Ralph Ellison Jazz Influence

Words: 1093
Pages: 5

Throughout history, music has always been a means of expression. Musicians in their respective time periods have always used music as a way to discuss the trials and tribulations they have faced. However, there is no better example of this than Jazz and Blues music. Gaining popularity in the early 20th century, Jazz and Blues music was pioneered by African American musicians. The lyrical content of songs in this idiom usually spoke about issues that pertained to the African American experience at the time, such as racism and poverty. The melancholic yet defiant nature of Jazz and Blues music eventually found itself creeping into other idioms including poetry, art, and Literature. The musical stylings of Jazz and the Blues greatly influenced …show more content…
Ellison, who studied music himself, was well acquainted with the Jazz and Blues styles of the time. In his acclaimed novel, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison clearly draws influence from Jazz and blues artists, while writing about African American identity. In the book’s preface, the Blues and Jazz influence is made exceedingly clear. Ellison writes “I'd like to hear five recordings of Louis Armstrong playing and singing 'What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue —all at the same time…..Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he's made poetry out of being invisible. I think it's because he's unaware that he is invisible. And my own grasp …show more content…
The narrator of this novel, who feels “invisible” because of his race, identifies strongly with the music of Louis Armstrong because Armstrong is able to create art as an “invisible” black man. The narrator picks up that Armstrong’s ability to create art is uninhibited, and this is something that he wishes to have in his own life as he searches for his identity as a black man in a white man’s world. Ellison also quotes the song’s refrain “what did I do to be so black and blue?” frequently in the book’s preface. Blues and Jazz music, which often discuss African American identity was used in Ellison’s novel because the lyrical subject matter of those genres were in line with the themes of African American identity that was discussed in Invisible Man.

While Jazz and Blues music profoundly influenced the writings of African Americans, the influence of those genres transcended literature. Tyehimba Jess, a well known African American Poet and writer wrote an article called “The Word/The Blues. A Meditation.” that mentions what about Jazz and Blues music was so influential and how it’s influence went beyond that of literature. Jess writes that the Blues in particular “are survival on the meanest, most gut level of human existence” and that “The essential motive behind the best blues song is the acquisition of insight. Wisdom.” What