Ben Ratliff has been a jazz critic at The New York Times since 1996. He is the author of The Jazz Ear and The New York Times Essential Library: Jazz. His book Coltrane: The Story of a Sound was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two sons.
Ben Ratliff on the New York Times
Where are you from? Born in Manhattan, 1968. Grew up in New York City, London, and Rockland County, New York. Resident in New York City since 1985.
Who are your favorite writers?
Thomas Hardy, Sextus Propertius, John McGahern, Roberto Bolaño, Smokey Robinson, Alma Guillermoprieto.
Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, by Nik Cohn; Negative Space, by Manny Farber; Four Lives in the Bebop Business, by A. B. Spellman; American Musicians, by Whitney Balliett; Musicking, by Christopher Small.
Which teacher had the biggest impact on your life?
Marian Johnson, Argumentative Writing 1007, Columbia College, 1985.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Cooking for my family, going out with my wife on Thursdays, and swimming.
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
"Having to go to the doctor is a side-road off of real life. Real life is what you're reading and listening to."-Mark Petrini, one of my Latin teachers at Columbia, who later became a doctor
What is your favorite quote?
"Come on, don't be gormless."-my mother
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
"Where should I go hear jazz this Friday?" The Village Vanguard.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The birth of a second child and the desire to live on bookshelves.
Where do you write?
In my apartment, facing east, looking over the highest natural point in Manhattan.
Are there musical experiences that have brought you to tears?
Here are five:
Johnny Paycheck, Lone Star Cafe, New York City, 1987
Betty Carter, Fat Tuesday's, New York City, 1989
Timbalada carnival float, Bahia, Brazil, 1999
Willis Alan Ramsey, Village Underground, New York, 2003
Battle of the bands, Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm vs. Texas State University Ocean of Soul, Texas State University, Houston, 2007
What's a record that you like tell people about, assuming they don't need help finding their way to what's famous?
Patato & Totico (Carlos "Patato" Valdés, Eugenio "Totico" Arango, Arsenio Rodríguez, Israel "Cachao" López, and others, Verve, 1968)