KINGS POINT, N.Y., June 10, 2016 - Dr. Paul Devlin has received national attention for his new book, Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues, published by the University of Minnesota Press in May.
The book is a collection of Albert Murray’s unpublished and uncollected interviews and writings on music, edited and compiled by Devlin, who wrote a long introduction to the book and contextualizing introductions for its chapters.
Murray (1916-2013) was a giant of African American literature and an influential explainer and theorist of jazz. Raised in Mobile, Ala., and educated at Tuskegee Institute, Murray was a major in the U.S. Air Force (retired 1962) and later a professor of English at several universities, including Colgate and Emory. He wrote thirteen books, including novels, poetry, memoir, jazz history, social commentary, and literary criticism. Murray was Devlin’s mentor and was also a mentor to Wynton Marsalis, with whom he founded Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1987.
Murray Talks Music received a rave review in the spring books issue of The Nation. It was discussed in the New York Times in an article in the Arts Section on May 21. It was also mentioned in the New York Times Book Review that weekend and was reviewed in various jazz magazines and elsewhere. The book’s publication was celebrated at events at Jazz at Lincoln Center and at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. (Devlin has been a consultant and guest speaker at both institutions on several occasions over the past decade.)
Murray was an electrifying talker and these interviews are among his best. They range across music, art, history, and literature, but always return to music. Two of the interviews are by Devlin and he transcribed all the others. The book features contributions from Wynton Marsalis, jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine, and scholars such as Columbia University’s Robert G. O’Meally, among others. (Dr. O’Meally hosted a conference on Murray’s work at Columbia in February, at which Devlin presented a paper.) Gary Giddins, biographer of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and the executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, wrote the book’s foreword.
Devlin is a Professor in the Department of Humanities at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) and earned his Ph.D. in English from Stony Brook University (State University of New York) in December 2014, and started teaching at USMMA in July 2015. He previously taught at Stony Brook and at St. John’s University in Queens. In addition to scholarly articles, he has published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times Book Review, Slate, and Popular Mechanics, among other publications. Devlin transcribed, edited, and annotated an autobiography of the jazz drummer Papa Jo Jones (1911-1985): Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones, also published by the University of Minnesota Press (2011). Library Journal called it “a volume that belongs in any serious jazz or African American culture collection.” It was a finalist for the Jazz Journalists Association book award in 2012.
Devlin’s current scholarly book project is on the work of Ralph Ellison (1913-1994), author of Invisible Man (1952), who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. This October, the Library of America will publish a volume of Murray’s collected non-fiction writing, co-edited by Devlin and Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the preeminent scholar of African American literature and the executive producer, writer, and host of the PBS television program Finding Your Roots.