“Jazz as Communication”

One of the goals of Hughes’ essay, “Jazz as Communication” is to try to define what Jazz is and how it influences his own writing. The first time Hughes defines Jazz is when he says, “Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat.” In other words, I think he is saying that Jazz is becoming so great that it will become more popular than Rock and Roll- a type of music that is loved and admired by so many. Jazz is the great sea that will swallow up Rock and Roll. This imagery is an interesting choice to use because it does not account for the possibility of the next big genre of music to come and “wash up” Jazz itself. In that case, Jazz could not possibly be the sea.

The second time is when Hughes says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it.” He brings up a quote of a lady who asked what Jazz is, but replies that she doesn’t need to ask, she already knows. She can interpret the meaning of Jazz any way that she likes. If Jazz makes her sad, calm, or even happy, then she can interpret Jazz as a type of music that does one of those things. However, the problem with this definition of Jazz is that it can apply to different types of music as well, and therefore, by simply saying the definition, one will not know that you are talking about Jazz and might think you are discussing a different genre.

Finally, Hughes gives a definition based on what Jazz means to him and says, “Jazz is a montage of a dream deferred.” After reading this line I realized why we were told to read the second poem “Harlem.” Not realizing how it connected to Jazz, I was confused why we were asked to read it. He says that Jazz is like “a great big dream-yet to come.” I think he is saying that Jazz will always continue to be performed and favored in the music society, much like a dream that we continue to look forward to. Jazz is so powerful and important that if neglect it/ push it off, much like a dream, we will come to regret it. Ultimately, Hughes thinks highly of this type of music and is thankful that it can give him inspiration throughout his writing.


  • How do you think Hughes’ poem “Harlem” relates to Jazz?
  • Do you agree with Hughes when he says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it” or is Jazz simply one type of music that can’t be interpreted?
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5 Responses to “Jazz as Communication”

  1. Mika Katz says:

    I definitely agree when you said that this poem is about Jazz as music, however I think there is a much deeper meaning than that. Hughes states, “To me jazz is a montage of a dream deferred. A great big dream—yet to come—and always yet—to become ultimately and finally true”. This is a very important line to point out. This dream is more than just the music; this dream is a future for the all of the African Americans who suffered segregation, discrimination, and slavery. This “deferred dream” that he discusses remains unclear, but is described as a very vivid image. Hughes describes this dream inferring that these dreams do not just disappear. It might rot in the sun, or bubble over, in other words it takes time to slowly decay. Hughes does not refer to one specific dream, although it is inferred that he is referring to the suffering of the African American “American Dream”. The African Americans are so oppressed that they probably cannot even dream because it will rot or blow up like a heavy load. It’s very interesting how he ties a genre of music with the suffering of people. He might be saying that Jazz is their (African Amercian) voice, their freedom, and their ticket to their dream.

  2. conor McGuire says:

    I think Hughes’ poem relates to jazz in the sense that capturing the essence of jazz can encompass all the things our dreams do. Jazz is can not easily be quantified to any one sound or type of sound because its boundaries are only bound to where it is coming from. It comes from, like any form of art, a true place within the artist. The same way a dream comes before us, only to fade away upon awakening, so too does jazz. Therefore, i would agree with Hughes that jazz is only what you get out of it. Jazz comes from a very real place and if one can relate too it on any level so too can they extract and interpret for themselves everything that comes with it. One only has to be willing to listen.

  3. Bella Rubin says:

    I liked what Debra said how at the end of Jazz as Communication “Finally, Hughes gives a definition based on what Jazz means to him and says, “Jazz is a montage of a dream deferred.” After reading this line I realized why we were told to read the second poem “Harlem.” ” Answering Debra’s first question I think Harlem relates to Jazz because that was one of Langston Hughes dreams. In Harlem by Langston Hughes, Hughes explains what happens when one pushes of a dream and gives different comparisons of what happens to a forgotten dream, drying up, stinking like rotten meat, crusting like syrup. The poem Harlem is saying how If one defers their dream, bad things can happen. Therefore since to Hughes Jazz is a dream he cannot let it be pushed aside or forgotten.

  4. I’m no Jazz expert, but I think after reading the essay I would agree that jazz is “what you yourself get out of it.” He write’t that “[jazz’s] heartbeat is yours.” Annecdotally, I do feel this way when listening to jazz. It’s flow and use of syncopation lends to that emotion.Therefore, I’m not sure I agree that mantra (“it’s what you make of it”) applies to all music. A lot of music has specific purpose. I think this is mirrored in the poem. Just like you might not know where a jazz piece might lead (with all its riffs and such), you may not know where a dream deferred will lead.

  5. Max Richter says:

    Hughes’ poem “Harlem” spoke about dreams being put aside and dismissed. Based on the title, this poem seems to be talking about the African American dream of full equality in America since Harlem was one of the biggest revolutionary environments during this period. What Debra describes what Hughes is saying about Jazz and Rock and Roll is that Jazz is soon going to be essentially the genre of music in America. I like to think that Hughes is representing African American’s to Jazz. His dream isn’t just for Jazz to be one of the biggest genres in America, but for African Americans to not be a lesser citizen in America than whites and for the racism to stop. Jazz connects to this poem because the only way for full equality is to not let the dreams get deferred, but to always have the dream in mind, which Jazz so heavily emphasizes in much of its music.

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