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Albert Murray, Writer And Co-Founder Of Jazz At Lincoln Center, Dies

Writer, historian and critic Albert Murray in New York City in 2000.
Chris Felver
Getty Images
Writer, historian and critic Albert Murray in New York City in 2000.

Albert Murray, the influential writer and critic who helped found Jazz at Lincoln Center, died Sunday at home in Harlem. He was 97 years old. Duke Ellington once described him as the "unsquarest person I know."

For Murray, jazz and blues were more than just musical forms. They were a survival technique — an improvisatory response to hardship and uncertainty, as he told NPR in 1997: "You don't know how many bars you have, but however many of them you can make swing, the better off you are. That's about it."

Murray was born outside Mobile, Ala. He attended the Tuskegee Institute, where he became friends with Ralph Ellison, author of the Invisible Man.

Murray's writing career didn't begin in earnest until 1970, with a provocative book of essays called The Omni-Americans, which argued that black culture and American culture are deeply intertwined. He went on to publish several novels and a memoir and co-wrote Count Basie's autobiography.

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Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.