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Jazz and Blues

by sound, by letter, by
‘All I know about music is that not many people
ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare
occasions when something opens within, and
the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear
corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing
evocations. But the man who creates the music
is hearing something else, is dealing with the
roar rising from the void and imposing order
on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him,
then, is of another order, more terrible because
it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that
same reason. And his triumph, when he
triumphs, is ours………….
……..Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that
what they were playing was the blues. He hit something
in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the
music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to
beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were
all about. They were not about anything very new. He
and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of
ruin, destruction, madness and death, in order to find
new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how
we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may
triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There
isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in
all this darkness.‘

James Baldwin (born in Harlem, New York)

Jazz- musical form, often improvisational,
developed by African Americans and influenced by
both European harmonic structure and African rhythms.
It was developed partially from ragtime and blues and
is often characterized by syncopated rhythms,
polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of
improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and
the use of original timbres.
Jazz: Dictator of Fashion
The influence of jazz upon
popular culture is perhaps the
most apparent when looking at
the developments in the
fashion industry during the
1920s. This whole industry
targeted a society that revolved
around a certain kind of music.
The flapper fashions
ostensibly illustrate the
importance of jazz to the
consumer market of the Jazz
Age. Because of the post-war
economic boom, the consumer
market was enormous, and the
fashion industry followed the
demands of the new and rising
American youth culture.
Jazz music was the propelling force of this new
culture. By 1925, The wild and primitive sound of
jazz music filled the streets of every major city in
the United States. The popularity of jazz music
with the general populous was unprecedented. Part
of the popularity of jazz music was due to the fact
that it was incredible dance music. The Charleston
quickly became the most popular dance in the
dance halls across the United States. The Victorian
clothing of the pre-war era was clearly unsuitable
jazz apparel. The evolution in jazz music
throughout the 1920s was accompanied by
reflective changes in the fashion industry.
While women's fashion has
always been an important part
of the consumer target market,
it did not become a craze in the
United States until the 1920s.
This is illustrated by the drastic
increase in the number of
fashion magazines sold in the
1920s. In "Ladies Fashions of
the 1920s," Nolan states, "The
1920s saw the emergence of
three major women's fashion
magazines: Vogue, The Queen,
and Harper's Bazaar" (Vintage
Fashions, p.1). Nolan goes on
to state that even thought
Vogue was first published in
1892, it did not begin to
influence the consumer market
until the 1920s (Vintage
Fashions, p.1).
In fact, there were very few fashion magazines that
did not sell merchandise until the Roaring Twenties.
Jazz music was so wildly popular in the twenties, that
the fashion industry was barely able to satisfy the needs
of its youthful consumers. Like the evolution of jazz
music, jazz or "flapper" fashions evolved in stages. The
first notable change in fashion came in 1921. "Drop-
waist" dresses were introduced, and long strings of glass
beads and pearls became very fashionable, due to Coco
Chanel. The low-waisted dress was not yet popular, but
neither was jazz music. The first mass marketed jazz
recordings were made in 1923, and the popularity of
jazz soared. Consequently, women's dresses became
loosely fitted, and waistlines dropped to the hips. Upper
and lower body freedom was essential when dancing the
Charleston, so dresses were cut to reflect the ability to
move freely while dancing.
In an article published in the New York Times on
March 21,1926, one man stated that "The mannish look
that women strive for today is ridiculous!" (New York
Times, March 21, 1926). This was not quite correct.
By "mannish" the man was referring to the trend of
binding the torso and cutting hair short. These
"mannish" fashion trends served a purpose. The fragile
and precarious hairstyles of the pre-war era were
unsuitable for jazz dancing. The "bobbed" hairstyle of
the 1920s was not only a mark of rebellion, it was a
practical style for the popular dance music. The
Charleston was a very vigorous dance, and chest
binding, while appearing "mannish" to some people,
would have been a functional practice for many
In 1925 dresses began to resemble "shifts," which had
been undergarments for hundreds of years. These
dresses had no waistline and were loose, which allowed
complete freedom of movement. Arms were cut loosely
and skirts approached knee length. The period of 1925-
1927 was the period that jazz enthusiasts often refer to
as the "classic years" of early jazz recordings. It was
during this time that Armstrong recorded his hot fives
and sevens. Count Bassie, Earl Hines, Fletcher
Henderson, and Duke Ellington also made some
famous recordings during this period. The jazz music of
this time was still wild and exciting dance music, which
was reflected in the fashions of the day. In the Fashion
Source book of the 1920s, Peacock states that an
average ensemble for evening wear in 1927 would
consist of: "A sleeveless mesh dress embroidered all
over with gold sequins, a low V-shaped neckline, a
loosely fitted bodice, and a flared short skirt.
Gold kid shoes and matching handbag, along with a
long string of pearls" (p.58).

It would be a mistake to assume that flapper fashion

only appealed to the youth of the 1920s. While the
older generation of people often disparaged the wild
new jazz culture, they very much adhered to the
dictated clothing fashions of that culture. In an article
published in The New Republic on September 9, 1925,
Bilven wrote that "Flapper Janes" (young flappers)
were not alone in their clothing styles. He stated that
"These clothes are being worn by all of Jane's sisters
and her cousins and her aunts. They are being worn by
ladies who are three times Jane's age...Their use is
universal" (The New Republic, p.12).
The flapper fashions were also widespread
because they were easy to mass produce. The simple
lines, loose bodice, and short skirts were easy to
market, because they would fit almost any women (in
various sizes). Sears Roebuck's mail order catalog was
filled with flapper fashions, and they shipped these
clothes to large and small towns across the United
States. As jazz music evolved into Big Band music,
which was slower paced more refined, women's
fashions followed suit. In "1920s Haute Couture,"
Silvren states, "By the end of the decade, feminine
curves, lower hemlines, and uncovered foreheads- all to
return uncompromisingly in the Thirties-had already
begun to reappear"(p.21).
Jazz and Women's Liberation

Jazz music was a propelling force in the Women's

Liberation Movement in the United States during the
1920s. Women had been the largest faction of
supporters for the ratification of the 18th and 19th
Amendments. Prohibition and the Suffrage
Movement were almost completely pursued by
women's organizations.
With these recent victories to pave the way for a
more comprehensive empowerment for women, jazz
music provided females of all ages with an outlet for
rebellion. Jazz music helped to provide jobs for
women within the music industry, and expanded the
base of women as a consumer target market.
Frederick Allen stated that "Women were the
guardians of morality; they were made of finer stuff
than men and were to act accordingly" (Only
Yesterday p.73). This view of women was widely
accepted before World War I, but was rejected by
most women in the 1920s, which was partly due to
the success of the eighteenth and nineteenth
constitutional amendments.
Women rebelled against their traditional roles as
daughters and mothers. Women wanted to be seen as
individuals outside of their familial roles. Jazz provided
an outlet for rebellion in several ways. The dance halls,
jazz clubs, and speakeasies were places where women
could escape from the traditional roles that were
demanded of them by a rigid society. Here, women
were allowed greater freedom in their language,
clothing, and behavior. Like the Freudian psychology
that was rampant in the 1920s, jazz also encouraged
"infantile" behavior; Flappers who frequented these
establishment were often referred to as "Jazz Babies."
Jazz encouraged primitive and sexual behavior through
the uninhibited and improvisational feel of the music.
Jazz music was rejected by the older generation, and
therefore, jazz music and jazz dancing were ideal ways
for young women (and even men) to rebel against the
society of their parents and grandparents.
The Advertising Industry acknowledged the
expanding base of women in the consumer market
during the 1920s. The younger generation of Flappers
became the targeted as independent and carefree
consumers. During the course of the 1920s, young
flappers or "jazz babies" became targeted for consumer
goods which they were not previously expected to
purchase, such as cars, radios, motors, land, life
insurance, etc. Young women were also seen as
independent purchasers of many new consumer goods,
most of these goods revolved around jazz culture, such
as dancing garments, radios, recordings, cosmetics, and
musical instruments. The advertisements that were
aimed at this new consumer group were distinctly
different from previous advertisements that had
targeted young women.
The flapper advertisements
reflected their
independence from men,
their parents, and their
grandparents. Advertisers
strove to appeal to the
flapper generation by
reflecting their new ideas
and morals. For example,
Holeproof Hosiery (left)
ceased placing men in their
advertisements, and
showed that they were a
"modern" product by
displaying scantily clad
women with short hair in
their advertisements,
whereas in the past
Holeproof displayed
women fully clothed and
on the arm of a man.
This advertisement (left) for Philco Slotted Retainer
Batteries (1923) is an excellent example of the
expansion of women in the consumer market and how
advertisers targeted flappers as consumers. Like many
advertisements aimed at "jazz babies," the Philco
advertisement is devoid of men. Flappers wanted to be
viewed as independent and worldly women, and
advertisers responded to this demand with adds that
reflected the values of the young female consumers.
Jazz music provided many new jobs for
women during the 1920s. Women like Lil'
Hardin, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainy paved the
way for women to pursue careers in the popular
performing arts. Prior the the 1920s, almost all
popular music was performed exclusively by
male musicians. Due to the popularity of
Hardin's compositions and Smith's wildly
popular recordings, other women began to
pursue careers in the music industry. Jazz
music motivated the first Broadway musical,
Showboat, which opened in 1927.
This opened up a whole new realm of possible
careers for women on stage, both on and off
Broadway. Throughout the 1920s, radio shows
became increasingly popular, and with this
popularity came jobs for women.

Jazz clubs, speakeasies, and stage shows were

encouraged to have flappers employed at these
establishments, in order to appeal to the
"liberated" youth culture of the 1920s. Women
also found positions the advertising, cosmetic,
and clothing industries, all of which are related
to the jazz culture of the time.
Music and poetry have always been popular forms
of artistic expression. These art forms have many
similarities, which became evident in the 1920s. Since
the turn of the century, many poets had been making
significant contributions to the evolution of poetic
thought. Poets like Ezra Pound, T.S. Elliot, Carl
Sandburg, and E.E. Cummings had written their works
with an increasing lack of formality and conventional
The innovations taking place in poetics were
juxtaposed with the evolution of jazz music in the early
twentieth century. The simultaneous evolution of
poetry and jazz music was not lost upon musicians and
poets of the time. Amid the chaos of the 1920s, these
two art forms merged and formed the genre of jazz
The earliest poets coined as "jazz poets" simply
referred to jazz music in their works. Although the early
"jazz poets" were influenced and intrigued by jazz, they
were not all true "jazz poets." Many critics still argue
about the definition of jazz poetry, yet most scholars
acknowledge that jazz poetry must imitate jazz music in
its rhythm and style. This is what separates "jazz-related
poetry" from "jazz poetry."
In Jazz Poetry/jazz-poetry/"jazz poetry"???,
Wallerman states that "A poem that alludes to jazz
figures is not the real thing unless it also demonstrates
jazz-like rhythm or the feel of improvisation" (AAR,
p.665). The first poets to allude to jazz music, figures, or
culture were Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Mina Loy,
and Hart Crane. The poems composed by poets are
"jazz-related" works, due to the fact that their poems do
not embody the music of the Jazz Age.
Scrapple from the Apple:
Jazz & Poetry
by Sean Singer

Jazz poetry began during jazz’s infancy in

the 1920s. Langston Hughes , the first poet
especially devoted to jazz, got the idea to use it
from Vachel Lindsay, his mentor1. In the 1920s
and 30s, Hart Crane, Carl Sandburg, and Mina
Loy were pioneers of jazz poetry. In the 1950s,
jazz-related poetry was popularized by the Beat
Generation, and there were frequent jazz-meets-
poetry events.
"Obviously, when attempting to place
African-American poetry in its historical and
social is impossible not to
address the synthesis of verse and music
(specifically jazz and blues)....And, yes,
undoubtedly much of black poetry has been
associated with black music, and at times
almost stereotypically so; what is surprising,
however, is to realize how widely jazz has
influenced poetry outside the black community
—internationally. The music has broken social
and cultural barriers, leapfrogging the guard of
the black literary community, and has
significantly influenced much of contemporary
This breaking of cultural barriers was already
true as early as 1926, as seen in the poetry of
Langston Hughes and Hart Crane. These two
poets used jazz in the same year and city (New
York) as a catalyst for their poems, but in
different ways. Hughes, for whom the blues form
was indistinguishable from poetry, used a jazz
aesthetic as a way of talking about culture, race,
history, and as a choice—perhaps emblematic of
the jazz aesthetic—to be joyful in spite of
conditions. Crane, on the other hand, used a jazz
aesthetic as a lens or rhythm by which he could
discuss the city, his psychological state, and the
mania of his enthusiasm for the freedoms jazz
His poems are short, lyrical, filled with allusion—Biblical,
historical, blues—and with voices of people in Harlem at the time.
His early poems use jazz culture as a framework to discuss Africa,
Lincoln, slavery, colonialism, Reconstruction, and apartheid. For
Hughes, jazz is an anodyne to suffering; it is symbolic of a response
to struggle, and it is the lexicon of Harlem’s streets, its nightlife, its
emotional trajectory.

Hughes’s later jazz-related work was more directly about the

music, as well as more layered and less straightforward. This shift
can be seen in "Ask Your Mama—Moods for Jazz" and "Montage of a
Dream Deferred," which he said was "like be-bop, marked by
conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent
interjections, broken rhythms. " "Montage" was set to music by
pianist Horace Parlan and Charles Mingus. During the jazz poetry
trend in the late 1950s, Hughes read his work at the Village
Vanguard with Mingus and pianist Phineas Newborn. "Ask Your
Mama" was supposedly inspired by a July 1960 visit to the Newport
Jazz Festival.
When I was a jazz-obsessed undergraduate in
Indiana, Komunyakaa taught me about the breadth and
depth of jazz poetry. He was also the first person to tell
me, a young white poet using jazz, that poetry was
something to which I could dedicate my life. At that
time, I had intended to be a newspaper reporter. Taking
my cues from my poetic ancestors Hughes and Crane, I
employ jazz both as a political force and as an aesthetic
one. I used jazz in my first collection, Discography, as
a way to talk about racism, colonialism, and the
Holocaust. I also used it as a wider metaphor for
invention in art, coming from the belief that art is a
legitimate response to suffering and oppression. For
me, jazz is a way of hearing and seeing. It is a way of
making art that I aspire towards.
Langston Hughes James Langston Hughes was
born February 1, 1902, in
Joplin, Missouri. His parents
divorced when he was a small
child, and his father moved to
Mexico. He was raised by his
grandmother until he was
thirteen, when he moved to
Lincoln, Illinois, to live with
his mother and her husband,
before the family eventually
settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It
was in Lincoln, Illinois, that
Hughes began writing poetry.
Following graduation, he
spent a year in Mexico and a
year at Columbia University.
During these years, he held odd jobs as an assistant
cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa
and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924,
he moved to Washington, D.C. Hughes's first book of
poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A.
Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at
Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In
1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the
Harmon gold medal for literature.
Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar,
Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary
influences, is particularly known for his insightful,
colorful portrayals of black life in America from the
twenties through the sixties.
He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as
poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world
of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in "Montage
of a Dream Deferred." His life and work were enormously
important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem
Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of
the period—Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee
Cullen—Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal
experience and the common experience of black America.

He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that

reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering
and their love of music, laughter, and language itself. He
wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected
their actual culture, including both their suffering and their
love of music, laughter, and language itself.
In addition to leaving us a
large body of poetic work,
Hughes wrote eleven plays
and countless works of
prose, including the well-
known “Simple” books:
Simple Speaks His Mind,
Simple Stakes a
Claim,Simple Takes a Wife,
and Simple's Uncle Sam. He
edited the anthologies The
Poetry of the Negro and The
Book of Negro Folklore,
wrote an acclaimed
autobiography (The Big Sea)
and co-wrote the play Mule
Bone with Zora Neale
The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance grew out of the changes

that had taken place in the black community since the
abolition of slavery, and which had been accelerated as
a consequence of the First World War.It can also be
seen as specifically African-American response to and
expression of the great social and cultural change
taking place in America in the early 20th century under
the influence of industrialization and the emergence of
a new mass culture. Contributing factors that lead to the
rise of the Harlem Renaissance included the great
migration of African Americans to the northern cities
and the First World War. Factors leading to the decline
of this era include the Great Depression.
Langston Hughes’s Harlem of 1926
"Harlem was like a great magnet for the Negro
intellectual, pulling him from everywhere. Or perhaps
the magnet was New York, but once in New York, he
had to live in Harlem."
—Langston Hughes, The Big Sea

The 1920s were an exciting time in Harlem. The

end of World War I brought a large migration of
African Americans to New York City seeking new
economic and artistic opportunities. Musicians, writers,
and artists converged on Harlem, living and working
together, and developing a thriving artistic scene of
literary magazines, cafes, jazz clubs.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Jazzy women
The first woman known to write about jazz in her
poetry was Mina
Loy. In "Widow's Jazz," Loy alluded to the Chicago
jazz scene, "The white
flesh quakes to the negro soul, Chicago! Chicago!"
(Lunar Baedeker,
p.200). Loy referred to the jazz clubs and sounds in her
Mina Loy

In 1921 Ezra Pound

wrote to Marianne
Moore: "... is there
anyone in America
except you, Bill
[William Carlos
Williams] and Mina Loy
who can write anything
of interest in verse?"
Mina Loy was born in London on December 27,
1882. She attended a conservative art school and was
influenced early on by Impressionism. She achieved
some success as a painter, and her paintings were
included in the prestigious Salon d'Automne show in
Paris, 1905. After several years in the heart of Parisian
literary and arts society, Loy moved to the United
States in 1916, although her reputation preceded her.
While hailed as representing the New Woman and
the last word in modern verse, Loy's poetry disturbed a
few of her more conservative contemporaries.
Also an artist, Loy has been labelled a Futurist,
Dadaist, Surrealist, feminist, conceptualist, modernist,
and post-modernist
Moreover, the Moon
Face of the skies
over our wonder.
truant of heaven
draw us under.

Silver, circular corpse

your decease
infects us with unendurable ease,
touching nerve-terminals
to thermal icicles
Coercive as coma, frail as bloom
innuendoes of your inverse dawn
suffuse the self;
our every corpuscle become an elf.
Jean Toomer
A special case of Harlem poet can be considered to
be Jean Toomer, as he sometimes passed for white and
therefore attracted critics from the Harlem community.
Nevertheless, he did respect his black side and this
shows from the great interest he took in the black-
blooded writings.
Jean Toomer was born in 1894 in Washington, D.C,
the son of a Georgian farmer. Though he passed for
white during certain periods of his life, he was raised in
a predominantly black community and attended black
high schools. In 1914, he began college at the
University of Wisconsin but transferred to the College
of the City of New York and studied there until 1917.
Toomer spent the next four years writing and published
poetry and prose in Broom, The Liberator, The Little
Review and others.
He actively participated in literary society and was acquainted
with such prominent figures as the critic Kenneth Burke, the
photographer Alfred Steiglitz and the poet Hart Crane. In 1921,
Toomer took a teaching job in Georgia and remained there four
months; the trip represented his journey back to his Southern roots.
His experience inspired his book Cane, a book of prose poetry
describing the Georgian people and landscape. In the early
twenties, Toomer became interested in Unitism, a religion founded
by the Armenian George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The doctrine taught
unity, transcendence and mastery of self through yoga: all of
which appealed to Toomer, a light-skinned black man preoccupied
with establishing an identity in a society of rigid race distinctions.
He began to preach the teachings of Gurdjieff in Harlem and later
moved downtown into the white community. From there, he
moved to Chicago to create a new branch of followers. Toomer
was married twice to wives who were white, and was criticized by
the black community for leaving Harlem and rejecting his roots for
a life in the white world; however, he saw himself as an individual
living above the boundaries of race. His meditations center around
his longing for racial unity, as illustrated by his long poem "Blue
Meridian." He died in 1967.
Song of the Son

Pour O pour that parting soul in song,

O pour it in the sawdust glow of night,
Into the velvet pine-smoke air to-night,
And let the valley carry it along.
And let the valley carry it along.

O land and soil, red soil and sweet-gum tree,

So scant of grass, so profligate of pines,
Now just before an epoch's sun declines
Thy son, in time, I have returned to thee,
Thy son, I have in time returned to thee.
In time, for though the sun is setting on
A song-lit race of slaves, it has not set;
Though late, O soil, it is not too late yet
To catch thy plaintive soul, leaving, soon gone,
Leaving, to catch thy plaintive soul soon gone.

O Negro slaves, dark purple ripened plums,

Squeezed, and bursting in the pine-wood air,
Passing before they stripped the old tree bare
One plum was saved for me, one seed becomes

An everlasting song, a singing tree,

Caroling softly souls of slavery,
What they were, and what they are to me,
Caroling softly souls of slavery.
Portrait in Georgia

Hair--braided chestnut,
coiled like a lyncher's
Lips--old scars, or the
first red blisters,
Breath--the last sweet
scent of cane,
And her slim body,
white as the ash
of black flesh after

Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones

Are sharpening scythes.
I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.
His belly close to ground.
I see the blade.
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and
Jazz Fan Looks Back
by Jayne Cortez

I crisscrossed with Monk

Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
Jazz at the Philharmonic
I cut my hair into a permanent tam
Made my feet rebellious metronomes
Embedded record needles in paint on paper
Talked bopology talk
Laughed in high-pitched saxophone phrases
Became keeper of every Bird riff
every Lester lick
as Hawk melodicized my ear of infatuated tongues
& Blakey drummed militant messages in
soul of my applauding teeth
& Ray hit bass notes to the last love seat in my bones
I moved in triple time with Max
Grooved high with Diz
Perdidoed with Pettiford
Flew home with Hamp
Shuffled in Dexter's Deck
Squatty-rooed with Peterson
Dreamed a "52nd Street Theme" with Fats
& scatted "Lady Be Good" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
Jazz at the Philharmonic
It was by way of
eavesdropping that poet
Quincy Troupe
discovered Miles Davis
on a fish-joint jukebox
in his hometown of St.
Louis, Missouri. At the
time, the 15-year-old
Troupe was enrolled in
an all-white high
school, where students
didn't listen to black
musicians as much as
they listened to Pat
Boone's covers of black
But in the fish joint, he was intrigued by four
black men with dark glasses and ascots speaking
of "the homeboy across the river from East St.
Louis," whose song was playing on the jukebox.
That "homeboy" was Miles Davis, and he changed
Troupe’s life.
That "thing that he does" cannot be
categorized as any one thing. He has penned or
edited fourteen books, including seven volumes of
poetry and the non-fiction books, Miles: The
Autobiography, coauthored with Miles Davis,
which earned him his second American Book
Award, and Miles and Me, an account of his
friendship with Davis and of the influence the jazz
master had on his work.
Rudy Langlais, who produced the 1999 movie The
Hurricane, based on the life of boxer Rubin
"Hurricane" Carter, is currently turning Miles and Me
into a film.
In his poetry, Troupe has explained, he uses refrain
and repetition to capture "a feeling of jazz, a feeling of
the gospel, a feeling of sermon, a feeling of spirituals, a
feeling even of rhythm and blues and rock 'n’ roll." His
poem "Snake-Back Solo # 2" from the collection,
Avalanche, invokes these feelings, as in this excerpt:
with the music up high, boogalooin’ bass down way
way low up & under, eye come slidin’ on in, mojoin’
on in, spacin’ on in on a rifful of rain riffin’ on in full
of rain & pain spacin’ on in on a sound like Coltrane
Poetic Form: Blues Poem
One of the most popular forms of American
poetry, the blues poem stems from the African
American oral tradition and the musical tradition of
the blues. A blues poem typically takes on themes
such as struggle, despair, and sex. It often (but not
necessarily) follows a form, in which a statement is
made in the first line, a variation is given in the
second line, and an ironic alternative is declared in
the third line.
African-American writer Ralph Ellison said that
although the blues are often about struggle and
depression, they are also full of determination to
overcome difficulty "through sheer toughness of
spirit." This resilience in the face of hardship is one
of the hallmarks of the blues poem.
Some of the great blues poets include
Sterling A. Brown, James Weldon Johnson, and
Langston Hughes. The title poem of Hughes’ first
book, The Weary Blues, is also an excellent
example of a blues poem.
Riverbank Blues

by Sterling A. Brown

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,

A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,

Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak.
Lazy sun shinin' on a little cabin,
Lazy moon glistenin' over river trees;
Ole river whisperin', lappin' 'gainst de long roots:
"Plenty of rest and peace in these . . ."

Big mules, black loam, apple and peach trees,

But seems lak de river washes us down
Past de rich farms, away from de fat lands,
Dumps us in some ornery riverbank town.

Went down to the river, sot me down an' listened,

Heard de water talkin' quiet, quiet lak an' slow:
"Ain' no need fo' hurry, take yo' time, take yo'
time . . ." Heard it sayin'--"Baby, hyeahs de way life
go . . ."
Towns are sinkin' deeper,
deeper in de riverbank,
Takin' on de ways of deir
sulky Ole Man--
Takin' on his creepy
ways, takin' on his evil
"Bes' git way, a long
way . . . whiles you can.
"Man got his
sea too lak de Mississippi
Ain't got so long for a
whole lot longer way,
Man better move some,
better not git rooted
Muddy water fool you, ef
you stay .
Dat is what it tole me as I watched it slowly rollin',
But somp'n way inside me rared up an' say,
"Better be movin' . . . better be travelin' . . . Riverbank'll
git you ef you stay . . ."

Towns are sinkin' deeper, deeper in de riverbank,

Takin' on de ways of deir sulky Ole Man--
Takin' on his creepy ways, takin' on his evil ways,
"Bes' git way, a long way . . . whiles you can. "Man got
sea too lak de Mississippi Ain't got so long for a whole
lot longer way,
Man better move some, better not git rooted Muddy
water fool you, ef you stay .
The Bluesy Color Purple
“You Just Can’t Keep a
Good Woman Down”:
Alice Walker sings the

African American
Review, Summer, 1996,
by Maria V. Johnson

Oh - Just can’t keep a

real good woman down
Oh - Just can’t keep a
real good woman down
If you throw me down
here Papa, I rise up in
some other town (Miller)
Alice Walker has been profoundly influenced
and inspired both by African American music
and musicians and by writers whose work is
grounded in music and in the expressive folk
traditions of African Americans. Zora Neale
Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and
the blues music of blues women like Bessie
Smith rank among Walker’s most significant
musical/literary influences
‘Music is the art I most envy... musicians
[are] at one with their cultures and their
historical subconscious. I am trying to arrive at
that place where Black music already is; to
arrive at that unself-conscious sense of
collective oneness; that naturalness, that (even
when anguished) grace.’
Alice Walker- Nineteen Fifty -Five
“Couldn't be nothing worse than
being famous the world over for
something you don't even
understand. That's what I tried to
tell Bessie. She wanted that same
song. Overheard me practicing it
one day, said, with her hands on
her hips: Gracie Mae, I'ma sing
your song tonight. I likes it.
Your lips be too swole to sing, I
said. She was mean and she was
strong, but I trounced her.
Ain't you famous enough with
your own stuff? I said. Leave mine
alone. Later on, she thanked me.
By then she was Miss Bessie Smith
to the World, and I was still Miss
Gracie Mae Nobody from
In Nineteen Fifty-five and The Color Purple, Walker
employs the character, language, structure, and
perspective of the blues to celebrate the lives and works
of blues women, to articulate the complexity of their
struggles, and to expose and confront the oppressive
forces facing Black women in America. In her portraits
of blues women, Walker shows us the vitality,
resiliency, creativity, and spirituality of African
American women, illuminating the core aesthetic
concepts which have been crucial to their survival in a
society that has largely used and abused them for its
own purposes. Indeed, in Walker’s works, African
American women performers and their performances
symbolize vitality and aliveness, and the will and spirit
not only to endure but potentially to flourish. The blues
woman, whose song is true to her own experience and
rooted in the values and beliefs of the community,
empowers those who love her and effects change in
those around her. Her outer struggles and inner
conflicts reflect issues of oppression in society as they
have been internalized within the community.
In addition to blues characters, Walker employs blues
forms, themes, images, and linguistic techniques. Her forms
- letters and diary entries - are like blues stanzas in their
rich compactness and self-containedness; like blues pieces,
her works take shape from the repetition and variation of
these core units. Walker’s focus on the complexities and
many-sidedness of love and relationship repeats the subject
of many blues. As in Their Eyes and the blues, paradox and
contradiction are explored in the context of relationships,
projected via responses to the “traditional situations” of
these relationships and articulated using contrast and
oppositional structures. The blues women’s motto “You
can’t keep a good woman down,” which is at the heart of
Nineteen Fifty-five, also resonates the struggles and
triumphs of many women in The Color Purple.
Dear God,
I love this woman!
My friend, Sofia.
Harpo, he love her
And he smile ev'rytime he see her.
I ain't never seen such a vision!
Cow bossin' the bull around.
Ain't afraid o' nothin'
When she lay her law down.
Took harpo's hand,
Now she havin' his babies.
She rule the house an' its drivin' him crazy.
She give him lip and now he just fit to be tied.

This who they talkin' about.
I know that.
Alright, alright now! Ladies and gentlemen!
I want yall to fill yo' glasses up and sit yo' asses on down!
Cause tonight at
Harpo's Juke Joint!
Harpo, fool! We bringin' yall the finest in southern
The Queen Honey Bee!
Shug Avery!
Whoo! Come on, now, yall!
(Men and women shout)
Shug Avery:
Now there's somethin' 'bout good lovin' that all you ladies
should know.
If you wanna light yo' man on fire, you gotta start it real slow.
Keep on turnin up the voltage til that man begin to glow
Like you switchin on a light bulb: Watch the juice begin to
Now that I've got your attention
Here's what you men need to hear:
You want your lady racin' with you
You gotta get here in here!
Keep the key to let her know ya find the spot to rev her best
If you dont know where it is give her the stick!
She'll do the rest! Oh Ohh Ohh!
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
You gotta push it if you wanna come in!
Oh! Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Give me somethin'!
(Push da button!)
To let ya baby know it aint no sin!
Now if you wanna feel the train comin' yo' way!
Baby, push da button and pull the window shade!
Now listen all you red-hot lovers
You ought to know what to do!
(You oughta know what to do!)
There aint nothin' wrong with nothin'
That's right with both of you!
(That's right with both of you!)
So when tonight, you make ya lover cry out like a lion roar
Tell the neighbor your new kitten found the cream it'd been
lookin' for!
Ohh oohh yeah!
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
You gotta push it if you wanna come in! Ohh!
Oh! Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Give me somethin'!
(Push da button!)
To let ya baby know it aint no sin!
Now if you wanna feel the train comin' yo' way!
Baby, push da button and pull the window shade! Come on
Push, push, push, push!
[Musical break]
Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!!
Shug Avery:
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Push da button!
(Push da button!)
You gotta push it if you wanna come in! Heeyy!
Oh! Push da button!
(Push da button!)
Give me somethin'!
(Push da button!)
To let ya baby know it aint no sin!
Now if you wanna feel the train comin' yo' way!
Baby, Baby! Come on!
What are you gonna do?
(Push da button!)
Push da button, yeeaah!!
Go on, git! Git outta my house! Leave me alone! Get
out of . . . Get out! No! Leave
me alone, you - No! Goddamn bats get out of my -! No!
Stop! Get away from
me! Ow! HELP!!!!!
What you lookin' at? Bunch of damn fools. I don't have
to stay here, worthless town.
I can walk right down this road. By myself. Never see
nobody I know ever again.
A New Black Identity

Sherwood Anderson — Dark Laughter (1925)
Jessie Redmon Fauset — There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (
1928), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), Comedy, American Style (1933
Rudolph Fisher — The Walls of Jericho (1928), The Conjure Man
Dies (1932)
Langston Hughes — Not Without Laughter (1930)
Zora Neale Hurston — Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), Their Eyes
Were Watching God (1937)
Nella Larsen — Quicksand (1928), Passing (1929)
Claude McKay — Home to Harlem (1927), Banjo (1929),
Gingertown (1931), Banana Bottom (1933)•
George Schuyler — Black No More (1930), Slaves Today (1931)
Wallace Thurman — The Blacker the Berry (1929), Infants of the
Spring (1932), Interne (1932)
Jean Toomer — Cane (1923)
Carl Van Vechten — Nigger Heaven (1926)
Eric Walrond — Tropic Death (1926)
Walter White — The Fire in the Flint (1924), Flight (1926)
Charles Gilpin, actor
Eugene O'Neill, playwright—Emperor Jones, All God's Chillun Got Wings
Paul Robeson
Langston Hughes, poet
Jessie Fauset, editor, poet, essayist and novelist
Countee Cullen, poet — The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929)
Claude McKay, poet
James Weldon Johnson, poet
Arna Bontemps, poet
Richard Bruce Nugent, poet
Popular entertainment
Cotton Club
Apollo Theater
Black Swan Records
Small's Paradise
Connie's Inn
Rent party
Nora Douglas Holt Ray[2]
Louis Armstrong
Eubie Blake
Bessie Smith
Fats Waller
Billie Holiday
Count Basie
Duke Ellington
^ The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Norton, New York,
1997, p. 931