<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> Movement I <p> <b>Three Ways of Looking at a Yardbird</b> <p> Charlie Parker and the Theorization of Jazz Improvisation in the Work of Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka <p> <p> I was of three minds, Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds <b>Wallace Stevens</b> <p> <p> In early 1956, fourteen weeks into the Montgomery bus boycott, Ralph Ellison, living at the American Academy in Rome, wrote to Albert Murray, then stationed with the air force in Morocco, that the collective action of Negroes in Alabama revealed "just a little bit more of their complexity." Interestingly, while in Rome Ellison was at work on a novel dedicated to sustaining the lineage of his "vanishing tribe," the Negroes. <p> Also in 1956, inspired by Irish and French modernist writers, LeRoi Jones, an air force weather gunner stationed in Puerto Rico, began developing a poetics appropriate for expressing his individual, personal complexities. Jones's early poems communicated his sense of being "out" beyond status quo American cultural sensibilities, but by the mid-1960s Jones became "Baraka," turning his modernist lyrics into poetic descriptions of the intricate connections between African American political desires and the identifying elements of blackness. Like Jones and Ellison, James Baldwin was living outside the U.S. in the mid-1950s, writing about African American identity and the shifting currents of postwar politics. Parisian life was supposed to provide Baldwin an escape from the humiliations of American racism but he found instead that his foreignness, his otherness in France, forced him to write about his intractable Americanness. <p> Life outside the U.S. forced each writer to interrogate the meanings of blackness, American identity, and the post-World War II political world in ways that exposed conflicts at the center of his intellectual/literary practices: How did Baldwin's desire for physical and psychological separation from American racism align with his forceful claims to the American birthright? How did Jones articulate his processes of self-awareness and his changes from post-war "outsider" artist to insider, black-nationalist aesthetician? How did Ellison account for both his sense of mid-twentieth-century Negro political complexity and his worry over the diminishing cultural presence of Negroes? <p> I argue in Movement I that each writer found in blues idiom culture and jazz music the necessary concepts for negotiating these questions. In particular, this movement is an investigation of how Ellison, Baldwin, and Jones/Baraka analyzed or imagined Charlie "Bird" Parker as a sign of Negro complexity or inscrutability in their works. However, these writers also proposed that Parker be read as a navigating guide through the contingencies of American identity, history, art, and democracy described in their creative and critical works. <p> Rather than resting on foundational notions of black identity or culture during the CRM, Ellison, Baldwin, and Jones/Baraka each theorized jazz improvisation as a demonstration of cosmopolitan blackness, an illustration of the social usefulness of Negro cultural rituals, and a way of communicating philosophical attitudes befitting the shifts in American political and social life during the 1950s and '60s. Parker represents a melodic through line that crosses their individual concerns, letting us hear the tonal similarities within their works. Writing about black intellectuals and philosophy in relationship to jazz history and performance "is not a matter of giving the music fine airs-it doesn't need them-but of saying that whatever touches our highly conscious creators of culture is apt to be reflected here." <p> Though each writer approached Bird as "the black artist as sacrificial Negro," they charted separately defined routes toward achieving African American political, economic, and cultural freedom. Jones/Baraka, Ellison, and Baldwin communicated the terms of their pragmatist critiques of civil rights political and social changes, African American identity, black masculinity, and black cultural production through their analyses of Parker. In so doing they also displayed the political differences that separated them. We can find both the harmonies and dissonant counterplay by studying how Jones/Baraka, Baldwin, and Ellison responded to Parker and bebop. <p> <p> Bebop at the Center of American Politics <p> To understand Parker's manifold cultural significance we must situate jazz and bebop as central cultural cogs not only in post-war American cultural production but also in Cold War foreign diplomacy. In the 1950s, on the cusp of the CRM's insurgent dive into the postwar political mainstream, the State Department began sending African American jazz musicians to eastern Europe and the unaligned, postcolonial world to sing literally the praises of American democracy. Rather than dampening the burgeoning protests at home or satiating Africans and Arabs with the "rhythms" of American cultural diplomacy (two hopes of the Eisenhower administration), these jazz tours encouraged listeners to reinvent themselves according to the imperatives of improvisation. Ironically, Americans at home would be the ones to embody and perform democracy's improvisational possibilities. Baldwin, Jones/Baraka, and Ellison are crucial in this narrative, for their works countered the official government desires by encouraging their readers to consider the revolutionary political and philosophical claims laced into jazz performance. <p> In the 1930s Coleman Hawkins was the first significant and established artist to begin toiling with the musical formulations that would become the vocabulary of bebop. Hawkins's notion of musical progress involved the introduction of problematic and difficult chordal progressions into his improvised solos-his innovations challenged other musicians to find resolutions to those musical problems. Hawkins's progressive musical intellect made him one of the preeminent improvisers of his generation and a harbinger of changes to come. <p> Younger musicians such as Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, and Howard McGee accepted Hawkins's progressive challenge. They theorized concepts that emerged from both inherited musical traditions and the conditions of urban African American life during the 1940s. Developed in a range of locations from Kansas City dance halls to Harlem jam session parlors like Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown, bebop focused on the primacy of solo improvisation during group performance. Jam sessions featured house bands, rhythm sections (piano, bass, drums, and sometimes guitar) that created improvisational space by layering generous chord sequences over angular, second-line bomb beats and pedal point or walking bass lines. <p> The accelerated pace of the style was prime for the "cutting sessions," battle royals that anchored the jamming by pitting soloists against each other. The duels were meant to battle test the technical and narrative virtuosity, the musical mettle of each instrumentalist. Emulating its mother tongue, the blues, bebop is a matrix in which all musical styles (for instance, New Orleans syncopation, Ellingtonia, southwestern swing, rags, gospel, Broadway show tunes, popular songs, and contemporary classical music) are fodder for melodic quotation or technical integration into the language of bebop composition and improvisation. <p> Though bebop developed as a distinctly African American musical revolution it "was not a unified ideological aesthetic movement. Rather, it was an artistic challenge that was understood in a variety of ways in its social, cultural, intellectual, and creative context." Bebop was not a racially exclusive musical movement; nevertheless, it was rooted deeply in the uncomfortable realities of American racial history. Scott DeVeaux explains that bebop's politically engaged avant-garde produced a form of resistance from the underground of American culture in order to assert an "ethnic consciousness in the face of efforts by a white-controlled culture industry to co-opt and contain its subversive potential" (DeVeaux 1996, 23). For jazz musicians, the situation was particularly poignant, because music was manifestly capable of transcending racial barriers. Yet there is no escaping the fact that black musicians lived and worked in a separate and unequal world, facing obstacles and enduring indignities that set them apart from their white counterparts; race, economics, and politics were wedded in this cultural underworld. <p> Parker's musical innovations helped shape radical youth immediately after World War II. Parker's technical velocity, musical theories, and instinctive sense of swing helped define bebop and reshape jazz performance. Though he died mostly unsung outside of the jazz world, Parker's high modernist aesthetics and self-destructive tendencies made him an apt sacrificial figure for the narratives of Cold War culture and civil rights politics. Bird's death in March 1955 marks the pivot point during the eighteen-month period between the Supreme Court's May 1954 <i>Brown</i> decision and the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott in December 1955. One unexpected measure of the Negro complexity Ellison thought emergent was that various groups began to use Parker symbolically. <p> In his analysis of Parker's iconic cultural status, Ellison offers a lucid example of his pragmatist sensibilities. Ellison's pragmatism was influenced by his personal and critical relationship with Kenneth Burke and his theories of ritual symbolism and symbolic action. But Ellison revised those theories, distancing himself from Burke by producing a vernacular analytical system whose main tool is improvisation. Examining what Burke leaves out of his theory of scapegoats, for instance, Ellison transformed Parker's shadowy cultural status into a symbolic identity by reading him through the lens of the blues idiom. Though Ellison was ultimately ambivalent about Parker and much of bebop, his critique explained much about his political ideals: Ellison believed in the maintenance of individual identity and intellectual freedom against collective group identity and political ideologies, and artistic symbolic action above the leftist political theatre of activist participation. <p> Recall, however, that Ellison's protagonist in <i>Invisible Man</i> hopes that the "transitional" linguistic and sartorial style of hipster-bebop culture could provide the impetus and direction for a true Harlem revolution. Spying the zoot-suited, angular black wonders on the subway platform-"African sculptures distorted in the interest of a design"-the protagonist imagines them as history's "agents" or collective "ace in the hole." Describing them as dreaming the "old ancient dreams" and hearing them speak in a language full of "country glamour," invisible man thinks of the hipsters as "men out of time," soon to be gone and forgotten, but also symbols of possibility: <p> [they were men] who knew (and now I began to tremble so violently I had to lean against a refuse can)-who knew but that they were the saviors, the true leaders, the bearers of something precious? The stewards of something uncomfortable, burdensome, which they hated because, living outside the realm of history, there was no one to applaud their value and they themselves failed to understand it. (Ellison 1995b, 441) <p> <p> Standing outside of historical context, largely because of their invisibility, these boppers symbolically expressed the doubled language of African American life: ancient dreams of freedom communicated through the angular linguistics of urban experience. In the scene above, Ellison's narrator realizes that bebop presents models for improvising rhetorical responses to the political context and social world. But, in order for the improvising to create change, the performers must be able to understand the complexities of the sociopolitical world. <p> By the late 1950s, Ellison had soured on the musical innovations and potential cultural penetrations of bebop. In letters to Albert Murray, Ellison argues that bebop had boiled itself down to meaningless technical exercises, generalized antientertainment, antiwhite performance attitudes, and extended musical theses on Parker's harmonic and melodic inventions. Ellison explains that Parker's influence amounts to chalky clots of bird dropping: "If the Bird shits on you, wear it." Though Ellison acknowledges in his essay "On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz" (Ellison 1995a) that Parker stands as one of the most remarkable improvisers in jazz history, he also presents Parker as a "symbolic bird" to white audiences who have "thrice alienated" Parker as a Negro, a jazz genius, and a drug addict. Essaying as an ornithological enthusiast, Ellison situates Bird in a postwar cultural context in which white jazz audiences pluck "feathers" off Parker in the hopes of making meaning from his dead form. And though he argues in the essay that Negroes did not know Parker well, it is clear from Ellison's letters that he hears black jazz musicians emulating and imitating Parker's musical gestures, ensconcing that language firmly into African American music and the American cultural mainstream. <p> In his critique Ellison presents Parker as the distorted and corrupted black artist. Rather than valorizing his music's complexity, Ellison explains, Parker fanatics consumed his body and musical clichs. Accordingly, much of Parker's symbolic power comes from his station in the American underworld where, Ellison argues, the turbulent conflict between human social desires and American social institutions thrashes unchecked by social decorum or cultural status quo. Parker's symbolism is hatched below the surface of American life where "contemporary civilized values and hypocrisies are challenged by the Dionysian urges of a between-wars youth born to prosperity, conditioned by the threat of world destruction, and inspired-when not seeking total anarchy-by a need to bring social reality and our social pretensions into a more meaningful balance" (Ellison 1995a, 261). Ellison marks the American underworld as a marginal social space inhabited by black musicians and white audiences who use bebop to fund the new political and cultural vocabularies formed to diminish segregated American life while attempting to fulfill the social, economic, or political pretenses of democracy. <p> Braiding together thoughts on Parker, bebop, political revolution, generational cultural power, and Cold War geopolitics, Ellison's critical perspective bears a striking resemblance to a Deweyan sensibility. Dewey argues, for example, that philosophy or criticism charged, "consciously or unconsciously, by the strivings of men to achieve democracy will construe liberty as meaning a universe in which there is a real uncertainty and contingency ... incomplete and in the making ... made this way or that according as men judge, prize, love and labor.... [Democracy is] a genuine field of novelty, of real and unpredictable increments to existence, a field for experimentation and invention." In this case, Ellison's critique of Bird, published in 1962, is animated by striving African Americans and their push to participate fully in American democracy. For postwar youths, Parker, master experimenter and improviser, symbolized the real and unpredictable possibilities for recreating the national sociopolitical reality. <p> Ellison developed his cultural reading of Parker by riffing on Burke's theory of language as symbolic action. Burke's arguments about symbolic action begin with the premise that we are symbol-using animals, creating, iterating, remembering, and experimenting in order to make languages and meanings. As vessels for language we also become symbols, acting in accordance with our created symbols when we put them to use. But Burke forgoes correspondence theories of reality, warning against reading named objects as having realities separate from the linguistic realities we construct. (It is an argument that recalls James's method and Dewey's sense of language as a tool, and anticipates Rorty's linguistic turn.) Language has dexterity that objects do not: in order to define symbols we must use other, different symbols in the naming process. So we experiment with language, generating discourses in order to name and rename the objects, ideas, actions, and truths we willfully believe in. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Shadow and the Act</b> by <b>Walton M. Muyumba</b> Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.