Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The nonchalance of Zimmer’s entrance counterpoints the obvious professionalism with which Ellington conducts the gig, setting up the first of the tensions that pervade the poem. Naturally, Zimmer chooses the tenor sax as his instrument; after all, it has been called the sexiest of all instruments, not to mention that it is the instrument closest in sound and ability to the human voice and the one that most often serves for the competition with which the jazz singer “duels.” Here the duel, or battle of wills, is not between singer and saxophonist but is the age-old struggle between mentor and student, age and youth, made concrete in the conflict between bandleader and soloist, pianist and saxophonist, composer and musician, Ellington and Zimmer.

In line with the defiant tone of one of Zimmer’s most frequently anthologized poems, “The Day Zimmer Lost Religion,” “The Duke Ellington Dream” carries the encounter further by having the authority figure—Ellington—actually approach Zimmer with indignation and anger, which the timorous Christ fails to do in “The Day Zimmer Lost Religion.” Rather than ending with separation and alienation from the authority figure, however, this poem ends with Ellington’s passionate approbation of Zimmer, faults included. His anger at Zimmer for his tardiness cannot match his love for his ability to make the music live.

Another major tension of the poem rests on the improvisatory nature of jazz....

(The entire section is 566 words.)