Carter Harman, born in 1918, was a music critic, reporter, editor, and producer who was first exposed to Duke Ellington and his music as a young child listening to radio broadcasts during the 1920s. His interest in and passion for Ellington grew and was cemented the first time he saw a live performance. He continued to attend as many Ellington performances as possible, even going to a dance Ellington played in Brunswick, New Jersey in 1943 immediately before he left to serve as a helicopter pilot in World War II. Harman didn’t have many opportunities to listen to Ellington while at war, although from time to time he was able to hear the music on Armed Forces Radio and V-discs.
After the war Harman began a five-year apprenticeship as a music reporter for the
New York Times
. In 1952 he became the music editor for
. He later wrote “my beat was dreamy – covering concerts, operas, the dance, entertainment, and records.” Harman’s job provided him with the opportunity to meet and interview Ellington. His initial interview was for a short piece for Time that focused on the band’s new drummer Sam Woodyard. That story led to the possibility of a longer cover story about Ellington. Harman began work on the feature by flying to Las Vegas where Ellington was performing at the Flamingo. Following a performance he was able to interview Ellington on tape using Ellington’s personal tape recorder. This 1956 recording is the first interview in the Carter Harman Collection. Harman spent several evenings with Ellington during which time conducted an unrecorded interview with Billy Strayhorn. He was able to record Strayhorn’s impromptu performance of Lush Life.
The remaining taped interviews took place during 1964 and were intended to be the basis for Ellington’s autobiography to be ghost-written by Harman. The interviews were conducted in a variety of venues, most notably during car rides to appearances around the country. Harman acquired a Ficord portable tape recorder for the project which he operated from the back seat of the car while Ellington spoke into the microphone in the front seat. Harman later discovered that battery problems with the Ficord affected the quality of the recordings so that at times Ellington sounded like “Donald Duke.”
Ellington considered Harman a friend and would frequently call him just to chat about topics unrelated to the book project. Ultimately Harman’s involvement with the autobiography fell apart and the friendship cooled, although Harman continued to follow Ellington’s work and attend performances. In 1973 Ellington published his autobiography,
Music Is My Mistress
, with Stanley Dance assisting with the writing.
Carter Harman moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1957 following his 1956 encounter with Ellington and the subsequent publication of the
cover story. There he worked for the record label, Sounds of Our Times, which was devoted to recording folk music. Harman travelled from San Juan to the United States to conduct the 1964 interviews. He returned to New York and in 1967 became the executive director and producer of Composers Recordings, Inc. He retired from CRI Records in 1984.
Carter Harman died January 23, 2007.
Citation: Harman, Carter. About the Duke Ellington Tapes, unpublished, 1991.