The Novel Embodiment of Jazz Music

For some reason I’m normally tempted to skip the foreword of novels. Perhaps I just want to get right into the story. Perhaps I think Roman numeral pages don’t really count. But I did read the one in Jazz and I’m glad I did because as I’ve been reading I’ve had Morrison’s introductory words in the back of my head, shaping how I read it. I don’t know everything about jazz music but Morrison explains how she’s used it in her novel. She says jazz music is primarily about “invention. Improvisation, originality, change,” and that “rather than be about those characteristic, the novel would seek to become them,” (xx). I made a blog post about Morrison’s use of structure in a Mercy, and her brilliant use of it in Jazz, though a somewhat different, is catching my attention yet again. She said herself in the foreword, “I had written novels in which structure was designed to enhance meaning; here the structure would equal meaning” (xix). So I knew even before starting the book that Morrison would be doing some cool jazz-like things with her structure, and I am not disappointed.

The way Jazz is written seems almost improvisational. I’ve noticed multiple run-on sentences (eg. pages 10 and 60), or instances where the structure strays from the typical style of novels, with dialogue mixed in and no quotation marks and no separation (bottom of page 39 to the top of page 40). Jazz music jumps around and is not always predictable. Morrison portrays this in her novel by using a structure which is unpredictable, but artistic.

It influences the way we read her text.

It changes the pace, or rather the tempo, and makes interesting words even more interesting by how it is presented to us. Here is an example: “The City is smart at this: smelling and good and looking raunchy; sending secret messages disguised as public signs: this way, open here, danger to let colored only single men on sale woman wanted private room stop dog on premises absolutely no money down fresh chicken free delivery fast,” (64). The list of signs is not interrupted by commas; it simply flows as the signs rush past us without allowing us to take a break from them.

One of my favorite things that I’ve noticed is her “enjambment” of the chapters. I use that term because it’s what it reminded me of; when we reach the end of a chapter, the start of the next one continues on with that idea, almost as if it is part of the same paragraph. Here they are without the separation of a chapter break:

“He is married to a woman who speaks mainly to her birds. One of whom answers back: ‘I love you.’ Or used to. When Violet threw out the birds, it left her not only without the canaries’ company […]” (23-27)

“From freezing to hot to cool. Like that day in July, almost nine years back, when the beautiful men were cold.” (51-53)

“[…] and listened closely to what she was saying as did the woman sitting by her ironing board in a hat in the morning. The hat, pushed back on her forehead, gave Violet a scatty look.” (87-89)

It is quite a poetic technique and I have never seen it before. Looking at the quotes as I have them presented above, the chapter breaks are seamless.

With all of these unique structural decisions, the book so far feels like a song. It feels like a song; there’s repetition in the language, run-on sentences, a seamless flow, and improvisational paragraphs in unpredictable places. It is the embodiment of jazz music in the form a novel. I look forward to reading the rest of the novel and finding even more of these!

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