A twenty-three-line poem, Paul Zimmer’s “The Duke Ellington Dream” consists of four stanzas of varying lengths. In free verse that organically echoes the modulating rhythms and tempos of the very jazz it describes, the poem relates a “dream” of the persona, here—as in many of Zimmer’s poems—Zimmer, a daydream in which he plays with Duke Ellington’s band. As in any dream of heroism or excellence, in this fantasy Zimmer is not only a part of the band, he is in the spotlight. To effect this feat, he must also be the one who walks his own way to his own beat, although it both dismays and delights (albeit grudgingly) his idol, mentor, and leader; he must be the perfect but intractable student who learns the lesson so well he outstrips and outshines his teacher and does it with an illimitable supply of “cool.”
The dream begins when Zimmer saunters into a club where arguably the most famous jazz composer and musician of the twentieth century, Duke Ellington, is playing with his band. In his dream, Zimmer is a member of Ellington’s band or perhaps a guest soloist, although that option might be less probable because of Ellington’s obvious disapproval of the way Zimmer casually strolls in late to join in the gig. As Zimmer puts it, “Duke was pissed.” Despite Ellington’s continuing annoyance with him and in clear and unabashed defiance of the bandleader’s huff, Zimmer takes his place with his tenor sax as the other band members...
(The entire section is 426 words.)