Blue Notes

Published September 2019 with LSU Press:
Blue Notes: Jazz, Literature, and Loneliness.

“You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out—that storm inside. You can’t talk it and you can’t make live with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to find a way to listen.” James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

Jazz can be uplifting, stimulating, sensual, or spiritual—but when writers turn to jazz, they almost always imagine it in terms of loneliness. Blue Notes maps out this relationship—between jazz, loneliness, and literature—through a perspective that jazz musicians regularly call upon to explain their own performances: that of the conversation.

Tracing the history of literary borrowings, voicings, and reimaginings of jazz, Reese then turns to the way that jazz musicians themselves have spoken to and through literature. In doing so, he offers a new understanding of what it means to be alone.

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