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Leading Authority on EllingtonCopyright © 2000The Scotsman, 2000
Mark Tucker was best known for his scholarly work on the life and music of Duke Ellington, but he was also a fine jazz pianist in his own right. He performed recitals of the music of Ellington at prestigious venues like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution, and appeared as a soloist with jazz repertory groups and college bands.
His reputation will rest primarily on his work as a jazz scholar and educator. His books Ellington: The Early Years (1991) and The Duke Ellington Reader (1993), set new standards for historical and musicological research into Ellingtons music, and will remain standard works in the field.
He began to study piano as a child, and played classical music while a student at Yale University, but began to play jazz in the course of completing his masters degree in musicology. His specialities included the music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, but also Thelonious Monk, and he was engaged in writing a book on Monk at his death.
His skills as a pianist constantly informed his understanding of the music he wrote about as a scholar, and he was able to bring a genuine depth of musical knowledge and perception to his subjects. In addition to his books on Ellington, he co-wrote Jazz From The Beginning (1988), the autobiography of jazz musician Garvin Bushell. He has contributed the entry on jazz to the forthcoming new edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and was a contributor to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (1988, new edition 2001) and the Oxford Companion to Jazz (2000).
He taught at Columbia University (1987-97), and from 1997 was a Professor of Music and American Studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He contributed articles and reviews to many publications, including The New York Times, American Music and the Black Music Research Journal, among others.
He died of lung cancer on 6 December at his home in Williamsburg, aged 46.
He is survived by his wife, Carol Oja, and two children, Zoe and Wynn; his father, Louis L. Tucker; his stepmother, Caroline Woollen-Tucker; his brother, Lance Tucker; his grandmother, Dorothy Jones.