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Spanning the Transition from Slavery to the Freedom of Jazz,
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
For many African-Americans, the period from 1860 through 1930 was a particularly challenging one. The formal slavery of the South transitioned into a vulnerable rural economic existence, dependent on the weather and the price of crops. The promise of the city lured many to leave their homes, and adopt city life-styles that put new social pressures on them and their relationships. Jazz tells this story through the microcosm of one marriage, that of Joe and Violet Trace.
Unlike many books about marriage, this one is a love story. Although it bears no relationship to any romance novel you have ever read, it reveals the way that the need for love develops from within each of us and allows us to grasp its potential when we respond to the yearnings of those we care about.
Music was important in the lives of many people during those years. Churches and music halls vied for the attention of most people in the cities. Jazz was a new influence, bursting on the scene with a combination of extreme freedom and mutual respect for the other players. In this book, jazz is represented both as a symbol of freedom and as a source of base impulses that can lead people astray. Ms. Morrison also pays homage to jazz by building her narrative around the individual stories of those involved taken in solitary order, much like the solos in a jazz piece. The narratives all weave together, but you have to hear the whole piece to understand how. Be patient with what seem like digressions. They are really transitions into new perspectives, like when a horn does a riff before returning to the theme.
You also get the metaphor of jazz used in the relationship of the two Traces. They were originally in rhythm with each other, then fell out of rhythm, and then regained their ability to improvise together. It's very nicely done!
To me, the best part of the book was that Ms. Morrison does not permit her characters to fall back on misfortune, fate, and heredity as excuses for misbehavior. Clearly, those factors affect us, but we all have the potential to rise above them. We need only open our eyes and start responding to those closest to us. Then, we can build a better life together.
The family background of the two Traces is a rich tapestry as well of the social history of African-Americans during this period. Ms. Morrison's imagination is quite remarkable in the variety and vividness of these characters!
For those who are interested in understanding more about the roots of the Jazz Age, this book will also be very appealing.
After you have finished thinking about the lessons of Jazz, you should consider where you display the good characteristics of a jazz player . . . and where you do not.
Feel the rhythm around you!