The Jazz Cadence of American Culture

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Overview

Taking to heart Ralph Ellison's remark that much in American life is "jazz-shaped," The Jazz Cadence of American Culture offers a wide range of eloquent statements about the influence of this art form. Robert G. O'Meally has gathered a comprehensive collection of important essays, speeches, and interviews on the impact of jazz on other arts, on politics, and on the rhythm of everyday life. Focusing mainly on American artistic expression from 1920 to 1970, O'Meally confronts a long era of political and artistic turbulence and change in which American art forms influenced one another in unexpected ways.Organized thematically, these provocative pieces include an essay considering poet and novelist James Weldon Johnson as a cultural critic, an interview with Wynton Marsalis, a speech on the heroic image in jazz, and a newspaper review of a recent melding of jazz music and dance, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. From Stanley Crouch to August Wilson to Jacqui Malone, the plurality of voices gathered here reflects the variety of expression within jazz. The book's opening section sketches the overall place of jazz in America. Alan P. Merriam and Fradley H. Garner unpack the word jazz and its register, Albert Murray considers improvisation in music and life, Amiri Baraka argues that white critics misunderstand jazz, and Stanley Crouch cogently dissects the intersections of jazz and mainstream American democratic institutions. After this, the book takes an interdisciplinary approach, exploring jazz and the visual arts, dance, sports, history, memory, and literature. Ann Douglas writes on jazz's influence on the design and construction of skyscrapers in the 1920s and '30s, Zora Neale Hurston considers the significance of African-American dance, Michael Eric Dyson looks at the jazz of Michael Jordan's basketball game, and Hazel Carby takes on the sexual politics of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith's blues. The Jazz Cadence offers a wealth of insight and information for scholars, students, jazz aficionados, and any reader wishing to know more about this music form that has put its stamp on American culture more profoundly than any other in the twentieth century.

Winner of 1999 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award, Pop Books category

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Editorial Reviews

Jerome Klinkowitz
An important resource for understanding how such hard-to-define aspects as "hipness" and "soulfulness" shape a culture and its most characteristic forms of artistic expression.
Mark Tucker
O'Meally's volume is the first to focus exclusively on the rich interdisciplinary commentary that jazz has inspired over the decades. . . . Impressive and thoughtfully assembled.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Both a celebration and an analysis of jazz, this massive omnibus of essays, interviews, riffs, reminiscences, lectures and meditations examines the impact of jazz on American culture from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance to the 1960s black arts revolution. The anthology's unifying theme, as O'Meally, professor of American literature at Columbia University, declares in the preface, is that jazz--with its balance between individual invention and group coordination--is a quintessential democratic medium, both metaphor and model for egalitarian cooperation. Picking up that motif, the selections by Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, August Wilson, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, Sterling Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Wynton Marsalis and others explore how jazz, with roots in Africa, became a robustly, definitively American form of expression. Jazz's ethos of improvisational pluralism, its games of color and space, its rhythms and sudden changes, as the contributors demonstrate, have had a pervasive, often subtle influence on art (Jackson Pollock, Stuart Davis, Mondrian, Romare Bearden), photography, filmmaking, dance, popular song, architecture and literature (Jack Kerouac, Vachel Lindsay, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright). A mixed bag, this collection includes a feminist interpretation of women blues singers in the 1920s, a deconstruction of basketball star Michael Jordan's style of play, a survey of traditional African dance and music and reappraisals of black and white jazz history. It frequently veers into hyperbole, as when jazz is seen as analogue, influence or model for the Manhattan skyline, the Constitution, or Mark Twain's humorous monologues. But whatever its excesses, this outstanding investigation of jazz as an integral strand in the fabric of American culture is a must for aficionados. (Nov.)
Library Journal
These two compilations take very different approaches to understanding jazz. Keeping Time is a fairly traditional documentary history, using newspaper and magazine articles, interviews, and excerpts from autobiographies and secondary accounts. After explaining the early years of the music, Walser, chair of musicology at UCLA, provides fascinating material dealing with the jazz age in the 1920s, swing in the Thirties, and bebop in the Forties. The book is less convincing on the hard-bop 1950s, provides very little information on the avant-garde in the next decade, and largely ignores Seventies fusion. It ends with an excellent outline of the Wynton Marsalis-led return to traditionalism in the 1980s and a more general, less satisfying examination of jazz today. The Jazz Cadence of America attempts to show the reciprocal effects of jazz and American culture on each other. After dealing with definitions of "jazz," O'Meally (American literature, Columbia; Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday, LJ 11/1/91) traces the place of jazz in American society; the influence of the music on painting, architecture, photography, film, and dance; jazz history from different perspectives; and the impact of jazz on literature. Some sections provide fascinating insights into the relationship of jazz to the other arts, especially painting and literature. However, the book seldom shows the connection between jazz and American society or the effect of other aspects of American culture on jazz. Despite obvious flaws, The Jazz Cadence offers an innovative approach to understanding jazz within a larger social context. Complementing each other with little overlap, these two compilations are recommended as classroom texts.--David P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Booknews
Thirty-five essays explore the implications of Ralph Ellison's observation that much of American culture is "jazz-shaped." A wide variety of topics are considered, including the sexual politics of women's blues, the impact of jazz on literature and other arts, and the role of white critics. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Jazz Times
O'Meally's volume is the first to focus exclusively on the rich interdisciplinary commentary that jazz has inspired over the decades.... Impressive and thoughtfully assembled.

— Mark Tucker

American Literary Scholarship
An important resource for understanding how such hard-to-define aspects as 'hipness' and 'soulfulness' shape a culture and its most characteristic forms of artistic expression.

— Jerome Klinkowitz

Billboard

There is much that is ducal among the 35 wide-ranging essays collected in The Jazz Cadence of American Culture.

Choice

O'Meally has assembled an impressive anthology that achieves an almost synesthetic rendering of jazz...the best designed reference book on the topic to date. It should be in every library.

The Bookwatch

The Jazz Cadence of American Culture is a celebration of jazz that goes beyond the usual jazz history, carefully and informatively examining the impact of jazz on other arts, politics, and daily life.

Notes

A monument to a grand and vital intellectual tradition that we cannot afford to neglect as jazz enters its second century--and as that great interdisciplinary, interpretive synthesis of jazz scholarship finally gets written.

The Washington Post Book World

If race keeps us apart, jazz brings us together, as Ralph Ellison pointed out when he called American life 'jazz shaped.' The 35 essays in The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, edited by Robert G. O'Meally, testify that Ellison was on to something.

Jazz Times - Mark Tucker

O'Meally's volume is the first to focus exclusively on the rich interdisciplinary commentary that jazz has inspired over the decades.... Impressive and thoughtfully assembled.

American Literary Scholarship - Jerome Klinkowitz

An important resource for understanding how such hard-to-define aspects as 'hipness' and 'soulfulness' shape a culture and its most characteristic forms of artistic expression.

Choice

O'Meally has assembled an impressive anthology that achieves an almost synesthetic rendering of jazz...the best designed reference book on the topic to date. It should be in every library.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231104487
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/1998
  • Pages: 576
  • Lexile: 1360L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.34 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 1.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert G. O'Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of American Literature at Columbia University.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
pt. 1 what is jazz?
Ch. 1 Jazz - The Word 7
Ch. 2 Forward Motion: An Interview with Benny Golson 32
Ch. 3 Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture 62
Ch. 4 Black Music as an Art Form 82
Ch. 5 Remembering Thelonious Monk: When the Music Was Happening Then He'd Get Up and Do His Little Dance 102
Ch. 6 Improvisation and the Creative Process 111
pt. 2 one nation under a groove, or, the united states of jazzocracy
Ch. 7 What's "American" About America 123
Ch. 8 Jazz and the White Critic 137
Ch. 9 Duke Ellington: "Music Like a Big Hot Pot of Good Gumbo" 143
Ch. 10 Blues to Be Constitutional: A Long Look at the Wild Wherefores of Our Democratic Lives as Symbolized in the Making of Rhythm and Tune 154
Ch. 11 The Ellington Programme 166
pt. 3 jazz lines and colors: the sound i saw
Ch. 12 Art History and Black Memory: Toward a "Blues Aesthetic" 182
Ch. 13 Skyscrapers, Airplanes, and Airmindedness: "The Necessary Angel" 196
Ch. 14 Profiles: Putting Something Over Something Else 224
Ch. 15 Celebration 243
Ch. 16 Black Visual Intonation 264
Ch. 17 Improvisation in Jazz 269
pt. 4 jazz is a dance: jazz art in motion
Ch. 18 Jazz Music in Motion: Dancers and Big Bands 278
Ch. 19 Characteristics of Negro Expression 298
Ch. 20 African Art and Motion 311
Ch. 21 Be Like Mike? Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire 372
Ch. 22 "Noise" Taps a Historic Route to Joy 381
pt. 5 tell the story: jazz, history, memory
Ch. 23 Pulp and Circumstance: The Story of Jazz in High Places 393
Ch. 24 Jazz and American Culture 431
Ch. 25 The Golden Age, Time Past 448
Ch. 26 Double V, Double-Time: Bebop's Politics of Style 457
Ch. 27 It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues 469
Ch. 28 Constructing the Jazz Tradition 483
Ch. 29 Other: From Noun to Verb 513
pt. 6 writing the blues, writing jazz
Ch. 30 The Blues as Folk Poetry 540
Ch. 31 Richard Wright's Blues 552
Ch. 32 Preface to "Three Plays" 563
Ch. 33 The Function of the Heroic Image 569
Ch. 34 The Seemingly Eclipsed Window of Form: James Weldon Johnson's Prefaces 580
Ch. 35 Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol 602
Sources 629
Index 633
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