Interactive Responses to Preview Questions
from "Jazz and Literature"
by Anne Fleischmann and Andy Jones


After you have finished writing your own responses to the previously asked preview questions about jazz, blues, African-American life in the 1940s and 1950s, and the function of the artist in society, consider the following links, resources, and potential feedback to your responses.

a. What do you know about jazz or blues music?

Blues music evolved from the songs sung by West African griots, or traveling minstrels; the southern Black American secular songs of sadness and despair; and the more hopeful Christian spirituals. Blues is distinguished by its slow tempo, melancholy lyrics, and use of a guitar or piano.  Click here ( for a "link farm" of sites about the Blues.

Dating from the late 19th century, jazz is a style of music, native to America, characterized by strong but flexible rhythms.  The signal feature of jazz music is its inclusion of both solo and ensemble improvisations on basic tunes and chord patterns. Click here ( for a fuller discussion of the history of jazz and how it differs from its musical predecessors.

About the Audio Clips: Clicking on the picture or name of the famous jazz artists below will bring you to the relevant page from the website of Ken Burns' PBS documentary Jazz. From there you can link to individual jazz tunes, and to interviews with the musicians themselves. If you have not listened to music on your computer before, please visit the Audio page of The Courtland Review for instructions on downloading a realaudio player from Real Networks. From that Courtland Review page, you can also link to readings by many poets and writers.

Duke Ellington
Louis Armstrong
Billie Holiday
Charlie Parker

b. How are artists different from the rest of us?

Did you respond that artists are more

c. What is the artist's function in society?

Was your answer that

d. What do you know or suspect about the conditions of African American life during the 1940s and 50s? (Press button for an answer.)

Historical Context for "Sonny's Blues":

"Sonny's Blues" takes place during the early 1950s. The action of the story, then, occurs prior to the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement, during the dark days of segregation and supposedly "separate but equal" accommodations in public institutions. During the 1950s, as before, many African American families struggled against poverty and against limiting definitions of their potential imposed by white society. But the 1950s also marked the beginning of the fight for equal rights. The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" education discriminated against black children, the subsequent integration of previously all-white schools in the South, and the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, which was sparked by Rosa Parks's refusal to move to the back of the bus in deference to white passengers form the historical backdrop for "Sonny's Blues." These and other ground-breaking events of the Civil Rights Movement were part of Civil Rights leaders', such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr's, efforts to create a nation where children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters.

For further information about this time period in American history, and to test your knowledge of Civil Rights facts, visit this Seattle Times webiste and take a virtual tour of the Civil Rights Timeline and Photo Gallery:

To see James Baldwin at the 1963 March on Washington with a surprise mystery guest, see


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