (USA)

‘Rich in personal anecdote and period detail…Nicholson’s prodigious archival research and his thoughtful orchestration of source material let him combine accessibility with scholarly authority. The book’s title comes from a 1934 number Ellington penned to mourn the death of his mother; it sums up the sweetly nostalgic mood this richly detailed biography creates.’ PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY (USA)

‘A terrific rap.’ THE TIMES (UK)

‘Nicholson…is a serious jazz historian and a gifted writer.’ JAZZ NOTES (USA)

‘This intimate, eminently readable biography…was assembled with love, respect and reverence without losing its sense of balance and accuracy…painted in full and vibrant hues, giving short shrift neither to Ellington’s inestimable importance as a musician or his fascinating personality and character. Highest recommendation.’ THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE (USA)

‘Nicholson successfully brings a humanness and warmth to America’s finest composer in this centennial year of his birth…a strong addition to other recent works on Ellington.’ LIBRARY JOURNAL (USA)

‘A fascinating everything-including-the-kitchen-sink biography…thoroughly researched, highly readable and full of unusual  miscellany.’ THE BOSTON GLOBE (USA)

‘What more does anyone really need to know?’ THE ATLANTIC (USA)

‘Like the Ellington suite for which it is named, Stuart Nicholson’s copiously researched appreciation of Duke Ellington’s life and art is a work of unobtrusive joy.’ NEWSDAY (USA)

‘Nicholson has orchestrated the elements of the life and the voices that bear witness to them with a skill worthy of Ellington himself.’ THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

‘Meticulous jazz-buff research. But it is also a vividly human document about one of the major musical figures of our century. By the end you feel that you, too, were his intimate friend.’ THE MAIL ON SUNDAY – ‘BOOK OF THE WEEK’ (UK)

‘Nicholson has given Ellington a superb centennial gift.’ HUMPHREY CARPENTER, SUNDAY TIMES (UK)

‘A magnificent piece of work…A Portrait of Duke Ellington is an ambitious, compelling and wonderfully realised exploration of a great man’s life. The Duke deserved a handsome memorial on his centenary, and Stuart Nicholson provided it.’ YORKSHIRE POST (UK)

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this…some of the juxtapositions are wonderfully skilled and beautifully telling…I found it a read where I could barely put it down.’ JANET RITTERMAN, DIRECTOR OF THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC − A SOUND READ (BBC RADIO 3) (UK)

‘A genuinely innovative contribution to Ellington studies…one of the most approachable and easily digestible ways to come to terms with the mythic proportions of this most inescapable figure.’ SUNDAY TRIBUNE (IRELAND)

‘Nicholson ensures his music comes across in all its life enhancing, irresistible freshness.’ THE LITERARY REVIEW (UK)

‘Nicholson’s book is not a conventional biography but instead a huge collage of quotations, as if he had been able posthumously to interview Ellington and his associates. It works well and throws up a good deal of new material…a readable and revealing addition to the sizeable shelf of Ellington books.’ THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (UK)

‘Done with great skill and love, it’s seamless and wonderfully immediate…beautifully done and such a wonderful story.’ HOWARD BRENTON, playwright and author  − A SOUND READ (BBC RADIO 3) (UK)

“So what is truly new and different about Reminiscing in Tempo? For one thing, Nicholson reproduces fascinating excerpts from FBI files that detail Ellington’s alleged involvement with political groups or causes deemed suspicious by the agency. For another, he draws freely from a series of interviews conducted by Carter Harman (author of the 1956 Time cover story) that show a more candid, opinionated, and unbuttoned Ellington than the public ever knew existed. Readers may be startled to encounter Ellington’s casual, colloquial tone in speaking with Harman, so different from the polished and evasive utterances he usually gave journalists.’ MARK TUCKER, JAZZ TIMES (USA)

‘This affectionate but honest portrait doesn’t shy from Ellington’s earthy sensuality, his superstition, drinking, gambling and use of crude language…and thanks to Nicholson’s sensitive editing, it preserves all of it’s speakers’ dignity and humanity. There is no meanness or smallness anywhere in this portrait.’ THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR (USA)

What is delightful are the book’s reproductions of playbills advertising the band at various points in its career. What is most startling are generous excerpts from Ellington’s F.B.I. files. For nearly 40 years, Ellington performed gratis to support organizations advocating social justice.’ THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF BOOKS (USA)

‘This volume is a welcome addition to the growing canon…it provides more personal insight into the man than any other currently available work.’ CHOICE (USA)

‘Parts of the Ellington personality remain in the shadows because no one was ever allowed to get too close. But in these pages Stuart Nicholson comes as near as anyone has ever done.’ THE HERALD (UK)

‘Deserves ongoing mention and recommendation as an outstanding celebration of the jazz figure’s life and times.’ THE BOOKWATCH (USA)


‘Books like these are worth twice any pundit’s fusty revisions of jazz history.’ EVENING STANDARD (UK)

‘One of the most enjoyable and riveting books on the subject you’ll ever read.’ JAZZ JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL (UK)


‘A classic.’ JAZZ UK (UK)

‘His affectionate but honest portrait doesn’t shy away from Ellington’s earthy sensuality, his superstition, drinking, gambling, and use of crude language…thanks to Nicholson’s sensitive editing, it preserves all of its speakers’ dignity and humanity. There is no meanness or smallness anywhere in this portrait.’ THE BLACK HISTORY PROJECT (USA)

Told in the language of jazz musicians, this delightful biography hits all the high notes.’ THE SUNDAY TIMES – ‘SUMMER READING LIST: THIS YEAR’S BEST TITLES’. (UK)



‘Bursting with anecdotal exuberance, this innovative biography is comprised of intimate first hand reminiscences.’ THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (UK)

‘Nicholson’s decision to use the fashionable “collage” style of biography, pioneered by George Plimpton in his life of Truman Capote, is triumphantly vindicated.’ THE SUNDAY TIMES (UK)

‘Nicholson has produced a life that is a worthy companion to Ellington’s incomparable music.’ THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

‘The research is astonishing, the editing immaculate…Ellington comes to life before our eyes…if this knowledgeable retelling doesn’t send you scuttling to the jazz section of your local recorded music emporium, nothing will.’ IRISH TIMES (IRELAND)

‘Stuart Nicholson’s innovative and chunky biography makes for compelling reading.’ STRAIGHT NO CHASER (UK)

Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To A New Address)? Has Been Cited In Numerous Published Academic Papers Including:

  • Das Reale und das Imaginäre: Der New Yorker Cotton Club und seine ungleichen Hausorchester Duke Ellington und Cab Calloway