Ralph Ellison’s record collection

September 12th, 2018

 

Ralph Ellison

 

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In a wonderfully entertaining and informative 2004 New Yorker piece titled “Ralph Ellison’s Record Collection,” Richard Brody reminds us of the Invisible Man author’s passion for jazz music — what he referred to as “American music” — and of his somewhat controversial (for the time) opinion of the musicians coming up.  While often revering the music of Armstrong, Ellington, and Lester Young (and who can blame him?), of Charlie Parker’s music, he wrote “there is in it a great deal of loneliness, self-deprecation and self-pity,” and, in a letter to friend Albert Murray following a 1958 Newport Jazz Festival performance, described Miles Davis as “poor, evil, lost little Miles Davis.”  He famously characterized bebop as “a listener’s music” that “few people are capable of dancing to it” — although this critique was probably more of a lament of a lost culture. 

But the crux of the story is not Ellison’s opinion about music, rather the recordings he collected, reported by Brody as “vast amounts of Ellington; one Skitch Henderson but no Fletcher Henderson; more Mahler than Billie Holiday; plenty of Glenn Gould and Kathleen Ferrier; one each of Bartok and Schoenberg, three records of Charlie Parker, three of Ornette Coleman, and nothing of any other modern jazz (such as Miles Davis or John Coltrane).”

At the time of Brody’s piece (which you can read by clicking here), Ellison’s collection was exhibited at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  You can still view the entire collection (and make your own observations about Ellison’s taste in music) by clicking here.

For those interested in Ellison, over the years I hosted conversations with several Ellison authorities, including his friend and cultural critic Albert Murray, biographers Arnold Rampersand, Lawrence Jackson and Horace Porter, literary executor John Callahan, historian Robert O’Meally, filmmaker Avon Kirkland, poet Michael Harper, and critics Stanley Crouch and Gary Giddins,   You can get to those interviews by clicking here.

 

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A 1966 filmed interview of Ralph Ellison

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4 comments on “Ralph Ellison’s record collection”

  1. Ellison’s Invisible Man was phenomenal. I have a book of his short stories I read but was not able to understand. He was a unique person

  2. Ellison’s Invisible Man was phenomenal. I have a book of his short stories I read but was not able to understand. He was a unique person

  3. Actually modern jazz isn’t totally absent. There’s John Lewis, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, the MJQ and Art Farmer. Tamer than Coltrane but modern.

  4. Actually modern jazz isn’t totally absent. There’s John Lewis, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, the MJQ and Art Farmer. Tamer than Coltrane but modern.

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In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

Poetry

"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

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