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Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings (Modern Library) Hardcover – May 29, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many people don't realize that novelist Ralph Ellison, best-known as the author of Invisible Man, was first an accomplished trumpeter and a student of musical composition, especially jazz. In Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings, literature and jazz scholar Robert O'Meally, founder and director of the Center for Jazz Studies, has collected the best of this oeuvre in a volume that includes profiles of jazz greats like Charlie Parker, meditations on jazz classics, music-related selections from Ellison's fiction and a foreword by Wynton Marsalis. No Ellison fan or jazz aficionado should ignore this book, in which the novelist eloquently conveys the profound role that music has played in the lives of black Americans. As he wrote in the title essay, "it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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 (Zora Neale Hurston Professor of Comparative Literature, Columbia Univ.) 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. Supplementing these are some pertinent short stories and excerpts from Ellison's novels, three interviews, and several letters all of which contribute to O'Meally's well-conceived design. In addition, O'Meally's illuminating introductions vastly enhance this work. Highly recommended.
- Harold V. Cordry, Baldwin, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (May 29, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640349
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ralph Ellison (1914-94) was born in Oklahoma and trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1936, at which time a visit to New York and a meeting with Richard Wright led to his first attempts at fiction. Invisible Man won the National Book Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at several institutions, including Bard College, the University of Chicago, and New York University, where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian Gaffney on March 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ellison remains one of the finest writers on jazz to have ever taken pen to paper. "Living with Music" is living proof, even though he is no longer with us. This book is ideal for readers seeking a literary exploration through jazz. In addition to Ellison's writings, Robert O'Meally's introduction offers keen insight into the style of jazz culture.
I wouldn't recommend this book to readers looking for an introduction to jazz. For that, I would suggest sticking to liner notes, writings by musicians, and objective writers. However, for those who are looking to explore the whole of jazz culture, that moves beyond the listen, you'll thoroughly enjoy the read. My personal favorite is "Cadillac Flambe." "The Charlie Christian Story" contains some of my favorite quotes on jazz culture.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disappointing to find highlighting in first pages as I had remembered that it was said not to have highlighting (possible I have recalled wrong....)
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15 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Jim Owen on October 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With a reputation like Ellison has, I would expect his writings on jazz to be full of writerly insight which would bring to life the music as seen through the eyes of someone very perceptive. This is not the case. Instead, the book is a series of difficult, dry, mostly trivial essays culled together by, it seems, an editor with a taste for publishing something that would sell and impress rather than something worth reading.
Many essays in this book are reviews of obscure recordings or ruminations on artists most people haven't heard of. Most of the writings also date from the late 50's, giving the content a lack of perspective to our modern ears. Ellison also comes across as somewhat of a curmudgeon, disdaining "modern" jazz and "so-called rock and roll" (his term), adding yet another layer of unreliability.
Ultimately, I found myself skimming through essays I either didn't understand, or didn't care to. Much more relevant and lively jazz essays can be found in numerous other books.
The ultimate disappointment, I think, is that the book doesn't make me want to listen to jazz. It convinces me I don't understand it.
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