Published: March 1, 2000 By

[1]   Most critical treatments of Jazz take some account of jazz's role in the novel, yet pay only marginal attention to its running commentary on the blues. But Morrison's approach to what the blues and jazz mean in the larger cultural context of early twentieth-century African American urban culture is a complex interweaving of tropes of the blues, jazz, and Harlem itself that deserves a more thorough exploration, one that takes into account how Morrison's innovative narrative strategies "make articulate a heretofore repressed and silenced black female's story and voice."1 In the case of Jazz, I see "voice" as referring to the cultural artifact by which black women's narratives have been and are still commonly "heard"; the novel both cites what Houston Baker, Jr. calls the "blues matrix" and demonstrates how it fails to account for the migration experiences of African American women by looking back to the cultural moment between the blues and jazz that gives rise to the recording and stylization of the "classic blues," a specifically female cultural form largely disseminated through the "race record" market.2 Such context is indispensable in reading Morrison's intricately layered text. Her pervasive signification on blues, jazz, and Harlem imagery, as well as her allegorical use of the narrator as technological composite of the phonograph and record to "play" cultural narratives which its characters both respond to and resist creates an African American female "crossroads" from which readers can and should re-audit the music and history of 1920's Harlem.

[2]   By asserting the role of technology in Morrison's narrative tactics I do not mean to theorize any definitive relationship between gender and technology. Such relationships, it seems to me, are context-specific and require close attention to the discourses surrounding particular technologies and the cultural artifacts they produce, market, and distribute. Neither do I offer an in-depth study of black women blues singers, such as the invaluable contributions of Daphne Duvall Harrison and Angela Davis.3 Rather, by pushing to its extreme the narratological possibility of non-human, technological narrators,4 I wish to illuminate the complexity, vitality, and relevance of Morrison's use of a specific technological metaphor – not to recover a lost, silenced, "authentic" African American female voice, but to engage readers' already extant (albeit to varying degrees) awareness of African American cultural forms in the reading process.

[3]   The narrator of Jazz, though impersonal, is metafictional. It tells stories not only about its characters, but about itself as a cultural form as well. The narratives embodied in the manifestation of the blues to which the novel's title refers are rendered in the narrator's onomatopoeic descriptions of the characters' interactions with the urban landscape, the streets of which the narrator often compares to the seemingly deterministic tracks, or grooves, of a record. This analogy invokes the material conditions of African American men and women who migrated to Northern cities in the early twentieth century, and turns "unreliability" into a cause for celebration. At the end of the novel, the narrator, metaphorically "playing" a record on a phonograph, must acknowledge that it was wrong in its anticipated narrative of "bluesy" outcomes for its characters.

[4]   While critics have noted the ambiguous "status" of the narrator of Jazz, they most often do so only in passing. What is significant, however, is that their categorizations range from "personal" to "impersonal." In his review of the novel, which appeared in The New Criterion, Bruce Bawer complains that after the first few sentences

already you feel you need to step out for some air. Doubtless the narrative voice is meant to be rich in personality and atmosphere . . . But the voice of this never-to-be named narrator . . . is just a bit toorich, its general effect that of a somewhat too heavy perfume. Its frequent descent from vibrant authenticity into glib detachment muddles one's image of the narrator, as do its often sophisticated diction and syntax . . . The voice is also, as we soon realize, well-nigh omniscient.

Bawer goes on to lament that the latter section of the novel, in which the narrator's perspective gives way to that of other characters, "often feels confused and contrived."5 Like most of the approaches that treat the narrator as a representation of a human being,6 he sees the narrator as female. Reviews appearing in less conservative publications, however, take a more complex approach, elements of which provide a touchstone for my own argument that the narrator in fact represents a communal, yet technologically produced cultural artifact. John Leonard asserts, on the basis of the narrator's infamous physical descriptions of itself at the end of the novel, that "of course, the Voice is the book itself, this physical object, our metatext"; Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also expresses the belief that the narrator does not represent a human being: "what is compelling here is not only the novel's plot, but how the story is told. A disembodied narrator slips easily and guilelessly from third-person all-knowingness to first-person lyricism, without ever relaxing its grip on our imagination."7 Gates's analysis is also valuable for his early linking of Jazz's narrative structure to jazz patterns perfected by Duke Ellington in 1926, the year in which the novel begins:

Both Joe's and Felice's control of the narrative are marked by quotations, markers that the narrator has allowed them to speak, in their own voices; in the same way, Duke Ellington's jazz compositions were the first that were constructed, or scored, for his individual musicians and their peculiar timbres, their particular sounds.8

Being aware of such context can prevent judging Morrison's text by outmoded narratological categories, which Bawer clearly does in his review.

[5]   I agree with Gates's opinion that Jazz "serves to redefine the very possibilities of narrative point of view." However, without subscribing to the popular notion that Morrison's narrator is representative of a female human being, I want to problematize his assertion that it "is neither male nor female."9 I believe that whileJazz initially "de-genders" its narrator by divesting it of a physical, gendered, human body, it nevertheless "re-genders" its narrativevoice through the trope of the combined technological apparatus of the phonograph and women's classic blues race record, which have produced narratives for African American women that can be seen as both liberating and deterministic. This "adjustment" of physicality, or embodiment, implicitly questions the very notion of "authenticity" as it relates to categories such as "experience" and "gender." Theorizing such renegotiation makes the necessary connection between Morrison's narrative strategies and historical, material circumstances, including the overlap of discourses of gender and technology.

[6]   The history of the phonograph's relationship to representation is complex, especially in its association with the human body. According to Burton W. Peretti, the "explosive" growth of the phonograph industry after 1912 resulted in records becoming "an important cultural resource for almost every segment of the population," including black sharecroppers. Race records of the 1920's in particular coincided with "the height of the phonographic boom," a relationship on which Morrison seems to draw in her depiction of the brief window in time of the popularity, power, and dissemination of women's classic blues. What Peretti's account makes clear is that notions of authenticity tied to African American musical forms must take into account the technology of the phonograph. He notes that when musicians heard their own playing on a record, they perceived themselves as "disembodied."10

[7]   Charles Grivel also describes the feeling of disembodiment brought about by the phonograph, but emphasizes the paradox that it is also comprised representationally by human body parts, "a set of forms given to what it does: a pavilion (an ear), a horn (a mouth or beak), a record (a tongue), claws and talons (fingers): a machine with a body." Grivel goes on to describe in a somewhat Deleuzian fashion the relationship between humans and this machine that "is representation . . . I discover it as an organ, an element of the body added to my body; it speaks to me and adapts itself, meshes, grafts itself. Something of representation has joined itself, materially, from this angle, to me."11 Grivel's exploration of the phonograph's relationship to representation and embodiment is compelling when we consider the narrator of Jazz's vague descriptions of its physicality; it claims, for example, to have no muscles (8). Yet it would be a mistake, I think, to take this as a sign of the narrator's literal (and stereotypical) embodiment as a female human being. The narrator is not strong in the physical sense but can inhabit and infiltrate the culture of the Harlem streets; the suggestion here is that the music and the streets are one and the same – or at least fundamentally interrelated – and this connection has everything to do with the phonograph. The narrator embodies metaphorically, then, the notion of "voice," and specifically the African American female voice as it "told" stories through the medium of the Victrola and record.

[8]   Douglas Kahn notes that from the very beginning the phonograph was representationally grafted onto or associated with the female body:

Very soon after his friend Charles Cros placed his patent for his pre-Edisonian phonograph, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam began writing his novel L'Eve future, in which a fictional Edison, so-named, constructs a gynoid whose intelligence is given voice by two phonographs located where her lungs would have normally been and beneath where the synthetic breasts are. In Marcel Schwob's La Machine ‡ parler . . . a horrible monster operated by a woman from a keyboard frightens the narrator with its even more horrible phonemes.12

It is not necessary to posit that Morrison was aware of this initial trend in order to see that her use of the phonograph draws on a pre-existing discourse of the phonograph bound up not only with the female body, but also with the female "voice." She seems to employ the trope of the Victrola in her narrator's self-representation for the particular purpose of turning up the volume so that readers are encouraged to listen to and hear how the narratives by which African American women's bodies, voices, and identities have been to some extent determined have also provided them with a vehicle for agency.

[9]   While Morrison's use of the phonograph and particular type of records it plays allows the possibility for change and transformation for all of the novel's characters, it seems to provide its female characters in particular with a way to make their communal "voice" heard. By "voice" I do not intend to evoke a reductive notion of authenticity. Rather, I mean to suggest a parallel in Jazz between agency and the technologically produced cultural form of women's classic blues, an agency the novel both problematizes and yet provisionally affirms through the narrator's unreliability. I would also like to suggest that in working against the notion of the blues as indicative of "authentic" African American male experience, Morrison substitutes for the traditional blues image of the train the trope of the Victrola so that her narrator can "play" African American female narratives – codified in Jazz by women's classic blues – to which traditional history, as well as that of feminist thought, as Angela Davis suggests,13 have been somewhat deaf.

[10]   In Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature, Houston Baker, Jr. describes the American blues as "the multiplex, enablingscript in which Afro-American cultural discourse is inscribed," and he does so within a semiotic as well as an economic framework of analysis, one that pays particular attention to the materiality of the matrix's symbolic components. Baker constructs his theory on a matrix comprised of railway images:

To suggest a trope for the blues as a forceful matrix in cultural understanding is to summon an image of the black blues singer at the railway junction lustily transforming experiences of a durative (unceasingly oppressive) landscape into the energies of rhythmic song. The railway juncture is marked by transience. Its inhabitants are always travelers–a multifarious assembly in transit. The "X" of crossing roadbeds signals the multidirectionality of the juncture and is simply a single instance in a boundless network that redoubles and circles, makes sidings and ladders, forms Y's and branches over the vastness of hundreds of thousands of American miles. Polymorphous and multi-directional, scene of arrivals and departures, place betwixt and between (ever entre le deux), the juncture is the way station of the blues.

[11]   Hazel Carby, however, problematizes the construction of such a matrix by pointing out that "migration had distinctively different meanings for black men and women . . . migration for women often meant being left behind . . . there was also an explicit recognition that if the journey were to be made by women it held particular dangers for them."15 Traveling women blues singers were among those who made the trip, and Morrison uses the composite trope of the phonograph and the women's classic blues record to narrate the struggles Davis specifies as recurrent themes of women blues singers, most particularly violence, both from without and within their own communities.16 These dangers are the focus of Jazz.Baker goes on to describe how this "durative" element is often expressed in onomatopoeic terms: "A blues text may thus announce itself by the onomatopoeia of the train's whistle sounded on the indrawn breath of a harmonica or a train's bell tinkled on the high keys of an upright piano," as well as "other railroad sounds" that serve as "signs" of the blues.14

[12]   Carby further argues that "[t]he train, which had symbolized freedom and mobility for men in male blues songs, became a contested symbol," for "the women who were singing the songs had made it North and recorded from the 'promised land' of Chicago and New York."17 Carby's emphasis on the mobility the railroad provided for African American males, to which most African American women did not necessarily have the same access, is telling; the locomotive, or train, has operated as a phallic symbol for some time, and its relationship to masculinity coincides with Carby's criticism of Baker's "blues matrix." The railroad and train imagery to which Baker refers can also be seen as a signpost for the male literary tradition of drawing on the blues which Morrison both nods to and problematizes in Jazz by her substitution of the masculine nexus of the crossroads and train with that of the phonograph and the cultural artifact of the race record industry that allowed African American women at least some agency in scripting their own blues narratives.

[13]   In Jazz, the narrator's descriptions of the events in its characters' lives are replete with train imagery and railway "wit," most of which occur in relationship to masculinity or are related by a male character. For example, when Joe describes his "second change" as being picked out and trained to be a man,"18 and the apartment he shares with Violet when they first came to Harlem as "a railroad flat" (127). These references serve to both acknowledge and question the predominance of the male blues tradition, the recording of which eventually supplanted the popularity of women's blues in the late 20's and early 30's.19

[14]   Not surprisingly, this transition to the recording, marketing, and popularity of male blues has causedJazz to be read in somewhat generic ways. In his formal analysis of how Morrison's use of language parallels the musical strategies of jazz, Eusebio Rodrigues likens the "Sth" (3) that begins the novel to "the muted soundsplash of a brush against a snare drum."20 An alternative, or complimentary reading in this same vein might interpret "Sth" as the onomatopoeic reference Baker refers to as sign of the blues, the sound of a train slowing down and exhaling steam, possibly announcing Jazz as a traditional blues text. But Morrison both refers to and problematizes this African American, masculine literary trope. If Jazz is a blues text, it is one with a difference, since "woman" also appears in the very first sentence of the novel: "Sth, I know that woman" (3). This beginning might be interpreted as indicative of gossip, a traditionally devalued form of female speech or communication; such a reading works well with the idea that Morrison is trying to recover female cultural forms to which traditional accounts of history (specifically African American history) and the history of feminist consciousness have not "listened."

[15]   Yet another way to translate "Sth" (3) would be to read/hear this onomatopoeia on the novel's own terms, as the "preparatory hiss as the needle slides towards its first groove" of a record (67)–an interpretation supported by the narrator's repeated references to tracks, which connote not only the railroad, but, grooves, records and phonographs as metaphors for the narrative, as well as those of its characters' histories and of the blues themselves. When the story does not end as predicted, for example, the narrator says, "I waited for it so I could describe it. I was so sure it would happen. That the past was an abused record with no choice but to repeat itself at the crack and no power on earth could lift the arm that held the needle" (220). At the end of the novel Violet lifts the needle from the record of the past by not lifting her arm to stab Felice, as the narrator had predicted.

[16]   While Morrison, through her impersonal, technologicalnarrator, does cite the conventions of the blues matrix as manifestations of the post-slavery economic and material circumstances facing African Americans in the early twentieth century, she implicitly reframes that matrix by creating a new one based not on the train, but on the image and motion of a record on a phonograph as well as that of characters navigating the grid-like layout of Harlem. Interestingly, one possible meaning Baker ascribes to "matrix" is "a mat or plate for reproducing print or phonograph records," praising the blues for attracting

avid interest from the American masses. By the 1920's, American financiers had become aware of the commercial possibilities not only of railroads but also of black music deriving from them.A "race record" market flourished during the twenties. Major companies issued blues releases under labels such as Columbia, Vocalion, Okeh, Gennett, and Victor. Sometimes as many as ten blues releases appeared in a single week; their sales (aided by radio's dissemination of the music) climbed to hundreds of thousands.21

Oddly, considering his use of the apparatus employed in the production of records as part of his analogy to what he develops as the blues matrix, Baker does not mention that the "classic blues," the urban form popularized by African American women blues singers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, were the first to be recorded, nor that these records initially established the race record market.22

[17]   By aligning the narrator with the technological apparatus of the phonograph and the cultural artifact of the race record, Morrison invokes the material production and dissemination of the classic blues and their relationship to life in the city for African Americans. This analogy works in conjunction with the narrator's seemingly incidental, but highly gendered references to phonographs and records. When Felice comes to talk to Joe about Dorcas at the end of the novel, it is an Okeh record from Felton's record store that she is carrying. The specificity of the Okeh label cannot be accidental, for Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) pinpoints Mamie Smith's Okeh recording of "Crazy Blues" (originally titled "Harlem Blues") as the product that tapped the potential market of

[t]he Negro as consumer. . . Friday nights after work in those cold gray Jordans of the North, Negro workingmen lined up outside record stores to get the new blues, and as the money rolled in, the population of America, as shown on sales prognostication charts in the offices of big American industry, went up by one-tenth.23

The narrator of Jazz addresses how these recent migrants must have felt at arriving in a Harlem whose population was comprised almost wholly of African Americans, and she does so with specific reference to the city's sidewalks and streets:

However they came, when or why, the minute the leather of their soles hit the pavement–there was no turning around. Even if the room they rented was smaller than the heifer's stall and darker than a morning privy, they stayed to look at their number, hear themselves in an audience, feel themselves moving down the street among hundreds of others who moved the way they did. (32-22)

[18]   The narrator's analogy between record grooves and the city's streets–their physical attributes, location, and allure–foregrounds issues integral to the process of identity and community formation not only for Harlem but for the early twentieth-century African American urban population in general, a process in which the blues was integral. As Davis points out, new migrants had to deal with the implications of being free to choose their own sexual partners. Women's classic blues, she argues, were an outlet through which black women worked out the ramifications of this freedom, which included the negotiation of the concept of romantic love, jealousy, and community as well as domestic violence.24Evident in this passage are not only direct references to the often crowded and expensive living conditions faced by black migrants, but also metaphorical encodings of the material conditions of their existence before migrating to the city.

[19]   In Jazz Violet is the main character through which these negotiations are articulated, and the sidewalk and street imagery illustrates the playing out of her in-process identity. The narrator's description of her "private cracks" is a montage of images that question her, and perhaps African American women's in general, relationship to the Harlem community and to the social world:

I call them cracks because that is what they were. Not openings of breaks, but dark fissures in the globe light of the day. She wakes up in the morning and sees with perfect clarity a string of small, well lit scenes. In each one something specific is being done: food things, work things; customers and acquaintances are encountered, places entered. But she does not see herself doing these things. She sees them being done. The globe light holds and bathes each scene, and it can be assumed that at the curve where the light stops is a solid foundation. In truth, there is no foundation at all, but alleyways, crevices one steps across all the time. But the globe light is imperfect too. Closely examined it shows seams, ill-glued cracks and weak places beyond which is anything. Anything at all. Sometimes when Violet isn't paying attention she stumbles onto these cracks, like the time when, instead of putting her left heel forward, she stepped back and folded her legs in order to sit in the street.


The cracks Violet encounters are similar to the cracks in a record that make it skip so that it is unable to continue its playing, a correlation that suggests the complexity of the relationship between African American women's lives and various deterministic cultural narratives of not only dangerous sexuality but the often stifling, reactionary domesticity with which it was often countered by women such as Alice.

[20]   Violet is considered "crazy" by her community for sitting in the street, as well as for "stealing" a baby and later attempting to disfigure Dorcas's body at the funeral. Rodrigues sees Violet as "the one whose psyche has been deformed by twenty years in the City, so that people call her 'Violent.'"25 This model, however, sets up a nostalgic country/city binary that Morrison's use of an impersonal, or non-human, technological "blues" narrator is arguably attempting to dismantle. The sidewalks of Harlem are represented in a way that specifically calls attention to the blues narratives against which the characters struggle. That during Joe's search for Dorcas country trails turn to railroad, then city pavement "tracks," which Morrison also relates to the grooves of a record, suggests that the fatalism often attributed to the City has its roots in the South and the economic, cultural, and psychological impacts of slavery. When Alice asks Violet if Joe had ever beat her, we get a distinct reference to this narrative intersection:

"Joe? No. He never hurt nothing.""Except Dorcas."
"And squirrels."


"Rabbits too. Deer. Possum. Pheasant. We ate good down home."

"Why'd you leave?"

"Landowner didn't want rabbit. He want soft money."

"They want money here, too."

"But there's a way to get it here. I did day work when I first came here. Three houses a day got me good money. Joe cleaned fish at night. Took a while before he got hotel work. I got into hairdressing, and Joe . . ."

"I don't want to hear about all that."

Violet shut up and stared at the photograph. Alice gave it to her to get her out of the house. (81-82).

[21]   Prior to her attempt to stab Dorcas at the funeral, in an incident that causes at least part of the community to perceive Violet as crazy, she allegedly "steals" a baby from the charge of a young girl who had gone back into her house to get a record for her mother. When asked who took the child, the girl responds, "'A woman! I was gone one minute. Not even one! I asked her . . . I said . . . and she said okay . . .!'" (20). As in the beginning of the novel, there is the emphasis here that Violet is a woman. The homonym "okay" echoes the "Okeh" label, the vehicle that allowed African American women a role in scripting at least one narrative of their culture's history, one that in Jazz, through its narrator, both parallels and deviates from the labyrinthine nexus of Harlem's streets, site of the urban, or "classic blues" popularized by African American women. The girl scans "the sidewalk" (21) and looks into the carriage, where instead of the baby is the record she had dropped there. Members of the community are "furious" at "the record lying where a baby should be" (21), a juxtaposition of images that might be read as a criticism of the narratives propagated by women's classic blues, the very type of criticism promoted by women like Alice. Ann duCille argues that while female blues singers "spoke boldly to sexual freedom and personal choice," the lyrics they sang also neglected "such feminized subjects as motherhood, reproduction, children, and family relations."27This passage foregrounds the historical, economic, and social conditions of African American women Morrison, through the narrative trope of the race record, encodes in Jazz – especially the complicated, often jealous and sometimes violent responses of both men and women to their post-emancipation freedom of choice in sexual partners. Morrison's inspiration for the photograph of Dorcas, whom Violet stabs out of sexual jealousy, came from a photograph taken by James Van Der Zee of a young woman shot by her lover at a party with a gun that had a silencer: "As she lay dying, the young woman refused to identify the person who shot her."26

[22]   Violet's own relationship to reproduction has been overdetermined by the economics of slavery; her response to Rose Dear being tipped out of her chair by the men who took virtually all of her family's belongings is decisive; like many traveling female blues singers, motherhood was simply not something she considered as a possibility: "The important thing, the biggest thing Violet got out of that was never to have children. Whatever happened, no small dark foot would rest on another while a hungry mouth said, Mama?" (102).

[23]   Violet's marginal position in the salon community operates as an analogue both for women such as Alice denouncing the disorderly, raucous, and sometimes revengeful lyrics of female blues singers like Gertrude "Ma" Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as for women's peripheral involvement in early jazz performance. Violet is an unlicensed hairdresser, and thus not privy to the talk that takes place among the legally licensed beauticians and their customers at the salon, until she goes to find out "what kind of lip rouge the girl [Dorcas] wore; the marcelling iron they used on her . . . the band the girl liked best (Slim Bates' Ebony Keys which is pretty good except for his vocalist who must be his woman since why else would he let her insult his band)" (5). The narrator's comment on the female vocalist accords with Linda Dahl's assertion that family bands allowed virtually the only opportunity for women to participate in jazz, most bands being "made up completely of men."28 These circumstances parallel Violet's denied access, because of her crazy, "unlicensed" behavior, not only to the salon's communal discourse but to almost any kind of voice in her community.

[24]   Along with her "crazy" actions, Violet's "wayward mouth" (24) ostracizes her from mainstream community circles of women and men, a situation perhaps analogous to the social unacceptability of the 'dangerous' sexuality of some classic blues lyrics. Her tendency to form "[w]ords connected only to themselves" (23) could also refer to criticisms of women's classic blues being progressively standardized in their recording and dissemination, and thus not "authentic" in their loss of specific regional qualities. Her position as outcast, however, allows her an intracultural "double-consciousness," for she is able to identify with both Alice, an upstanding member of the community, and the prostitutes at the same time because much as the sexually charged women's classic blues allowed for the articulation and survival of an African American female communal voice, the prostitutes, Violet recognizes, are important to her own survival:

"They were good to me when nobody else was. Me and Joe eat because of them.""Don't tell me about it."

"Anytime I come close to borrowing or needing extra, I can work all day any week on their heads."

"Don't tell me, I said. I don't want to hear about it and where their money comes from." (84)

Alice, however, does not want to hear about the connection between sexuality or violence in the urban African American community and the seemingly deterministic cultural narratives engendered by the economics of slavery, which are encoded in the classic blues "race record" to which the narrator subjects characters throughout the novel. When Violet asks Alice why she does not want to hear about these women, she responds:

"Oh. The men. The nasty life. Don't they fight all the time? When they do your hair, you're not afraid they might start fighting?""Only when they sober." Violet smiled.
"Oh, well."

"They share men, fight them and fight over them, too."

"No woman should live like that."

"No. No woman should have to." (84)

[25]   Both Violet and Alice have been subject to sexual jealousy of other women and the desire for revenge. During their conversation Violet points out to Alice that she "wasn't born with a knife," asking if she had never "picked one up" (85). Alice admits to herself that she had been "starving for [the] blood" of her husband's lover: "Her craving settled on the red liquid coursing through the other woman's veins." Alice's fantasies of satisfying this craving include a "clothesline rope circling her neck" (86), an image which radiates multiple meanings. It brings to mind the lynching in the South which contributed to "the wave of black people running from want and violence" that "crested in the 1870's; the 1880's' the 90's but was a steady stream in 1906 when Joe and Violet joined in" (33). Yet it is also a feminine-coded "tool," signifying the domestic realm which slavery, both during and after, denied black women by forcing them to mother white families instead of their own. Just as Morrison substitutes the phonograph and classic blues record for the male-coded trope, or nexus of the crossroads and train, she supplants yet another black male signifier with a female-coded one, invoking the specific, material reality of violence and the psychological urge for revenge encoded in the musical tradition that gave rise to the women's classic blues, after which the novel, and its narrator, are named.Earlier Alice notes that "[b]lack women were armed; black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose" (77). Women arming themselves, especially with knives, invokes the existence of the theme in women's classic blues of violent revenge, as exemplified in Bessie Smith's "Hateful Blues," in which the narrator "threatens to use the butcher knife she received as a wedding present to carve up her fickle husband."29

[26]   As Alice is waiting for one of Violet's visits, which no longer frighten her, her denial of her culture's history manifests itself in her ruminations on the violence in which Violet and Joe have participated:

. . . Alice Manfred knew the kind of Negro that couple was: the kind she trained Dorcas from. The embarrassing kind. More than unappealing, they were dangerous. The husband shot; the wife stabbed. Nothing. Nothing her niece did or tried could equal the violence done to her. And where there was violence wasn't there also vice? Gambling. Cursing. A terrible and nasty closeness. Red dresses. Yellow shoes. And, of course, race music to urge them on. (79)

Alice's view of "race music" is not idiosyncratic considering she is one of "the unarmed ones" who sought protection through "church and the judging, angry God whose wrath in their behalf was too terrible to bear contemplation" (77). While the blues and gospel did mutually influence each other, the popularity of and market for gospel did not approach that of the blues, often considered a creation of the devil. Another reason the blues had a bad reputation is the company it kept. Boggs and Pratt point out that "[o]nce transplanted into the cities, blues emerged as part of an underground social life world concentrated around bars, cafes, and street corners," a world whose "economic sphere" was comprised of "gamblers, musicians, hustlers, and street people."30 Morrison depicts this element of the urban population in the narrator's lyric, onomatopoeic, jazz description of "springtime when it's clearer then than as at no other time that citylife is streetlife."

Blind men thrum and hum in the soft air as they inch steadily down the walk. They don't want to stand near and compete with the old uncles positioning themselves in the middle of the block to play a six-string guitar.Blues man. Black and bluesman. Blacktherefore blue man.
Everybody knows your name.

Where-did-she-go-and-why man. So-lonesome-I-could-die man.

Everybody knows your name.

The singer is hard to miss, sitting as he does on a fruit crate in the center of the sidewalk. His peg leg is stretched out comfy; his real one is carrying both the beat and the guitar's weight. (119)

[27]   Also in this passage is the echo of Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin–another "blues" author–which perhaps serves to comment on the need for critical awareness of one's own cultural forms. While Baldwin can be placed in the male tradition that does not usually take into account the complexities of the experiences of African American women, his position in that tradition, being an African American homosexual, is somewhat different. The short story, "Sonny's Blues," for example, indicates Baldwin's awareness not only of the need for knowledge of one's own cultural forms and how they have been appropriated by white culture, but also of the specific nature of intracultural violence to women in black urban communities.31 The juxtaposition of references to Ellison and Baldwin serves to both credit the contribution of the male blues tradition to African American history and cultural forms as well as to problematize the romanticization of its fatalism.The narrator's playful mockery of, or signifying on, the idea of the blues as an authentic reflection of African American experience is not hard to miss. When Joe goes to the beauty shop to inquire about Dorcas, he has an imaginary conversation with her and says, "it's just like you said–only one of them's blind; the other one is just going along with the program. Probably not even brothers, let alone twins. Something their mama cooked up for a little extra change" (131). Joe's speculation points to the problems that arise when looking at the blues as "authentic" expression of the black experience, for the twins' gimmick that Joe hypothesizes has its roots in their mother's holding together a household economy. And interestingly, although the women from the Salem Baptist church ". . . never said a word to the twins," Joe knows "they were having a good time listening because one of the loudest ones could hardly suck her teeth for patting her foot" (131), which suggests the cross-fertilization between the blues and gospel the church probably wanted to deny. Also significant in the above passage, which the narrator seems to play like a record, is the metaphor of violence in "Blacktherefore blueman," resonant of the experience the narrator of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man has while listening to Louis Armstrong's "What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue." Ellison is a "blues author" in the male tradition Morrison both pays homage to and yet playfully mocks. For violence has different meanings for African American women, for whom sexual jealousy often fueled at least fantasies, and sometimes enactments, of revenge. Both Alice's vision of a horse trampling her husband's lover to death, and Violet's attempt to stab Dorcas at her funeral illustrate this complexity.

[28]   Alice is acutely aware of the attraction, vogue, and danger of misreading such fatalism. Specifically she fears the relation between sexuality and violence the narrator, in the initial portrait of the city, alludes to as encoded in women's classic blues: "Below is shadow where any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and lovemaking: fists and the voices of sorrowful women" (7). Jazzthus follows suit with the women's classic blues' tradition not of romanticizing but rather of naming the issue of domestic violence.32

[29]   Alice responds to this fear by instructing Dorcas to conceal her bodily movements in the streets as well as her body itself, in plain, un-jazzy clothing (against which Dorcas rebels by wearing lingerie and changing her shoes after leaving the house). Alice is unable to distinguish the anger in the drums of the Fifth Avenue march in 1917 from what she sees as the "complicated anger" (59) of jazz, "the lowdown stuff that signaled Imminent Demise" (57). This inability, Doreatha Mbalia argues,

is largely caused by the confusion which results when one isolates herself from African life and culture and when one is ignorant of African history. Her interpretation of events is not just distorted, but topsy-turvy. A case in point is her analysis of jazz; to her, jazz creates problems for African people instead of merely reflecting their experiences.33

Such an analysis is valuable in that it advocates an awareness of the oppression of African Americans. Nevertheless, its mimetic assumptions fail to acknowledge that the blues "plots" often contained in fashionable urban blues and jazz could be potentially damaging to the development of African American urban neighborhoods, among which are narratives of women that may contribute to violence against them within their own communities. Alice is not completely off-base in her fears, for the narrator's description of the allure of the city streets for Dorcas suggests one such narrative:

And if that's not enough, doors to speakeasies stand ajar and in that cool dark place a clarinet coughs and clears its throat waiting for the woman to decide on the key. She makes up her mind and as you pass by informs your back that she is daddy's little angel child. (64)

The outcome of this type of narrative is exemplified in the lyrics that the narrator hypothesizes upset Alice:

I have seen her, passing a café or an uncurtained window when some phrase or other– "Hit me but don't quit me"–drifted out, and watched her reach with one hand for the safe gathering rope thrown to her eight years ago on Fifth Avenue, and ball the other one into a fist in her coat pocket. (59)

[30]   The narrator, a technological nexus for such cultural plots, points out that Violet takes part in this narrative by engaging in the first activity, taking another lover: "Violet is mean enough and good looking enough to think that even without hips or youth she could punish Joe by getting herself a boyfriend and letting him visit her in her own house" (4). Violet's infidelity is a direct response to Joe's, which initially caused her to try and stab Dorcas's body at the funeral, an action representative of the revenge not uncommon in one strain of women's blues. While envisioning or even enacting such revenge likely proved important in African American women working out the implications of their new freedoms, Morrison seems to suggest the danger of the endless repetition of such "plots." For revenge is precisely the direction in which the narrator hints her own narrative, comprised of blues tracks, or grooves, will lead.Such lyrics embody "the blues that concentrate upon the bewildered, often half crazed and even paralyzed response of women to male violence." Carby writes that "[t]he rage of women against male infidelity and desertion is evident in many of the blues," often manifesting itself in themes of "taking another lover as in 'Oh Papa Blues' or taunting a lover who has been thrown out with 'I won't worry that you're going, another brown has got your water on' in 'Titanic Man Blues.'"34

[31]   Violet eventually becomes aware of the fashion and influence of such narratives. While she is sitting in the malt shop Violet reflects on the laughter she and Alice had shared at recognizing the import to their lives of what the narrator describes as the "black and smoking ship" (of slavery) left by the Alice's iron, which "burned clear through the yoke" because Alice had been busy berating Violet's victimization of Dorcas for historical, material, and psychological circumstances the three women actually have in common. This recognition and laughter is caused by the metaphorical destruction of the yoke of the shirt, which also serves as a pun for the "yoke" of slavery and its resulting cultural plots, which in turn causes Alice to perceive and laugh at the specific, female blues narrative of revenge to which she'd been clinging:

Crumpled over, shoulders shaking, Violet thought about how she must have looked at the funeral, at what her mission was. The sight of herself trying to do something bluesy, something hep, fumbling the knife, too late anyway . . . She laughed till she coughed and Alice had to make them both a cup of settling tea. (114)

[32]   The narrator's description of Dorcas's relationship to jazz is a site of intersection and conflict with this narrative of violence. As John Leonard points out, "Dorcas, exactly like Josephine Baker, is a child of the East St. Louis race riots, which consumed her clothespin dolls and her parents,"35 a connection illuminating in more ways than one. When in an interview Henry Louis Gates, Jr. asked Josephine Baker what made her leave the United States, she responded:Both Violet and Dorcas have been subject to a destructive narrative of violence in which a certain strain of women's classic blues is clearly implicated, which the narrator, representing the technological apparatus of phonograph, seems to be "playing."

I left in 1924, but the roots extend long before that. One of the first things I remember was hanging onto my mother's skirts, I was so little. All the sky was red with people's houses burning. On the bridge, there were running people with their tongues cut out. There was a woman who'd been pregnant with her insides cut out. That was the beginning of my feeling.36

Alice recalls that at the time of the riots, Dorcas was "a little girl" who "must have seen the flames, must have, because the whole street was screaming. She never said. Never said anything about it. She went to two funerals in five days and never said a word" (57). There is a curious parallel between Baker's account, specifically the image of tongues having been cut out, and the narrator's account of Dorcas's silence regarding the riots, which we find out is the result of her not wanting to let escape the smoking woodchip she thinks "must have entered her stretched dumb mouth and traveled down her throat" (60-61). During the Fifth Avenue parade, Dorcas imagines that the chip "sank further and further down until it lodged comfortably somewhere below her navel" (61), the area to which her Aunt Alice is disturbed that her culture's music has relocated (56). It is also the area symbolic of reproduction, to which African American women, as the result of the economic and psychological effects of both slavery and migration, clearly had a problematic relationship. The narrator's "embodiment" as phonograph and race record reinforces the association, as both components of this technological apparatus have specific historical relationships to representations of the female body and/or sexuality. Dorcas's silence, caused by the chip she imagines in her abdomen, can be read as analogous to the silence of women's classic blues on the issue of motherhood (because of its focus on sexuality) as well as an allegory for African American women's voices not being represented in history, authentic "male" blues, or feminism.

[33]   The descriptive association the narrator establishes between Dorcas and both jazz and Josephine Baker, "barebreasted" icon and "spectacle" of 1920's Paris, foregrounds what Ann duCille calls "the primitivist proclivities of the historical moment": "Under what might be called the cult of true primitivism, sex–the quintessential subject matter of the blues–was precisely what hot-blooded African women were assumed to always have in mind."37The discursive association between the urban blues, jazz and Black female sexuality is apparent in the narrator's presentation of Joe's account of his "tracking" of Dorcas:

I dismissed the evil in my thoughts because I wasn't sure that the sooty music the blind twins were playing wasn't the cause. It can do that to you, a certain kind of guitar playing. Not like the clarinets, but close. If that song had been coming through a clarinet, I'd have known right away. But the guitars–they confused me, made me doubt myself, and I lost the trail. (132)

[34]   Before she meets Joe, it is clear that Dorcas identifies with the classic blues and jazz that both made black women sexual subjects and yet served to reinforce negative primitivist stereotypes. The narrator's onomatopoeic description of Dorcas's response to the music indicates it is clearly sexual:The context of this nexus of blues and jazz references is that Joe suspects Dorcas has lied to him about having a hair appointment so that she could be with another man. If the music causing his suspicions had been urban jazz, signified by the clarinets and earlier in the text associated by the narrator with both clarinets and lovemaking (as well as violence), Joe thinks he would have "known" for sure he had been right about Dorcas's infidelity. He speculates that he might have been able to follow her trail, because of the cultural association between jazz and "primitive" black female sexuality the grooves of the record the narrator (as phonograph) has been playing encodes.

While her aunt worried about how to keep the heart ignorant of the hips and the head in charge of both, Dorcas lay on the chenille bedspread, tickled and happy knowing that there was no place to be where somewhere, close by, somebody was not licking his licorice stick, tickling the ivories, beating his skins, blowing off his horn while a knowing woman sang ain't nobody going to keep me down you got the right key baby but the wrong keyhole you got to get it and bring it and put it right here, or else. (60)38

Dorcas, however, is not old enough to have had the experiences Violet and Alice have suffered to identify the dangers of the mass produced, technologically disseminated narratives represented in the novel by the image and motion of a record on a phonograph.

[35]   During a party Dorcas attends with Felice, "[s]omeone fights with the Victrola; places the arm on, scratches the record, tries again, then exchanges the record for another" (66; emphasis added). The language in this account approaches the level of metacommentary on its own narrative form. Although we do not know whether it is a man or a woman who is "fighting" with the Victrola, the image evokes at a crucial point the role of technology in an African American woman's fate. Not only is someone fighting with the Victrola, but throughout the novel the characters have been fighting with narratives engendered by the record (of the material and psychic history of slavery) their narrator has been playing. The vocabulary here, as throughout the novel, suggests the intertwining relationship between violence, African American cultural forms, and the economics of slavery, the latter of which holds particular relevance for Black women. This relationship is articulated when Dorcas becomes interested in two of the "brothers" at the rent party, and they in her, as the music is about to resume: "The right record is on the turn table now; she can hear its preparatory hiss as the needle slides towards its first groove" (67).

[36]   If the "Sth" (3) at the beginning of the novel onomatopoeically represents such a "hiss" and draws through the narrator the analogy between the artifact of the record and African American cultural narratives, the music Dorcas anticipates might represent the specific narrative that casts black women in the role of commodity, a narrative of which the classic blues and jazz, however subversive and empowering for women, is not entirely free. For Dorcas is "acknowledged, appraised and dismissed in the time it takes for a needle to find its opening groove" (67; emphasis added). A material archeology of such language and imagery would no doubt find the auction block, as well as

Bills of Sale for cargo received . . . The diaries of white women on the subjects of concubinage and household management. The plantation ledgers of their husbands, calculating the dollar discrepancy paid for mulatto vs. full-blooded African children, both bred for comparative advantage on the domestic market.39

This material history of slavery is what ultimately causes Alice's fear, Violet's unlicensed "wayward mouth" and resulting self-enforced silence, a discipline in which Dorcas also engages as a child after the East St. Louis riots.

[37]   Morrison's historical excavation is also evident in her use of the rent party as the location for Dorcas's murder. The rent party is a site of intersection for the blues and jazz narratives the novel's narrator both "plays" and comments upon. For Joe is sure, despite her telling him she no longer wants to see him, that Dorcas still wants him sexually, an assumption in line with duCille's explanation of the primitivist ideology of black female sexuality, which finds its way even into the very community it stereotypes: "She's so glad I found her. Arching and soft, wanting me to do it, asking me to do it" (183-184). When Dorcas is taken to a bed and questioned about who shot her, we get another reference to how integral blues and jazz narratives, exemplified in the text by the narrator's "playing" of them, have been to her fate: "People are blocking the doorway; some stretch behind them to get a better look. The record playing is over. Somebody they have been waiting for is playing the piano. A woman is singing too. The music is faint but I know the words by heart" (192-3). Interesting here is that although the singer is live, Dorcas knows the words to the song, which suggests how standardized women's classic blues were to become. Again, the narrator's account of Dorcas's experience makes a connection between the materiality of African American urban life in the early twentieth century and the cultural forms that both reflect and narrate those circumstances in a dynamic more fluid and complex than either Alice, or the narrator of Jazz, initially fathom.

[38]   The narrator, a "player" of the "record" of blues narratives often fatal to women, so "sure" that "one would kill the other" (220), that Violet would, by shooting Felice, attempt another "bluesy" revenge on Joe and Dorcas, turns out to be not only "unreliable," but just plain wrong. This mistake changes what seems to be this narrator's initial view of the role African Americans' history should play in their lives, as expressed early in the novel:

At last, everything's ahead. The smart ones say so and people listening to them and reading what they write down agree: Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The things-nobody-could-help stuff. The way everybody was then and there. Forget that. History is over, you all, and everything's ahead at last. (7)

[39]   For at the end of the novel symbols previously coded by the narrator as tragic are transformed into a new sense of community and intimacy between Violet, Joe, and Felice; Violet offers to clip Felice's "ends" when in the past she had noted from Dorcas's photograph that the girl's hair had needed it. Joe remarks that the apartment "needs" birds when those birds' I-love-you's had, at the beginning of the novel, been a source of pain to his wife. Most significantly, Felice offers to bring records, whose narratives have played a key role in the violence between Joe, Violet, and Dorcas and yet whose mention occasions Joe's announcement that he will look for a job (215).This description emulates the surface gaiety of the urban jazz resulting from hopeful migrants' expectations of the city. However, the narrator continues this description with: "In halls and offices people are sitting around thinking future thoughts about projects and bridges and fast-clicking trains underneath" (7). The "trains underneath" this jazzy outlook on the possibilities of urban life for African American migrants signal, through the blues trope of the railroad, and its difference in meaning for men and women, the potential undoing of the temptation of historical amnesia. The point of Jazz is to listen to that clicking, to refuse "to disremember the price of the ticket."40 The narrator's subterranean blues reference points to the reckoning with their pasts the characters must engage in on a level at once profoundly disturbing and yet conducive to agency and transformation.

[40]   The past for these characters doesn't have to be "an abused record with no choice to repeat itself at the crack," which Violet keeps doing at the beginning of the novel, because, according to our Victrola narrator, confronting history can "lift the arm from the needle" (220) so that new grooves, or narratives, can be etched into the record of African American history. For African American women, however, this etching requires listening to and critiquing dominant historical accounts that exclude, totalize, or even fashionably commodify and stylize certain aspects of their experiences, as in the case of women's classic blues. Referring fondly to her characters, the narrator expresses her revised view of history's role for African Americans:

When I see them now they are not sepia, still, losing their edges to the light of a future afternoon. Caught midway between was and must be. For me they are real. Sharply in focus and clicking. I wonder, do they know they are the sound of snapping fingers under the sycamores lining the streets? When the loud trains pull into their stops and the engines pause, attentive listeners can hear it. Even when they are not there, when whole city blocks downtown and acres of lawned neighborhoods in Sag Harbor cannot see them, the clicking is there. (227)


This description captures Morrison's acute attention to the level of material, historical detail that falls outside of traditional history. While the crossroads-and-train have been the dominant symbol cluster of "authentic" African American (male) experience, we need only listen attentively for what has been left out. Her portrayal of Harlem in Jazz through the trope of the phonograph-and-record as narrator becomes a site of contesting narratives of black female experience and the material conditions of labor and living that haveboth determined and silenced their identities. In Jazz, the honesty of the technologically "re-gendered" narrator in pointing out "her" unreliability allows the characters to decipher and transcend the plots "she" initially intended them to fulfill, giving both Violet and the reader, at the end of the novel, agency to "lift the needle" and transcend the "groove" in which it has been stuck for far too long. As we listen to the silences, cracks, and skips Morrison's unreliable narrator "plays," we can joyfully, as we are encouraged to do, change the record.

I would like to thank Shelli Fowler, T.V. Reed, Diane Gillespie, and Carol Siegel of Washington State University for their encouragement and feedback on earlier versions of this essay. I also owe special thanks to the editors and anonymous reviewers of GENDERS for their helpful comments and suggestions.


  1. Michael Awkward, Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women's Novels (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p.1.
  2. Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1963), p. 100.
  3. Daphne Duvall Harrison, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920's (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1988) and Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism(New York: Pantheon Books, 1998).
  4. See Seymour Chatman, Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 116
  5. Bruce Bawer, review of Jazz, by Toni Morrison, The New Criterion 10, no. 9 (May 1992), pp. 11, 13
  6. See Craig Hansen Werner, Playing the Changes: From Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Jan Furman, Toni Morrison's Fiction, Understanding Contemporary Literature, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996); Linden Peach, Toni Morrison, MacMillan Modern Novelists, ed. Norman Page (London: MacMillan, 1995), and Farah Jasmine Griffin, "Who Set You Flowin'?": The African American Migration Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
  7. John Leonard, review of Jazz, by Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K.A. Appiah, Amistad Literary Series (New York: Amistad, 1993): p. 49; Henry Louis Gates Jr., review of Jazz, by Toni Morrison, also in Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives, pp. 54-55
  8. Gates, Jr., review of Jazz, p. 54.
  9. Ibid., pp. 55,54.
  10. Burton W. Peretti, The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America, Music in American Life, ed. August Meier and John H. Bracey (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), pp. 152, 153.
  11. Charles Grivel, "The Phonograph's Horned Mouth," trans. Stephen Sartarelli, in Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde, ed. Douglass Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992), pp. 33, 36
  12. Douglass Kahn, "Introduction: Histories of Sound Once Removed," Wireless Imagination, p. 6
  13. Davis, Blues Legacies, pp. xi-xx.
  14. Houston Baker, Jr., Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Theory of the Vernacular (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 4, 7, 8.
  15. Hazel Carby, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues," Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robin R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993), p. 751.
  16. Davis, Blues Legacies, pp. 21, 34.
  17. 17. Carby, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime," p. 751.
  18. Toni Morrison, Jazz (New York: Plume/Penguin, 1992), p. 125, emphasis added. All subsequent references to this edition will be cited parenthetically.
  19. Harrison, Black Pearls, pp. 60-61.
  20. Eusebio Rodrigues, "Experiencing Jazz," Modern Fiction Studies 39, no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 1993), p. 733
  21. Houston Baker, Jr., Blues, pp. 3, 11-12.
  22. Jones (Baraka), Blues People, pp. 101, 100.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Davis, Blues Legacies, pp. 4, 8-12, 45-50.
  25. Rodrigues, "Experiencing Jazz," pp. 745.
  26. Gates, Jr., review of Jazz, pp. 52.
  27. Ann duCille, "Blues Notes on Black Sexuality: Sex and the Texts of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen,"Journal of the History of Sexuality 3, no. 3 (1993), pp. 428, 424.
  28. Linda Dahl, "Equal Time: A Historical Overview of Women in Jazz," America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society, ed. Kenneth J. Bindas, Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture, no. 33 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992), pp. 206, 207.
  29. Davis, Blues Legacies, pp. 21, 34, 17.
  30. Carl Boggs and Ray Pratt, "The Blues Tradition: Poetic Revolt or Cultural Impasse?" American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives, ed. Donald Lazore (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 280, 284.
  31. Tracey Sherard, "Sonny's Bebop: Baldwin's 'Blues Text' as Intracultural Critique," African American Review 32, no. 4 (Winter 1998), pp. 691-705.
  32. Davis, Blues Legacies, pp. 25-33.
  33. Doreatha Drummond Mbalia, "Women Who Run With Wild: The Need for Sisterhoods in Jazz," Modern Fiction Studies 39, no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 1993), p. 631.
  34. Carby, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime," p. 753.
  35. Leonard, review of Jazz, p. 46.
  36. Josephine Baker, "An Interview with Josephine Baker and James Baldwin," interview by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,Conversations with James Baldwin, ed. Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt , Literary Conversations Series, ed. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), p. 263.
  37. duCille, "Blues Notes," pp. 426-427.
  38. This last phrase is from a Bessie Smith song, the lyrics of which Michele Russell reprints under the title "Get it, Bring it, and Put It Right Here" in "Slave Codes and Liner Notes," in Heresies 3, no. 2.10 (1980), p. 53.
  39. Russell, "Slave Codes," p. 52.
  40. Werner, Playing the Changes, p. 289.