cover image The Sound That Jazz Makes

The Sound That Jazz Makes

Carole Boston Weatherford. Walker & Company, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-8720-0

Molding her rhymed text to the rhythms and cadences of ""This Is the House That Jack Built,"" Weatherford (Juneteenth Jamboree) distills an entire course in music history, tracing the roots of jazz back to its origins in Africa and up to its current incarnation in rap and hip hop. Each spread focuses on a different period and a different musical form, e.g., ""This is the field where slaves turned the soil,/ and chanted of freedom while they toiled/ to pass the message, through secret codes,/ of stealing away on pitch-dark roads."" Ragtime, blues, Dixieland, gospel, swing and be-bop all receive mention on the way to the triumphant conclusion: ""Jazz is a downbeat born in our nation,/ chords of struggle and jubilation,/ bursting forth from hearts set free/ in notes that echo history."" Even though Weatherford's language is vibrant, the familiar ""House That Jack Built"" strains may cause problems: their musicality has little to do with the music at hand, and enforces a simplicity at odds with the references here (""cakewalkers,"" ""Delta bluesman,"" etc.). Velasquez's portraits emphasize the dignity and pride of his subjects, whether he is suggesting the rage and misery of captives or re-creating photos of ""Duke"" and ""Lady."" But the effect is uneven: the paintings are sometimes moving, sometimes stagy. An ambitious project, not quite realized. All ages. (Apr.)