The Blue Devils of Nada
The phrase “the blues aesthetic” suggests origins deep in African American culture, but, as his subtitle suggests, the African American writer Albert Murray is concerned to define the place of the blues idiom, which for him means what others call “jazz,” in American culture at large. For Murray, who has been making this point incisively for a quarter of a century, there is no “white” American culture; he describes and praises American mainstream culture as mulatto. Nor is there any “black” American culture, if by that is meant a culture of African Americans that does not reflect their interaction with Americans of every ethnic heritage. The blues idiom is itself not “African” but arises out of the confrontation of American and European musical elements in the transforming context of America.
Much of this book is devoted to the work and personalities of three giants of the blues idiom: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Murray does not offer technical analysis of the music; he is rather concerned to define its meanings for his vision of American culture. He then, more boldly, extends the blues aesthetic to the African American painter Romare Bearden, and finally, and more boldly still, to the white American writer Ernest Hemingway.
One need not agree with every point that Murray makes (few readers will) to realize that Murray’s approach to culture is provocative and often illuminating in itself and a challenge to all versions of separatism and to many versions of multiculturalism. The liveliness of his mind and the range of his interests make Albert Murray an always engaging and stimulating companion to the reader. Not for the first time in his career, he has produced a book for which readers should be grateful.
Sources for Further Study
American Heritage. XLVII, September, 1996, p. 68.
Booklist. XCII, February 15, 1996, p. 980.
Boston Globe. February 18, 1996, p. B36.
Chicago Tribune. March 17, 1996, XIV, p. 5.
Library Journal. CXX, December, 1995, p. 111.
The Nation. CCLXII, March 25, 1996, p. 25.
The New York Times Book Review. CI, March 10, 1996, p. 4.
The New Yorker. LXXII, April 8, 1996, p. 70.
Newsweek. CXXVII, February 5, 1996, p. 60.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, December 18, 1995, p. 35.
The Village Voice Literary Supplement. February, 1996, p. 17.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, February 4, 1996, p. 7.