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Thinking Jazz



This reading schedule (as well as the section titles) is meant to be suggestive, not prescriptive, chronological, or inclusive. In the event we find that we need to spend more time on a text/section than originally allocated (or allow more time for oral reports and films), we can adjust our syllabus accordingly. Please expect short video and audio clips regularly -- they are not (always) listed on the syllabus. You should also know that one of the signs of a good class discussion is that we will not have time to address all the reading that has been assigned for a certain day. Let's proceed with the understanding that teaching and learning, like life, is a set of contingencies full of improvisations!

To be a jazz freedom fighter is to attempt to galvanize and energize world-weary people into forms of organization with accountable leadership that promote critical exchange and broad reflection. The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism. As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group--a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project. – Cornel West, Race Matters

Week 1

The Jazz Age - What's the Fuzz about all that Buzz (and Fizz)?

Week 2

The Prehistory of Jazz

  • Neal Conan, 'Playback': A 100 Years of Music Machines
  • W. E. B.  DuBois, "Of the Sorrow Songs," The Souls of Black Folk (1904)
  • Le Roi Jones, Amiri Baraka, Blues People (1963), "African Slaves/American Slaves: Their Music," chap. 3
  • Eugene Holley, Jr., "Black History Meets Black Music: Blues People at 50", II
  • Ted Gioia,  The Prehistory of Jazz - The Africanization of American Music, chap. 1
  • Music/ians of the Week
  • The Blues ______________________________________      Ma Rainey ____________________________________

  • Scott Joplin ____________________________________       Sidney Bechet _________________________________
Week 3–4

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Bard of Jazz—Reality and Myth

  • Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories
  • Roaring Twenties: History in the Key of Jazz
  • Ted Gioia, The Jazz Age, chap 3

    F Scott Fitzgerald  ________________________________      Cult(ure) of Consumption___________________________

    Louis Armstrong _________________________________       Bix Beiderbecke ____________________________________
Week 5–6

Toomer in Tune with the Time (Gone Past) — Harlem and the Critical Mass

  • Gioia, New Orleans Jazz -- The Celebrations of a City in Decline, chap 2
  • E. J. Bellocq I, ELB II - Storyville District (viewer discretion advised)
  • film screening, New Orleans (1947)

    Jelly Roll Morton _______________________________        Shuffle Along _______________________________________
  • Jean Toomer, Cane
  • History of  African American Negro Spirituals
  • Alain Locke, "The New Negro"

    • Cane________________________________________        George Gershwin ____________________________________

    • Nella Larsen ________________________________
Week 9–10

Wild Women Don't Have the Blues

  • Film Screening, Wild Women Don't Have the Blues
  • Kevin Young, Ed., Jazz Poetry (I)
  • Women in Jazz
  • Billie Holiday,JAZZ-BH

    • Wild Women _____________________________          Jazz Poetry I _________________________________________

    • Carl van Vechten _________________________
Week 8

Voices from the Other and Upper (East) Side - The Harlem Renaissance Before and After

  • Julian Street, "The Jazz Baby"
  • Rudolph Fischer, "Common Meter"
  • Langston Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" and "The Blues I'm Playing"
  • Eudora Welty, "Powerhouse"
  • Kevin Young, Ed., Jazz Poetry (II)

    Short Jazz Fiction ____________________________        Jazz Poetry II _______________________________________
Week 9

Jazz in Junction City - The Hub of Rails and Reeds

Week 10–11

Literature, Labor, and the Red Scare

  • John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

  • Fats Waller ___________________________________       MT I ______________________________________________

  • MT II _________________________________________       The Red Scare _____________________________________

  • Cotton Club ___________________________________
Week 12

Art of the 1920s and 30s - Jamming Session

Week 13–14

Making Sound History - Radio and the Talkies

Week 15

Rewriting the 20s: The Fiction of History

  • August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Ma Rainey Play-Guide
  • August Wilson, The Ground On Which I Stand(PBS 2015)

    • Black Bottom _____________________________       [Musician TBA] _______________________________

      *** Paper Due Date: Monday, 30 November 2015 ***
Week 16 The final word, instead of a final exam  

Concluding Note


The only dumb question is the one you don't ask. My door is always open, and if it is not open, please knock; I will answer if I am there. Please don't hesitate to stop by.

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mwutz@weber.eduPhone  801-626-7011
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Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
Editor, Weber - The Contemporary West
Department of English, 1404 University Circle
Weber State University
Ogden, UT 84404-1404 USA