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Friday, September 07, 2007

Jazz/Blues and Literature - James Baldwin

I re-read one of my favorite short stories last night. It was buried in an anthology on the top shelf of my library - James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues." I last read this story when I was in college, I think. It is a terrific story that evokes the pain and difficulty of being a black American in the late 1950's. Baldwin was living in France by the time he wrote "Sonny's Blues;" he found the atmosphere in the United States too poisonous. Baldwin was also gay, so he had an additional set of biases to battle against.

In "Sonny's Blues," there are the best passages I have ever read about jazz and blues. Here they are:

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours………….

………..Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.

Sonny's Blues, 1957

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