Living with Music
The subtitle, Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings, is either incomplete or redundant. Argument for incompletion: The nonfiction pieces repackaged here include considerations of blues, gospel, and flamenco. Argument for redundancy: As the slips of fiction and correspondence gathered here testify, all Ellison writing is jazz writing; the late novelist — a onetime trumpeter — built lyrical phrases into lucid paragraphs, designing it all to swing. Value of the volume: Ellison fans get easy access to the marvelous Cadillac Flambé, a wild fiction wherein a bassist sacrifices his convertible by fire; music fans get a convenient way to taste a critic who — whether riffing on Charlie Parker’s mythology or Louis Armstrong’s cultural politics — operated at the highest order of eloquence.