THE MAGIC KEYS by Albert Murray
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Murray writes jazz: A colorful riff on coming of age in the city.

In the final installment of his four-part bildungsroman, octogenarian Murray (Trainwhistle Guitar, 1976, The Spyglass Tree, 1991, The Seven League Boots, 1996) revisits his semiautobiographical character Scooter for an exuberant intellectual romp around the streets of 1930s New York. After a few years on the road playing bass with the legendary Bossman, the brilliant, wandering Scooter arrives in New York to pursue a master’s in the humanities—and meets up with old friends. Beyond the reaches of campus, the streets and studios of New York offer an ongoing moveable feast of ideas. Scooter reconnects with Taft Edison, a Ralph Ellison–like writer working to bring the down-home idiom into his ever expanding novel; Royal Highness, a magnanimous big man from the band days, and Roland Beasely, a vibrant, imaginative painter. As Scooter and compatriots duck in and out of bars, art galleries and jazz clubs discussing French poetry, soul food and cubist art, Scooter seems to be always on the verge of finding the magic keys to his own inner music, to art, to literature and perhaps to life itself. If the book is salted with Taft’s discussions about how to bring the black idiom into the novel, Murray seems to have found his own inimitable solution: for page after page, the prose rocks, croons and sings. When it sometimes seems that nothing is happening, the jaunty swinging language it’s not happening in<\> propels the ear forward nonetheless. As Murray writes, “describing . . how the sounds are made is elementary for musicians themselves, but all of that is only a matter of craft. But when my band plays something I want the craft to add up to what good music is supposed to do for people who come to hear it and dance. . . .”

Crooning in tune with the ear and with life, Murray’s saga vamps, dancing, to a glorious end.

Pub Date: May 17th, 2005
ISBN: 0-375-42353-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2005


NonfictionFROM THE BRIARPATCH FILE by Albert Murray
by Albert Murray
NonfictionTRADING TWELVES by Ralph Ellison
by Ralph Ellison
FictionTHE SEVEN LEAGUE BOOTS by Albert Murray
by Albert Murray


FictionTALES by Amiri Baraka
by Amiri Baraka