Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings

By Ralph Ellison (2001)
Ellison (1914-94) developed his love of music during his childhood in Oklahoma City, a bastion of Southwestern jazz in the 1920s and 1930s and the home of Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Christian, and the famous Blue Devils. As a young man, he lived with music, listening to it, analyzing it, and mingling with performers in the hopes of becoming one himself (he became a trumpeter). As editor O’Meally makes clear, jazz influenced both his thinking and writing. This fine collection consists mainly of previously uncollected jazz writings, among them “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” and “Homage to Duke Ellington on His Birthday.” These interesting and highly personal pieces offer details about a bygone era as well as insights into the formation of Ellison’s mind and the writing of Invisible Man and other fiction in which jazz and its processes figured so strongly.

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