TeacherServe Essays

Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition

Author: Early, Gerald Lyn (Trustee; NHC Fellow, 2001–02)

Jazz evolved from New Orleans style music, now called Dixieland, to more commercially successful swing music, which featured improvisation against a background of arranged composition. Dissatisfaction with the commercialization and familiarity of swing led to the development of jazz, music that was more than mere entertainment. Jazz inspired writers and visual artists but was hated by the bourgeoisie largely because of its association with sex and drugs. It became prominent during a period of broad artistic and political ferment among African Americans. Considered the devil’s music by many middle class blacks, jazz had little literary influence until after World War II. Jazz was compatible with African American protest in the 1960s.

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Subjects: Music; Literature; History; Jazz; African American History; African American Literature; Harlem Renaissance