On the Influence of Albert Murray

October 2nd, 2013

 

 

One of my more interesting experiences as publisher of Jerry Jazz Musician was producing a series of interviews that focused on the work of the novelist Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man was a favorite novel of mine as a young man, but it wasn’t until I reread it in the 1990’s before I began to understand the enormity of its cultural significance. At that time, Ellison’s second (and unfinished) novel Juneteenth was being published, and a variety of books on Ellison were released at the same time – among them Living with Music, a collection of Ellison’s writings on jazz music edited by Columbia University scholar Robert O’Meally, and Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

Ellison’s literary executor John Callahan happened to be a fellow Portland, Oregon resident, and I sought him out for an interview, which led to subsequent interviews with some of America’s most respected Ellison academics (including O’Meally, Stanley Crouch, Gary GiddinsLawrence Jackson, Avon Kirkland, Horace Porter, Michael Harper, and Arnold Rampersad), with the goal being to discuss Ellison’s jazz writings and his impact on American literature and the culture of 20th Century America. These conversations frequently focused on Ellison’s relationships, his politics, his writings on jazz music, his social standing, and, of course, his career. I am proud to say that “The Ralph Ellison Project” – as the collection of interviews is called – is linked to from several prominent educational institutions.

When one of America’s most esteemed intellectuals Albert Murray died on August 18, I was taken back to my August, 2001 interview with him, which continues to stand out as a watershed event in the history of this website.   In addition to his friendship with Ellison, at the time of the interview Murray was coming off being in the thick of the “controversy” surrounding Ken Burns’ Jazz (Murray was a member of the production’s Board of Advisors), as well as his prominent role in Jazz at Lincoln Center.

I studied for days prior to the interview, not wanting to appear the least bit unprepared or intimidated. While Murray was respectful of my intent and even offered suggestions on who to contact for subsequent interviews on Ellison, he wasn’t afraid to “call me out” when he felt I deserved it. Check out this interview fragment, where Murray and I talk about who Ellison’s “Masters of Ecstacy” may have been:

JJM I want to read something that knocked me out. This was in the notes to Ellison’s novel Juneteenth. ”A great religious leader is a ‘master of ecstacy.’ He evokes emotions that move beyond the rational on to the mystical. A jazz musician does something the same. By his manipulation of sound and rhythm, he releases movements and emotions which allow for the transcendence of everyday reality.” It’s an interesting philosophy, and I immediately think of John Coltrane as a “master of ecstacy.” Who were Ellison’s “masters of ecstacy” in his view of jazz musicians who moved their work from the “rational to the mystical?”

AM Well, you like the statement so you are applying it to someone you like. In Ellison’s judgement of artistic appreciation there are going to be some variations. People can generally agree on certain masterpieces, but they don’t write about them with the same amount of emotional excitement. So, it’s hard to really apply that. He may not have been all that enthusiastic about John Coltrane, it doesn’t mean he considered him invalid or anything like that, but he would have thought his art was exaggerated if he played something he couldn’t see. It doesn’t matter if “West End Blues” is older or younger than Beethoven’s Fifth, what is important in art is will it endure? At Lincoln Center, they play much more Bach, much more Beethoven, Chopin, than they play Aaron Copland or Samuel Barber. In jazz, journalists desire a more popular form. They say that the jazz played there is “old.” They don’t feel that way when talking about the Philharmonic. If you want to apply to what Ellison said, he might not agree with you that Coltrane achieved that ultimate level.

JJM The connection I make with Coltrane is that Ellison’s statement is relating this thing about an artist moving his work from the rational to the mystical, and Coltrane…

AM I understand that, but the point is you can say that about anything you like. You gave me an example of what sort of art you like, and I may say, “Oh man, I don’t see that at all.” It’s a matter of personal taste. The question is whether a large number of people would say that over a long period of time. Now, whether you like Louis Armstrong or not, a song like “Up a Lazy River” sounds as good now as it did then. The jazz critics and audience is going for the “latest” thing, whereas at the Philharmonic, they are playing the most “enduring” thing.

 

*

    This interview was indeed a “watershed” event because it reset the direction of Jerry Jazz Musician from being a website focusing on entertainment, to that of an “edu-tainment” website that challenged editors, participants, and the site’s readers to think of jazz and the culture it influenced – and was influenced by – on a deeper level.

If you would like to read my complete interview with Albert Murray, go to this page.

Thanks,

Joe Maita

Founder and Publisher

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
Charles Ingham’s “Jazz Narratives” connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. Volume 7 of the narratives are “Torn from Its Moorings", "Watching the Sea" and "Plantations" (featuring west coast stories of Ornette Coleman and Billie Holiday)

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #138

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Shortly following their famed 1938 Carnegie Hall performance, Benny Goodman’s drummer Gene Krupa left the band to start his own. Who replaced Krupa?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Poetry

photo Bret Stewart/Wikimedia Commons
“Afterwards — For the Spring, 2020” — a poem by Alan Yount

Book Excerpt

A ten page excerpt from The Letters of Cole Porter by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh that features correspondence in the time frame of June to August, 1953, including those Porter had with George Byron (the man who married Jerome Kern’s widow), fellow writer Abe Burrows, Noel Coward, his secretary Madeline P. Smith, close friend Sam Stark, and his lawyer John Wharton.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Tom Dowd talks with Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums author Michael Jarrett about the genesis of Herbie Mann’s 1969 recording, Memphis Underground, and the executives and musicians involved

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive