Black Music in Toni Morrison's Jazz

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“With the writing of Jazz, Morrison takes on new tasks and new risks. Jazz, for example, doesn’t fit the classic novel format in terms of design, sentence structure, or narration. Just like the music this novel is named after, the work is improvisational.”

“As rich in themes and poetic images as her Pulitzer Prize- winning Beloved…. Morrison conjures up hand of slavery on Harlem’s jazz generation. The more you listen, the more you crave to hear.”-Glamour

Toni Morrison’s Jazz is an eclectic reading based on elements of African American culture that produce, surround, and are an integral part of literary text. As we know, African American culture is distinguishable from other American cultures by its emphasis on music. This attention to music has produced two original forms, blues and jazz, and has developed distinctive traditions of others like gospel. Jazz is based mainly on one of these forms, namely –as the title infer- on jazz. This form pervades the whole book and provides not only subject and theme but also literary technique for the novel. Consequently, Jazz is not only the novel about the jazz era but also a novel that develops jazz “strategies” and creates a “jazz” of its own.

Morrison uses music as both a structural and a symbolic element in her work. Music often carries information about community knowledge, aesthetics, or perspectives. Toni Morrison often discusses the power of music and the way it functions in culture in discussions of her craft. (…) Symbolic and structural elements of music appear throughout all of Toni Morrison’s fiction in one way or another. (Obadike)

As it mentioned above, the title itself, draws attention to the world-renowned music created by African Americans in the 1920s’ as well as to the book’s jazz-like narrative structure and themes. Jazz is the best-known artistic creation of Harlem Renaissance. “Jazz is the only pure American creation, which shortly after its birth, became America’s most important cultural export”(Ostendorf, 165). It evolved from the blues

In the formally standardized, instrumentally accompanied form of “city blues”(as opposed the formally unstandardized and earlier “country blues”), the blues was to become one of the two major foundations of 1920s jazz (the other being rags). City blues tended to be strophic songs with a text typically based on two-lin...

... middle of paper ... idiosyncrasies perhaps as well as written prose can”(Pici). Morrison took on “new tasks and new risks” but it was worth doing so, as ”the result is a writing style that has a unique mix of the musical, the magical, and the historical.”(

Works Cited:

Andrews, John. (1998). What bebop meant to jazz history. A review of Scott Deveux’ book “The Birth of the Bebop: A Social and musical history.”

Breckenridge, Stan L. (2003). African American music for everyone. Second Edition. Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publications.

Enotes. The life and work of Toni Morrison. [Retrieved on December 16, 2005 at

Glamour – Magazine review of Toni Morrison’s Jazz

Hitchcock, H.W. (2000) Music in the USA: A historical introduction. NJ: Prentice House.

Morrison, Toni. (1993). Jazz. NY: Penguin Books.

Obadike, M.L. (01.01.2006)

Ostendorf, Berndt. (1986). Anthropology, modernism, and jazz. NY: Harold Bloom.

Pici, N.F. (1997-98) Trading meanings: The breath of music in Toni Morrison’s jazz. In Connotations 7:3 (1997-98)

Rodriguez, Eusebio L. (1993). Experiencing jazz. Modern Fiction Studies, 39. 3-4.
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