Ray Carman, long time President of the New York chapter of The Duke Ellington Society (TDES), the most prominent and active chapter to this international organization died on September 9, 2020. [Raphael Gardiner Carman b. 5/1/1935 - d. 9/9/2020]
Ray Carman’s love of Duke Ellington’s music and his activism to spread that gospel dominated his final decades and will prove his legacy, but just over 65 years ago Ray Carman was a basketball star at St. Francis alongside the legendary Maurice Stokes. The 1953-54 and 1954-55 teams are still considered the school’s greatest. They twice went deep into the NIT, then considered more prominent than the NCAA Tournament.
I was friends with Ray Carman for a half-century. We had two inside “jokes” that cemented our bond.
At points in the second half of the 1960s, we, independently, crossed the path of Alexander Kerensky (!). Kerensky became Prime Minister of Russia in 1917 following the fall of the Czar and before the Lenin led Communists took power. How many people enjoying and studying the music of Duke Ellington as the 21st Century headed into its third decade met Alexander Kerensky?
We also shared memories of the Paradise Club on West 110th Street at the southwestern corner of Harlem. Ray and I would make trips to the long-closed Jazz spot, with its diamond shape openings in a gate, fencing in what looked to be a burned interior. Our insider “joke” came after the building - many buildings - were torn down and a huge apartment building covered the block. Our laugh was that despite the obliteration and new structure, we could still go to the exact spot where the Paradise Club stood. The odd angled entry to the subway at the “IND” (now ‘C’, 'B’, and late night 'A’ trains - yes: the 'A’ train) West 110th Street stop in a non-right angled corner provided a fixed point from which we could find that exact spot.
Such offbeat, perhaps ridiculous or meaningless tidbits, can, nevertheless, deepened and personalize a friendship.
Ray called me at the end of August from his hospice care, stating with ease and acceptance that he was facing that lonesome road. The news and its delivery handcuffed my response: I am nowhere near as sick as he must have been.
But Ray - stunningly - was also contrite.
I’ve been ill with cancer since summer 2018 and until the pandemic, Ray wished for me to volunteer a lecture for our beloved Duke Ellington Society. Because I was so ill, I needed to turn him down. All Ray Carman wished to say to me as he was facing imminent death, was that he was sorry to have pestered me: he now knew what I had been going through. WHAT A MAN!
Ray also was thankful for the Lester Young - Charlie Parker Birthday Broadcast that he was listening to. It gave him comfort.
Rest In Peace Ray Carman.