“In this new work, Porter shows Ellison’s abiding relevance to American life by identifying the influence of jazz music and musicians upon Ellison’s literary sensibility …Jazz Country is tightly written and sharply focused. The book’s contribution lies in its fine rhetorical analysis of some of Ellison’s key concepts: unity, ambiguity, possibility, transcendence, and discipline.”—American Literature
“Jazz Country is an appropriate and even inspired entry into the world of Ellison's writing. It explores the interplay between Ellison's passionate love or ‘appropriation’ of jazz and blues and his ideas about many other important issues, including his own ideal standards in the writing of American fiction and his analysis of the broad implications of American culture itself.”—Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University
“Ralph Ellison based his ideal of the Renaissance man, American style, on the jazz musicians he had known. In Jazz Country, Horace Porter excavates Ellison's writings on jazz for a view of the artist we have never before seen in such sharp focus.”–Diane Middlebrook, author of Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton
“I suspect that the one body of music which expresses the United States–which expresses this continent–is jazz and blues.”–Ralph Ellison
Horace Porter is the chair of African American World Studies and professor of English at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Stealing Fire: The Art and Protest of James Baldwin and one of the editors of Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition.
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.