cover image The Jazz Cadence of American Culture

The Jazz Cadence of American Culture

. Columbia University Press, $90 (576pp) ISBN 978-0-231-10448-7

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.)