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Jazz Country

Ralph Ellison in America

Horace A. Porter

Publication Year: 2001

The first book to reassess Ralph Ellison after his death and the posthumous publication of Juneteenth, his second novel, Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America explores Ellison's writings and views on American culture through the lens of jazz music.

Horace Porter's groundbreaking study addresses Ellison's jazz background, including his essays and comments about jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker. Porter further examines the influences of Ellington and Armstrong as sources of the writer's personal and artistic inspiration and highlights the significance of Ellison's camaraderie with two African American friends and fellow jazz fans—the writer Albert Murray and the painter Romare Bearden. Most notably, Jazz Country demonstrates how Ellison appropriated jazz techniques in his two novels, Invisible Man and Juneteenth.

Using jazz as the key metaphor, Porter refocuses old interpretations of Ellison by placing jazz in the foreground and by emphasizing, especially as revealed in his essays, the power of Ellison's thought and cultural perception. The self-proclaimed “custodian of American culture,” Ellison offers a vision of “jazz-shaped” ;America—a world of improvisation, individualism, and infinite possibility.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-v


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

Jazz Country was at first a longer book which grew more succinct and meditative along the way. I owe thanks to several excellent readers who forced me to meditate somewhat longer than I had planned. Professor Louis Renza, my friend and former...


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pp. xiii-xv

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Jazz States Ralph Waldo Ellison’s Major Chords

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pp. 1-16

Jazz Country discusses Ralph Ellison’s working assumptions about American culture, jazz, and what he calls “the drama of democracy.” It addresses Ellison’s jazz background, including his essays and comments about jazz musicians such as Louis...

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1Jazz Essays Ellison on Charlie Christian,Jimmy Rushing, Mahalia Jackson,and Lester Young

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pp. 17-31

In his introduction to Shadow and Act (1964), Ralph Ellison explains how growing up in Oklahoma City inspired him to become a “renaissance man.” He maintains that he cannot provide a precise genealogy of his ideal renaissance man, but assures...

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2Jazz Icons Ellison on Duke Ellington,Louis Armstrong, and Charlie Parker

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pp. 32-48

Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington played special roles in Ellison’s development. In “Homage To Duke Ellington,” an occasional piece for the Sunday Star to honor Duke Ellington on his seventieth birthday, Ellison writes: “I remember Ellington...

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3Jazz Trio Ralph Ellison, Romare Bearden, and Albert Murray

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pp. 49-71

In 1972, in an interview with Ralph Ellison conducted by the novelist Leon Forrest in Ellison’s Harlem apartment, Forrest calls attention to “many fine pieces of African sculpture and Romare Bearden paintings.”1 Several years later, when novelist Steve...

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4Jazz Underground Invisible Man as Jazz Text

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pp. 72-91

Invisible Man is a retrospective and episodic tale. Sequestered in a Harlem cellar, Ellison’s nameless narrator often referred to as Invisible Man, a young intellectual for whom an unexamined life has little attraction, reflects upon the bewildering consequences of his actions. He starts out fighting in a black...

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5. Jazz in Progress

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pp. 92-104

In both the prologue and the epilogue of Invisible Man, Ellison’s nameless character makes statements that have turned out to be prophetic about Ellison’s own relationship to his second novel, June-teenth. In the prologue, Invisible Man says,...

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6. Jazz Preaching

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pp. 105-119

Lee Willie Minifees’s burning of his white Cadillac convertible on the senator’s lawn greatly disturbed the senator. The jazzman’s white suit and his preacher’s style of oration stirred deep-seated memories that the senator had long repressed. He himself,...

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7. Jazz Trumpet No End

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pp. 120-148

Ellison’s critics, white and black, often call him arrogant and aristocratic. They point to his aloofness, reclusiveness— even his elegant suits and cigars have drawn negative attention. When Ellison is called an “elitist,” his critics use his comments...


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pp. 149-158


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pp. 159-168

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294051

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2001