TRADING TWELVES

THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RALPH ELLISON AND ALBERT MURRAY

An open window into a literary friendship and beyond.

The late novelist Ralph Ellison and novelist and cultural critic Albert Murray were undergraduate acquaintances at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama before later becoming friends in New York in the 1940s. But it was mostly in the 1950s (when for two years Ellison was at the American Academy in Rome and Murray was a US Air Force officer stationed in Morocco) that the bulk of these delightfully engaging exchanges were written. This is Ellison and Murray at their relaxed best, shooting the breeze about photography, music, or cooking; riffing on Faulkner, Malraux, Robert Penn Warren, or T.S. Eliot; propounding their own literary and cultural theories; or critiquing the Eisenhower administration’s halfhearted efforts at school integration. Ellison, as it turns out, was as fussy about language as he was particular about the ingredients he used for his beloved pigs’ feet. They both were astute observers of the Jazz scene and seemed to know every bit of minutiae involving the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands. (It is from jazz, in fact, that the title—a reference to the 12 bars of music that are “traded” back and forth during a riff—is derived.) Murray, two years Ellison’s junior, published his first novel (Train Whistle Guitar) some 20 years after Invisible Man. In that respect, he often comes across as the student to Ellison’s teacher. But there seemed to be no competition between them. Ellison disclosed to Murray as early as the 1950s that he was at work on a second novel that was never completed before Ellison died in 1994. John Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor, was able eventually to cobble together notes from this work-in-progress and finally to publish it last year as Juneteenth. Callahan also helped Murray select and edit his correspondence with Ellison.

A small treasure.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50367-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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