Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Albert Murray (1916–2013)

From The New York Times: “Albert Murray, an essayist, critic and novelist who influenced the national discussion about race by challenging black separatism, insisting that the black experience was essential to American culture and inextricably tied to it, died on Sunday at his home in Harlem.”

From Murray’s The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture (1970):

when the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is for fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest, and the medicine man. He is making an affirmative and hence exemplary and heroic response to that which André Malraux describes as la condition humane. Extemporizing in response to the exigencies of the situation in which he finds himself, he is confronting, acknowledging, and contending with the infernal absurdities and ever-impending frustrations inherent in the nature of all existence by playing with the possibilities that are also there. Thus does man the player become man the stylizer and by the same token the humanizer of chaos; and thus does play become ritual, ceremony, and art; and thus also does the dance-beat improvisation of experience in the blues idiom become survival technique, esthetic equipment for living, and a central element in the dynamics of U. S. Negro life style.
The New Yorker has unlocked (for how long?) a 1996 profile of Murray by Henry Louis Gates Jr.: “King of Cats.”

[I have to say it: I have little use for the Albert Murray-Stanley Crouch-Wynton Marsalis idea of jazz, promulgated by means of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Ken Burns PBS series Jazz. There: I said it.]

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