Fascinating Rhythm

Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing

David Yaffe
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rgjn
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  • Book Info
    Fascinating Rhythm
    Book Description:

    How have American writers written about jazz, and how has jazz influenced American literature? InFascinating Rhythm, David Yaffe explores the relationship and interplay between jazz and literature, looking at jazz musicians and the themes literature has garnered from them by appropriating the style, tones, and innovations of jazz, and demonstrating that the poetics of jazz has both been assimilated into, and deeply affected, the development of twentieth-century American literature.

    Yaffe explores how Jewish novelists such as Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, and Philip Roth engaged issues of racial, ethnic, and American authenticity by way of jazz; how Ralph Ellison's descriptions of Louis Armstrong led to a "neoconservative" movement in contemporary jazz; how poets such as Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, and Frank O'Hara were variously inspired by the music; and how memoirs by Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis both reinforced and redeemed the red light origins of jazz. The book confronts the current jazz discourse and shows how poets and novelists can be placed in it--often with problematic results.Fascinating Rhythmstops to listen for the music, demonstrating how jazz continues to speak for the American writer.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2680-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-14)

    In Donald Barthelme’s short story “The King of Jazz,” attempts to describe a trombone solo by Hokie Mokie demonstrate the folly of jazz writing. The story narrates a cutting contest between Mokie, the former “King of Jazz,” and his Japanese contender as onlookers grasp for superlatives. The dethroned trombonist, whose playing had earlier been described as having an “epiphanic glow” with a style known as “English Sunrise,” emerges with a solo so thrilling that it inspires a series of questions that build to their own absurdist crescendo:

    You mean that sound that sounds like the cutting edge of life? That...

  5. 1 WHITE NEGROES AND NATIVE SONS BLACKS AND JEWS IN WORDS AND MUSIC
    (pp. 15-60)

    Literature has not completely told the story of relations between African Americans and Jews in America. Irving Howe famously thought he could tell Ralph Ellison how to be black, and Saul Bellow contributed a footnote to the culture wars by asking a newspaper interviewer where he could find the Zulu Tolstoy.¹ Ellison and Richard Wright, meanwhile, had their own stories to get out, relegating their complex relations with Jewish communists in the 1930s to the sidelines, and Langston Hughes did not exactly achieve a Tikkun with a 1926 volume calledFine Clothes to the Jew. Seventy years later, Amiri Baraka...

  6. 2 LISTENING TO ELLISON TRANSGRESSION AND TRADITION IN ELLISON’S JAZZ WRITINGS
    (pp. 61-98)

    In 1963, Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison engaged in a literary sparring match that was called, by most onlookers, for Ellison. It was not a congenial moment in black-Jewish relations—a long way, certainly from Count Basie riffing on Gershwin’s “Oh! Lady Be Good” with a rhythmic attack wholly distinct from its source material. Ellison and Howe’s exchange was more like the battle royales alluded to in Ellison’sInvisible Man, a literary cutting contest. Unlike a musical cutting contest, however, in which two improvisers, usually horn players, go head-to-head with styles that are as distinctive as they are complementary, this...

  7. 3 STOMPING THE MUSE JAZZ, POETRY, AND THE PROBLEMATIC MUSE
    (pp. 99-149)

    “I try to hide in Proust, / Mallarme, & Camus, but the no-good blues come looking for me,” writes Yusef Komunyakaa. When in 1935 young Ralph Ellison retreated to the library as a student at Tuskegee, making his first entry into Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Louis Armstrong came looking for him, too. It made sense that Armstrong was a touchstone for Ellison, since Eliot pointed to so many references that Ellison wanted to master. But Ellison did not come unprepared. Years of hearing Jimmy Rushing and Charlie Christian in Oklahoma City, pouring over Wagner scores with William Dawson at Tuskegee,...

  8. 4 LOVE FOR SALE HUSTLING THE JAZZ MEMOIR
    (pp. 150-198)

    “All writers are selling somebody out,” wrote Joan Didion. When it comes to jazz autobiography, Didion’s maxim is not just a metaphor. Jazz may not have actually been born in the red-light district of Storyville, but it certainly flourished there. The music’s myths and legends have not strayed far from the oldest profession—and when jazz musicians tell their own stories, selling somebody out is inevitable. The legendary New Orleans trumpeter Buddy Bolden was never recorded, but he was remembered for playing “blues and all that stink music” in a sweaty, crowded dive called Funky Butt Hall, back when prostitution...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 199-214)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 215-224)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 225-230)