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Jazz and Poetry Essay

There are many different types of music in the world, and each one is different because of certain characteristics that help to make that genre stand apart from all the others. One of these genres is Jazz. Jazz is a type of music that was created mainly by black Americans during the early twentieth century, and is a combination of American and African tribal music.

There are many different characteristics that set Jazz apart from every other kind of music, but there are three main distinctions; the first is its particular combination of rhythm, melody and harmony, second is the subtle differences that make every Jazz player almost instantly recognizable and finally is the way that Jazz players interact and react with their surroundings, they do not simply play a designated set of notes.

The first characteristic that helps to make Jazz so different from other genres of music is the rhythm, melody and harmony. Not only do these apply to the music of the Jazz era though, these same rhythms can be found in some of the poetry of that time. One of the poems that demonstrates a particular rhyme is T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In this Eliot does not stick to a common rhyme scheme like some of the more simple poems. He does use end-rhyme, but it does not alternate for every line, sometimes there are two or three lines that have no rhyme between two lines that do.

It is because of this unorthodox rhyme scheme that his poem relates to the seemingly random rhythms of Jazz music. Another poem that shows harmony similar to that of Jazz is “The Tropics in New York” by Claude McKay. In this he uses a simple end-rhyme scheme, and alternates with each line. But the way he has written the poem it seems to flow endlessly, not causing the mind to drift or to become confused. These are only two out of the thousands of poems that display the first characteristic of Jazz music.

The next attribute of Jazz music is the subtle differences that musicians would put in that would make each player distinguishable from the next. One poet who demonstrated this quality greatly was Langston Hughes. Hughes was one of the most prolific and successful African-American poets of the 1920’s.

In each one of his poems he would display his great pride for his heritage, as well as his displeasure with the oppression he witnessed. One of his poems that greatly illustrates this quality is “Refugee in America”. In this poem he speaks of “sweet and wonderful words like Freedom”, and how he thinks about it every day. He goes on to say that there are words like Liberty that nearly make him cry.

This shows his great resentment of the oppression of his race. Another one of his poems that shows his strong pride for his heritage is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. In this poem Hughes illustrates how his race has been around for thousands of years and has known rivers all across the globe. By this he is stating that his race has been everywhere and will continue to last, just as the rivers of the world. But that is not the last trait that spans across both the music and literature of that era.

The final Jazz characteristic which can be found in literature from that time period is the way that the musicians would flow almost randomly throughout the music, reacting to the audience, as well as their band mates, and not simply playing a single, designated set of notes. One of the first examples that comes to mind is William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure”.

This poem seems to make almost no sense, and have no reason for being written. It is the simple story of a fire truck going through the city on a rainy day. There were not too many styles of music, or literature, which produced poems as seemingly random, yet meaningful as the Jazz era. Another example of this is by the poet Hilda Doolittle, who is actually said to be the creator of the Imagist style of poetry. In Doolittle’s poem “Heat” she speaks of a wind that is coming through to cool down the heat. She says that the fruit will not all in thick air, and that the wind will cut the fruit down in its path.

Like previously stated, the combination of rhythm and melody, the ability to distinguish between Jazz musicians and the seemingly random flow of music are only three attributes of Jazz. These is an entire list of things that can be said about Jazz that sets it apart from all other genres of music. But these three characteristic go to show how the Jazz music of the early twentieth century was very similar to the poetry and literature of that era.

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