Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by Robert Johnson, Education Services Librarian
Toni Morrison's Jazz begins in 1926, when a salesman shoots and kills his teenage lover. At the girl's funeral, the man's wife attacks her corpse. The ensuing pages skirt between past, present, and future as the drama reveals itself. Not only is Toni Morrison's novel Jazz a gripping story of love and betrayal, but it also functions as an album of jazz music. It isn't just that Morrison captures the spirit of jazz music, or that she traces the history of the music as it moved from the country to the city (which she does), but Morrison's novel is structured like a piece of music. Characters function as instruments, and sections as songs. In particular, it compares nicely to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, for the differences as much as the similarities. Coltrane's album revolves around spiritual revelation and praise and is almost entirely music, while Morrison's album centers on sex and the secular world and is all words. Both are four songs long, and if the concept of an entirely written word song seems implausible, check out song four "Psalm," which is part music and part free-verse poetry written in the liner notes (not sung). Morrison's book is the work of masterful writer at the height of her powers.