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As a trumpet player and lifelong jazz aficionado, Ralph Ellison saw music as an integral part of his life and wrote about it frequently. When Modern Library published an anthology of his music writing, the publisher also arranged for this companion disc that features the artists he wrote about. It includes stars like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, as well as a recording of a lecture that Ellison gave at the Library of Congress.
Ellison once wrote that Armstrong and his fellow jazz greats were "the stewards of our vaunted American optimism."_CITATION30_ Some of Armstrong's songs have practically become national anthems—who doesn't tear up a little at "What a Wonderful World"?—but Armstrong's contribution to jazz and American culture goes far beyond a few catchy tunes.
It has been said that Invisible Man is structured more like a jazz composition than a novel. Armstrong's classic "Black and Blue" figures prominently in the book, with the song lulling the narrator into a nearly-hallucinatory state.
"For more than 40 years Duke Ellington's music has been not only superb entertainment but an important function of national morale,"_CITATION31_ Ellison wrote in the essay "Homage to Duke Ellington on His Birthday," penned in honor of the trumpet master's 70th birthday. Start with the song "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," one of Ellison's favorites, and work your way through the rest of this great artist's catalogue.
In a 1958 essay, Ellison wrote that "Jimmy Rushing was not simply a local entertainer; he expressed a value, an attitude about the world for which our lives afforded no other definition."_CITATION32_ To Ellison, jazz artist Rushing expressed a bold optimism and dignity at a time when the rest of white society pushed black Americans to the side.
"Bessie Smith might have been a 'blues queen' to society at large," Ellison wrote of this singer, but in the black community "she was a priestess, a celebrant who affirmed the values of the group and man's ability to deal with chaos."_CITATION33_ Listen to Smith's singular voice for yourself.