August 11, 2006


"Call and Response" are hallmarks of jazz because it was incubated in the black church. Preacher calls and congregation responds...horn calls and piano responds...Langston Hughes calls and Ralph Ellison responded.


Langston Hughes wrote his famous poem, "Harlem:  A Dream Deferred"

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun--

Or fester like a sore--

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over--

Like a syrupy sweet? 

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston is specifically asking about the American Dream.  Ellison's, Invisible Man, is a response to the jazz poet's question.

August 07, 2006

1369 reasons why jazz is more than music

In the prologue of Invisible Man, the narrator seeks light in his darkness by iluminating his hole with 1369 light bulbs.  The number is a tribute the the year 1936. 


That was when he moved to New York City and met a number of influential people during this time of the Harlem Renaissance.  Most notably, jazz poet, Langston Hughes.

Continue reading "1369 reasons why jazz is more than music" »

July 31, 2006

Ralph & Louis

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post...I've been doing a little traveling and speaking, but now I'm back to my normal life.


A final quote (for now) from "Invisible Man" and a question that I'd like your help with.

The unnamed narrator of Ellison's masterpiece describes Louis Armstrong in the following way...

"Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he's made poetry out of being invisible.  I think it must be because he's unaware that he is invisible.  And my own grasp of invisibility aids me to understand his music."


Do any of you have insight as to why Ellison describes this jazz pioneer in this manner?

July 14, 2006

Jazz--More than Music (p3)

Ralph Ellison shows us that jazz is more than music.  His novel, "Invisible Man," is a jazz text.  As a jazz musician, he decided to see if jazz could exist in another medium--Eureka! 


Most jazz compositions begin with an opening set of notes that set the theme for the song.  This, Bass Line, serves as the guide to the song and the improvisers.  Know the Bass Line, know the song.  If you get lost, just find the Bass Line.  Just think of the theme song to the old sit-com, Barney Miller...can you hear it's opening notes...that's a classic Bass Line.

Ellison does the same thing with literature. 

Continue reading "Jazz--More than Music (p3)" »

July 05, 2006

Jazz--More than Music (p2)

Red, White and Blues

On Independence Day I bought some slow gin and celebrated with Ralph Ellison.

In Ralph Ellison's, "The Invisible Man," the narrator was fond of eating a special desert while listening to Louis Armstrong sing, "What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue."  Ellison writes...

"Sometimes now I listen to Louis while I have my favorite dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin.  I pour the red liquid over the white mound, watching it glisten and the vapor rising as Louis bends that military instrument into a beam of lyrical sound."

Red_white_and_blue750x600_1 That is how Ellison saw America--red, white and blues--the red of the sloe gin, the white of the ice cream and Armstrong singing the blues.

Red, white and blues--the native soil of this thing we call jazz.

July 02, 2006

Jazz--More than Music (p1)

Ralph Ellison was a jazz trumpeter and lover of jazz in general.  It was Ellison who said that "American life is jazz-shaped."  He then went on to demonstrate this when he wrote, "The Invisible Man."  Ellison wrote a lot about jazz and included references to jazz in many of his works, but in "The Invisible Man," he was writing IN jazz.

Ellison's work is essential to those of us in search of a jazz-based faith because Ellison demonstrates for us that while jazz is mainly known as a music--jazz is more than music--and perhaps we can believe IN jazz.Ralph_ellison